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Singapore to start first cybersecurity startup hub

[SINGAPORE] Singapore is setting up its first cyber security start-up incubation hub, with funding to be provided for new inventions, as the nation strives to carve out a role for itself in the new digital economy.

Dubbed Innovation Cybersecurity Ecosystem @Block 71 (ICE71), the hub will open its doors to cyber security entrepreneurs next month (April).

It will be located in a cluster of industrial buildings in Ayer Rajah Crescent known affectionately and collectively as "Block 71". The area is currently home to about 700 tech start-ups.

The aim is to hand-hold aspiring entrepreneurs to ensure their business ideas are sound, and to ensure they have the necessary financial and business know-how to take their ideas to the next step. Help will also be given for expansion to overseas markets and access to venture funding.

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The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Singapore's Cyber Security Agency (CSA) are working with Singtel and the National University of Singapore (NUS) to launch ICE71.

The hub will be located within the existing premises of Singtel's corporate venture arm Innov8 and NUS Enterprise at Block 71, and seeks to groom up to 100 entrepreneurs and 40 start-ups over the next two years.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim announced these moves during the debate on his ministry's budget.

"A vibrant cybersecurity ecosystem is an important factor contributing to robust national cybersecurity," said Dr Yaacob, agreeing with Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and addressing a point made by Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) that Singapore's connectedness exposes it to attacks.

Separately, CSA will also roll out a new funding scheme to spur developments that would meet national security needs, believing that innovation is the key to stay ahead in the arms race against cyber attackers.

The areas of focus include forensics, authentication, Internet of Things and managed security services.

Funding of up to $500,000 will be provided to qualifying projects by Singapore-registered companies. At least 50 per cent of the manpower employed in the project must be Singaporean or Singapore permanent resident.

The aim is to develop homegrown companies that could own a slice of the lucrative cyber security market, tipped to attract spending of US$105 billion by 2020, according to global estimates by market research firm IDC.

Singapore's cyber security market could generate $900 million in revenue by 2020, said Dr Yaacob.

"Cybersecurity is also a growth engine," he said, acknowledging Mr Cedric Foo's (Pioneer) point that tech talent is needed to propel Singapore's economic expansion in the digital realm.

To prepare the workforce, the IMDA will invest an additional $145 million in its tech skills development and job placement initiative, dubbed TechSkills Accelerator (Tesa), over the next three years.

This will create 20,000 training places by 2020, with a focus on company-led courses and emerging areas like cyber security, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things.

Since its inception in April 2016, Tesa has trained 27,000 professionals in new tech skills to prepare them for the digital economy. Some $120 million has been spent to date.

To Dr Teo Ho Pin's (Bukit Panjang) question on regulations to ensure accountability for new developments like AI, Dr Yaacob said: "Currently we have no plans to introduce regulations for AI applications as the field is still nascent and to avoid stifling innovation."

The Ministry of Communications and Information will also be deferring the review of the Broadcasting Act to study in detail how digital technologies and social media platforms have come together to worsen the risk of fake news, said Dr Yaacob in his reply to Mr Ong Teng Koon's (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) question on the challenges brought about by convergence.

Dr Yaacob added: "As Parliament has just appointed the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to examine the issue, it would be better to study the Select Committee's recommendations first, before making further moves."