InnovFest x Elevating Founders was created as an event to promote entrepreneurship across Asia. Organized by NUS Enterprise and Informa Tech, the event brought together startups, venture capitalists, government agency representatives, and academics from institutes of higher learning.
The event was held from June 1 to 3, 2022, featuring panel discussions where notable speakers shared their perspectives on developments related to web3, metaverses, sustainability, emerging markets, and more.
Beyond the Hype: Securing the Metaverse
The metaverse is often described as an immersive and shared virtual space where participants can shape their experience as much as the developers. “Securing” the metaverse can be interpreted in two ways—understanding the commercial opportunities for businesses and society, and ensuring people in the metaverse are protected.
The panel featured virtual experience builder Finute CEO Winston Ng; cybersecurity provider Sequretek CEO Pankit Desai; head of NUS FinTech Lab, Keith Carter; and assistant group CTO of the National University Health System, Yujia Gao. The moderator of the panel was Wynthia Goh, senior partner at NCS NEXT Digital.
Ng and Carter said the metaverse presented a “trillion-dollar opportunity” in marketing, although both felt that this may be an understatement. As businesses and brands establish their metaverse presence, they can create immersive and interactive consumer experiences. For example, consumers’ avatars can wear branded items, test drive vehicles, and participate in other activities organized by businesses. Meanwhile, companies can collect data about these interactions, including the time spent using these virtual items and information related to interactions with other consumers, producing opportunities to form deeper insights into consumer behavior.
“Privacy is fake news,” said Carter. Companies will be able to access more data than ever while they “delight customers even more.”
Additionally, metaverses could improve the quality and accessibility of education. Regardless of their location, students can attend classes in the virtual realm. For example, medical students could take part in virtual simulations of operating theaters, which can provide exposure to various cases and prepare them for real-life encounters. Virtual reality is already advancing patient care, Gao said, referring to current holomedicine research to develop mixed reality technology for patient-facing applications.
However, there are some potential risks. Desai mentioned the “man in the room”—the hacker that may be monitoring private interactions within the metaverse. With all the potential that metaverses hold, there must be heightened security measures for users and moderators to ensure data privacy and anonymity.
Entering a New Age: The Web3 Revolution
One of the main ideas in the web3 era is that anyone who is online, particularly those who create original content, is entitled to a piece of the internet economy. This is being accomplished by the application of decentralized apps built atop blockchain technology.
These implications were unpacked by four speakers—Aaron Koh, marketing head of the Klatyn Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the growth of Klatyn’s open-source public blockchain; Ee Ling Lim, executive director of global programs at venture capital firm 500 Global; Emir Hrnjic, head of fintech training at NUS; and Hussein Sulaiman, program head of NUS Block71 Indonesia, which was formed by NUS Enterprise and Salim Group to incubate new ventures.
To the audience’s amusement, Koh admitted that he overspends on web2 games, then introduced the concept of token economics in web3 contexts—a means to incentivize user activity.
On investing in web3 companies, Lim said, “In 2018, people thought it was too early. Now, they still think it’s early.” Her main points of evaluation are market validation and resilient founding teams.
When asked about their expectations of the future, the panelists agreed that there are many unpredictable elements in emerging technologies. “Most of us can’t claim that we know all the answers,” Hrnjic said, emphasizing the importance of awareness and collaboration to resolve issues that arise.
Cooling Singapore 2.0: Building a Digital Urban Climate Twin
Singapore is entering a climate crisis, exacerbated by the urban heat island effect. As temperatures in Singapore spike, Chiu Wen Tung, group director of the city-state’s Urban Redevelopment Authority; Heiko Aydt, R&D lead for the Digital Urban Climate Twin (DUCT); and Ander Zozaya, project manager at the Singapore ETH Center, spoke about the ways that various entities are trying to keep Singapore’s temperature from rising too quickly.
DUCT was designed to address this issue by creating a digital twin—an accurate virtual representation of a physical object—that simulates Singapore’s climate. DUCT has the capability to replicate urban infrastructure to simulate the causes and effects of heat emission. This means creating digital copies of traffic conditions, air conditioning ventilation, and other properties that may impact the temperatures in the city-state.
By conducting simulations and asking “what if,” policymakers may be able to locate answers that inform Singapore’s urban planning and formulate useful measures to mitigate rising temperatures.
