We’ve seen the headlines. Climate change is causing unpredictable weather patterns that threaten food production, clean water supplies and natural habitats. Rising sea levels are displacing billions of people and increasing the risk of catastrophic flooding. Islands in the Maldives are being swallowed up, and closer to home, Jakarta is sinking.
The world’s population is also ageing. By 2050, one in six people globally will be over the age of 65, and this will result in wide-ranging implications such as healthcare, employment, housing and other social issues.
And now, the ongoing COVID-19 situation shows us how a disease outbreak can have a severe impact on human lives and economies all around the world.
These are just a few of the many interlinked, big problems we are facing today.
Rising Social Consciousness Paving the Way for a Better World
Thankfully, we see an increase in social consciousness over the last few years, in response to a deepening awareness of what is at stake. With the adoption of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, we have also seen countries pledging their commitment to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change by 2030. The world is now coming together to ensure that we are good stewards of the earth for our future generations.
Harnessing Deep Tech to Tackle Critical Problems
Science, Technology and Innovation, together with Financing for Development, have been identified by the UN as “means of implementation” to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
In particular, I believe that “Deep Technology”—backed by years of scientific research and with wide-ranging applications cutting across industries—holds enormous potential to solve the most pressing issues of the world.
We have already seen instances of this. For example, Deep Tech innovations are currently being applied in the fight against COVID-19. As the world awaits the development of a vaccine, researchers all over the world have rallied together, sharing their latest findings and adapting current solutions to produce COVID-19 test kits and facilitate rapid detection quickly.
With the spike in demand for remote medical services, digital therapeutics startup Biofourmis customised their wearable technology and AI-powered health analytics platform for a remote monitoring and disease surveillance programme in Hong Kong. Quarantined patients who were suspected of having COVID-19 were remotely monitored for signs of the disease progression. At the same time, the data collected from the diagnosed cases will help clinicians to understand the epidemiology of the virus better.
In China, we have also seen innovative ways in which robots and autonomous vehicles were being used to monitor mask use and temperature, for grocery, food and medication deliveries and to disinfect public spaces.
There’s no question that in the search for solutions to improve human conditions, we need to look at Deep Tech.
And increasingly, entrepreneurial scientists are making inroads in turning Deep Tech innovations into new businesses that will make an impact. In fact, nearly half (45%) of startups globally are in Deep Tech-related subsectors, a number that had risen twofold since 2010, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019.
Yet, we are only at the start of a long journey.
Why We Need to Ramp Up Our Efforts
The UN has said that a whopping US$5-7 trillion of annual public and private investment globally will be required to achieve the SDGs. Evidence has shown that investing in the SDGs makes economic sense, with estimates highlighting that achievement of the goals can help unlock US$12 trillion worth of market opportunities and create 380 million new jobs. Actions on climate change would also result in savings of about US$26 trillion by 2030.
But despite a growing trend towards impact investing, private investments are still not channelled towards sustainable development and innovation at the scale and speed required. Many of today’s most well-known major investments are still within the realm of consumer and social apps like e-commerce, transport and food delivery services. According to the e-Conomy SEA 2019 joint study by Google, Temasek and Bain & Co, almost 70% of total funding went to ride-hailing and e-commerce from 2016 to the first half of 2019.
While these consumer-oriented services enable greater lifestyle conveniences, it is time for investors to look beyond these and focus on more pressing issues. Ultimately, it boils down to a mindset shift. There is a need to steer the conversation towards showing that “tech for humanity” can also mean “tech for profit”.
Building a Community of Like-Minded Individuals
And that is why it is essential to build a strong community where individuals within the network have the same goal of harnessing technology to change the world. This serves as a platform to rally everyone from like-minded entrepreneurial scientists, investors, corporates, academics, governments and private institutions, to bright young minds—and, in fact, anyone who’s interested in Deep Tech to come together and inspire ideas, spark conversations, form connections, and collectively start taking action.
There’s nothing like having a community to create a multiplier effect for the broader ecosystem. It becomes a beacon for attracting young talent who aspire to create world-changing innovations through Deep Tech. To keep the Deep Tech ecosystem vibrant and sustainable, it is important to dial-up efforts in deepening talent development and building capabilities. By tapping on connections in the community, we can create mentorship and internship programmes as well as reskilling or upskilling opportunities that are crucial in helping people get a head start into Deep Tech.
That is why community building was and remains one of our key priorities since we started SGInnovate over three years ago. Building from the ground-up, we are proud to say that we are the largest and fastest-growing Deep Tech community in Singapore today, at over 34,000-strong.
However, the entrepreneurship journey is never easy. Having specialised skill sets and a great research-based solution don’t necessarily equate to immediate success. Founders from Deep Tech fields may not possess the business acumen to launch a successful company that can go the distance. We need to identify these “diamonds in the rough” and help polish them. We do this by providing them with business-building advice and guidance in areas such as fundraising, IP advisories, legal, accounting, sales, branding, talent recruitment and more, which are all essential in starting and growing their Deep Tech companies.
Taking Action to Move the Needle
Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. It is critical for governments, industries, academia, tech companies, investors and the broader society to work together and take action to unlock the true potential of Deep Tech.
At SGInnovate, we hope to play a part in reshaping the thinking of investors, encouraging them to diversify and take a bet on Deep Tech—which could very well morph into something much more impactful. We also want to inspire budding entrepreneurs to start looking into this space and educate the public on the potential of Deep Tech in helping to solve the world’s toughest problems. Last but not least, we are working with our partners to take a hard look at education and the training of talent in the Deep Tech space, as well as broader ethics frameworks, regulation and legislation policies, to ensure the positive use of these innovations.
If there’s ever a time to accelerate innovation for a better tomorrow—it is now. The world needs to continuously seek new ways to collaborate, cooperate and move forward. Together, we can scale up the adoption of tech for the greater good of humanity.