More 'investable' IoT ideas needed in Singapore

Huawei partners National University of Singapore's entrepreneurial unit to launch an accelerator focused on Internet of Things, offering startups access to testbed infrastructure and mentorship.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Huawei has partnered the National University of Singapore's (NUS) entrepreneurial unit to introduce an accelerator focused on Internet of Things (IoT), promising startups access to the necessary ecosystem to market their ideas.

Five startups would be selected to participate in the initiative, called i5Lab, where they would be able to speak with potential investors and mentors--through NUS Enterprise's guidance--as well as testbed their ideas using Huawei's technology infrastructure and expertise.

Speaking to media at the launch Monday, Wong Poh Kam, director of NUS Entrepreneurship Centre, noted the current lack of "investable startups" in the IoT realm. This, he said, was partly due to technical challenges these companies faced in ensuring their software products could work on various networks and were compatible with the myriad of devices in the market today.

Startups also would need to test their products, but often lacked access to a consumer base they could use as pilots, said Wong, whose centre is part of NUS Enterprise. He hoped this would change with better access to industry help such as i5Lab, adding that ideas also could come from existing SMBs, which existing offerings might be improved by adding an IoT component.

According to Lee Chee Siong, Huawei's South Pacific region CMO and head of strategy and marketing department, the accelerator was the Chinese tech vendor's first such initiative globally and part of its Customer Solution Innovation & Integration Experience Center (CSIC) programme here.

While the executives did not want to provide specifics on how much would be invested in i5Lab, Lee said Huawei had committed S$5 million (US$3.62 million) to the CSIC initiative, which was scheduled to be ready by end-2016.

Under the new accelerator programme, Huawei would have first dips at the startups' IoT concepts, with the option to invest or integrate the products into its own portfolio, or sell them to other interested parties.

Asked how it would make such decisions, Chee said the primary objective here should be solving business issues Huawei customers faced.

"The key point always is this: whether an IoT solution is investable depends on its business case," he said, adding that this meant finding ways to resolve real-world, on-the-ground business and social problems.

IoT ideas still in the concept stage would be tested at Blk71, home to many of Singapore's startups and VCs, while more developed products would be tested at Huawei's lab and with the vendor's customers, Lee said. Where necessary, he noted, this would include security validation and certification processes.

Wong also noted that IoT products with the right potential could be pitched to the Singapore government for deployment as part of the country's smart nation initiative or scaled out for launch in other countries. He added that the accelerator was open to individuals, not just startups.

Interested participants have until January 31, 2017, to submit their business ideas to i5Lab for consideration. Shortlisted startups, to be identified in February, will be part of the accelerator programme until July 2017, including a product showcase at InnovFest 2017 in May.

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