Beyond the Romanticism of Impact Investing
Some people believe innovation paired with investing that aims to deliver social impact is a recipe for changing the world, and in turn, elevate this mindset as an ideal. Seasoned investors and changemakers discussed impact investing at InnovFest, including Dondi Hananto, partner of Patamar Capital; Jaclyn Seow, vice president of Openspace Ventures; and Artak Melkonyan, global lead at UNDP Impact Venture Accelerators. The moderator was Peter Finn, CEO of carbon offset and renewable computing technologies developer Synectify.
The growing interest in impact investing is reflected in corporations moving towards what they describe as sustainability and social consciousness. This form of investment is described as having significant potential for increased profits and risk resilience. It also ties in with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, which seeks sustainability.
Melkonyan said there are two key considerations when choosing ESG startups to invest in—the number of beneficiaries and the value provided to the beneficiaries. The goal is to increase both factors.
Meanwhile, startups that aim to be part of impact investors’ portfolios must be aware of and accountable for the results of their actions. A practical metric to gauge this is the IRIS Plus, which incorporates social and environmental factors into investment decisions.
However, there are more complex considerations. Hananto stated that impact investing can be distilled to one question—does the startup address underserved or underprivileged people, and how will their lives improve?
A Sustainable Approach to Secure Singapore’s “30 by 30” Vision Through Agritech
Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal was defined to foster a higher degree of self-sufficiency in food production. The plan is still in progress, with public and private entities working toward the same objectives through different paths.
InnovFest’s panel on this topic included Melin Lim, senior director of the Singapore Food Agency’s Urban Food Solutions Division; Tan Wee Kee, co-founder & CEO of NuSoil, a startup that promotes waste-to-resource recycling for urban farming; and Fook Tim Chew, vice dean of NUS’s Faculty of Science. The panel was moderated by NUS Enterprise director Brian Koh.
Singapore ensures food security by diversifying food sources. This involves importing food from 170 countries and growing crops locally. Land scarcity in Singapore means it is difficult to cultivate food locally, but several startups are creating solutions to make this easier.
One example is space maximization through vertical farming, which makes a limited resource more efficient. There are also startups currently researching molecular breeding, which is a type of genetic manipulation performed at the DNA level to improve specific traits in plants.
“Technology must enable the entire ecosystem to rise,” said NUS’s Chew. He also emphasized the need to develop technological solutions that can resist the shock from climate change.
The panel also explored the potential of agritech beyond Singapore, so that agritech innovators could “look beyond Singapore to feed not only ourselves but also cities like us,” Lim said.
Accessing Indonesia: Emerging Green Technologies from Indonesia
InnovFest continued the theme of innovators as changemakers who could bring about improvements to the way we live and consume, hopefully preserving our planet in the long run. Several panelists provided their perspectives on emerging green technologies from Indonesia, including Aryo Wiryawan, CEO of shrimp farm IoT developer Jala; Anisa Azizah, CEO of porous concrete maker Tech Prom Lab; and Arka Irfani, CEO of biomaterial textiles company Bell Society. The moderator was William Koo, managing director of Temasek Life Sciences Accelerator.
Indonesia’s speedy economic growth over the past decade has brought about high social and environmental costs. With climate change impacting the way Indonesians will live in the future, investors are channeling capital into startups that are developing green technologies.
Irfani spoke about his inspiration for Bell Society, which recycles agro-waste to preserve biodiversity. The textile company creates Misel—a type of durable, leather-like material—by using bacteria to process coffee husk. Sourcing from local farmers, Bell Society creates biodegradable wallets, sofas, and clothing, providing an environmentally friendly alternative to animal hides. He hopes that this will reduce fast fashion manufacturing waste.
Tech Prom Lab’s Azizah spoke about Indonesia’s flooding problem, which is often caused by heavy rain being trapped between concrete roads and trash-clogged drains. Recognizing that construction isn’t about to slow down in the country, she sought to develop new building materials that could help alleviate floods. Her startup created PoreBlock, a porous concrete that can be used in carports and roads, allowing water to be absorbed back into soil without run-off.
Jala provides solutions to help prawn farmers understand their farm conditions in real time. Using IoT and machine learning technology, the startup helps farmers maximize farm efficiency by monitoring water quality. “With the population growing, everyone needs food,” says Wiryawan. “We need more sustainable solutions, and I hope to see more startups in the sustainable food sector.”
InnovFest x Elevating Founders was held in Singapore from May 31 to June 3, 2022.