More small-and-medium businesses (SMEs) have started to receive funding assistance, enabling them to get their innovative scientific or technical ideas off the ground.

One example is the Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme (TECS).

The TECS is managed by SPRING Singapore, and has so far given out S$50 million to help promising start-ups. One such company is EndoMaster, with a crab-inspired medical scope that uses pincers and a hook to make cancer surgery less invasive and less painful.

CEO and founder of EndoMaster who created the scope, Louis Phee, said the device is the world’s first flexible robotic endoscopy system.

“To control the movement of these strong little arms, you have the bigger arms over here. What the surgeon would be doing is looking at the view from the camera here and moving his arms very naturally, so it’s like a very natural video game,” said Louis.

The scope has been successfully deployed in clinical trials in India and Hong Kong.

However, in 2012, an issue cropped up. Like many other innovators, Louis encountered the perennial hindrance in a start-up’s life — he needed money. That was when SPRING Singapore stepped in to help.

The government-run organisation has given in excess of S$50 million to 150 start-ups since 2008. It expects to help out another 150 promising entrepreneurs before the scheme ends in 2015.

According to SPRING Singapore, such schemes could help foster the economy.

Cheong Lai Peng, SPRING Singapore’s director of technology innovation said, “We know that R&D and technology and innovation increasingly are the key drivers of growth, especially in our knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy. With this push towards R&D, we hope to grow more of these tech start-ups which are capable of developing innovative products and services to meet global demands.”

Cheong said about 40 per cent of the projects funded come from the biomed and med-tech areas. Another 30 per cent stem from the info-communication technology areas, 15 per cent from electronic engineering devices and the remainder from materials, chemicals and water technology.

To qualify, a start-up’s ideas have to be ground-breaking and marketable. This renders only about 30 to 40 per cent of applications meeting the criteria. Cheong said SPRING Singapore’s approval rate is close to about 30 to 40 per cent of applications submitted to them. About 10 per cent do not meet the eligibility criteria, with the rest not being ground-breaking enough to warrant funding.

Upon qualification, a company has to prove that its idea will work, after which it could be eligible for up to S$250,000 in a Proof-of-Concept (POC) grant. If the company is able to churn out a prototype or prove the product to be marketable, it can get another S$500,000, known as a Proof-of-Value (POV) grant.

According to Cheong, a panel of experts helps SPRING Singapore decide the best recipients.

Out of those approved, failures are minimal. Cheong said only about 10 per cent were not able to complete their project, mainly because they were unable to meet the level of technology development they required to bring the product to market.

“We know of those who have completed, six out of 10 have managed to get their first customer or even gone on to secure follow-on investment from VCs,” she said.

SPRING Singapore measures success not through how profitable the start-ups become, but whether the firms are able to secure at least one customer or an investor.

According to Louis, EndoMaster’s S$500,000 grant helped secure manpower and machinery. EndoMaster received its funding in August last year. “The Proof-of-Value fund from SPRING Singapore was especially useful to bridge between research and the investor, without which we wouldn’t have something to convince investors to put their money,” said Louis.


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