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Hewlett Packard Enterprise gives Singapore firms a leg-up in innovation
IN May 2017, after more than 40 years in Singapore, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) moved to a new office campus to batten down the hatches and prepare itself for the challenges of the next stage: riding the crest of technological waves sweeping over the world.
"The new office represents our next phase of growth together with Singapore in an era of rapid technological change," said Narinder Kapoor, HPE managing director of Asia Pacific.
HPE said it will spend US$140 million over the next five years, which includes US$16 million to support promising local startups in a dynamic collaboration with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).
As part of this investment, the American multinational enterprise IT company based in Palo Alto, California, opened its new Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) headquarters in Singapore and launched its InnovateNext programme, an incubator that will partner local companies to "ideate, co-innovate and commercialise new technologies".
"Singapore is an innovation hotspot and the best place for us to base our operations for this important region," said Mr Kapoor.
"HPE's history in Singapore dates back to 1970, when we first set up operations here. Since then, we have continued to invest in Singapore because the government actively encourages a culture of collaborative innovation and focuses on accelerating the country's future with technology.
"It's an attractive location because Singapore's market remains open and competitive, attracting top talent and actively encouraging private-public sector cooperation to help fast-track technological advancement needed to advance the digital economy."
The new APJ headquarters focuses all of HPE's facilities and strengths into one location - research and development (R&D), supply chain and logistics, marketing and sales offices, an Innovation Center, and a 10,677 sq ft Customer Engagement Center - for greater synergies and collaboration.
With the three-year InnovateNext programme, HPE hopes to work with 12 startups for product solutions that work in sync with HPE's priority technology offerings that include hybrid IT, Internet of Things (IoT) and data and analytics.
HPE wants to bring these products to the global market as soon as possible, as well as co-develop 10 vertical offerings with enterprise customers over three to five years.
Mr Kapoor feels that Singapore is well placed to weather the disruptions of rapid technological innovations, and is also an ideal place for HPE's InnovateNext programme to take root.
"In May 2017, we announced a new collaboration with the EDB to foster local innovation through the InnovateNext programme - a partnership led by HPE, which will support local startups by providing access to HPE technologies as well as engineering and consultative expertise, to co-develop solutions for hybrid IT, and intelligent edge environments.
"The InnovateNext programme will consist of three parts: Accelerate Next Incubator, Innovation Center, and Customer Engagement Center. The programme will touch on a range of industries including the public sector, manufacturing, distribution, financial services, communications, media and entertainment.
"The plan is to support 12 startups with the goal of developing solutions that are market-viable worldwide."
Why did HPE decide to make this move now, and what were the comparative advantages of developing all this in Singapore? Why not other cities in South-east Asia?
"Launching something like this in Singapore makes sense because the Singapore government actively encourages public-private partnerships to accelerate technological advancements and enable businesses to innovate rapidly and invest in R&D."
HPE's InnovateNext programme does not directly invest in startups but hopes to create a lush ecosystem of tech support for ideas to germinate and for creativity to thrive. How does this benefit HPE in terms of equity?
"Singapore is globally recognised as an example of how a nation can successfully support businesses and citizens to drive innovation and technological progress," said Mr Kapoor.
"This environment has enabled HPE to tap world-class talent pools and collaborate with a full ecosystem of project partners to research, test and iterate new technology solutions.
"That said, we believe that there is still a need to support startups further in their ability to scale and access international markets. Sometimes the novelty of their technology solutions and their relative lack of brand recognition still pose a challenge in developing the reference cases they need to gain traction in the global marketplace.
'We believe that the InnovateNext programme that we are jointly supporting with the EDB can help to overcome these barriers, by giving startups access to HPE's international community of technical experts and supporting the go-to market commercialisation of startups' products on a global scale."
Does all this mean Singapore could become a mini-Silicon Valley in the foreseeable future?
EDB chairman Beh Swan Gin said that collaboration is key. "We are pleased to support HPE in establishing its InnovateNext programme in Singapore - a global first for the company. It will benefit from and add to the growing vibrancy of our city's startup ecosystem.
"This programme undertakes a corporate innovation model well aligned with EDB's efforts to facilitate partnerships between multinational companies with their customers, suppliers and startups."
Mr Kapoor said: "The InnovateNext Programme will focus on developing industry-specific technology solutions - aligned to HPE's priority technology businesses, including hybrid IT and IoT technologies - across manufacturing, distribution, financial services, communications, media and entertainment, and the public sector.
"We are currently co-developing solutions with various local startups, and the solutions vary across the board. Some examples are: smart street lighting, manufacturing, wireless retail analytics, logistics and distribution, waste management, intelligent energy management for buildings and facilities, and geo-fencing for hospitality management. These solutions will also be tested with several HPE customers."
While a handful of startups have already started working with HPE on this programme, HPE highlighted the role of Singapore-based startup gridComm, the first InnovateNext participant.
According to Jason Tan, MD for HPE's Asia Pacific Innovation Center, gridComm is partnering HPE to create smart lighting solutions that leverage real-time data collected through IoT and other devices.
He said gridComm's smart lighting system provides responsive lighting controls, such as brightening of lighting when sensors detect foot traffic.