This series of National Innovation Challenges (NICs) announced by DPM during the Fortitude Budget (with the first round rolled out by Enterprise Singapore, IMDA and NRF on 22 Jul) aims to accelerate innovation efforts and help enterprises develop solutions to overcome mid- to longer-term sectoral challenges and emerge stronger the post-COVID world. The NICs will run on an accelerated cycle from prototype to deployment, with the three agencies involved providing support to drive adoption of solutions, including funding. Solution development will therefore be industry-led, and collaboration with public researchers will be encouraged to augment the innovative capabilities of enterprises.
Compared to existing open innovation platforms, the NICs rolled out on 22 Jul will be targeting problem statements with economy-wide and industry-wide impact, with close industry involvement.
The NICs builds on existing innovation efforts, such as Enterprise Singapore’s open innovation challenges, including Gov-PACT, and IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform (OIP). NRF also ran Innovation Challenges under the Research Innovation and Enterprise Plans 2015 and 2020 (RIE2015 and RIE2020) which aimed to harness multi-disciplinary research capabilities to develop solutions in the areas of energy, ageing, land and liveability.
Open Innovation Network (OIN) is an online directory (www.openinnovationnetwork.sg) that serves as a national gateway to feature open innovation challenges happening island-wide. This is jointly administered by ESG and IMDA.
OIN aggregates all ongoing innovation calls launching in Singapore from existing open innovation challenge platforms in Singapore and features them on the single interface. Through OIN, users will be re-directed to the host open innovation platforms where they can find more information about each specific innovation calls and how they can participate.
Open Innovation Platform (OIP) is one of these platforms, led by IMDA. It is a virtual crowd-sourcing platform that bridges real business challenges or digitalisation opportunities of Problem Owners to Problem Solvers. Since 2018, OIP has hosted 129 challenges with S$3.7 million prize monies.
Gov-PACT, led by ESG, has launched more than 140 challenge statements and awarded S$10 million of project grants since 2017.
NICs will be launched throughout the year, starting from July 2020.
The first seven problem statements were launched on 22 July 2020, spanning the transport, logistics, built environment, MICE, arts & culture and maritime sectors.
For the full list of problem statements, please visit
Subsequent problem statements will be launched in the later part of 2020.
While we aim to accelerate the solution to market, we are aware that solutions for different challenges operate on different timelines. For example, digital solutions that are more software based may take less than 6 months to be developed, while a robotics solution with AI might take more than a year to be ready for commercial use.
A total of S$40 million will be set aside for the NICs. Each challenge is allocated up to S$2 million, from prototype, deployment to adoption.
Public research performers will receive up to 100% funding for prototype and deployment phase, while qualifying enterprises will receive a co-funding of up to 70% for the three phases.
More significantly, NICs also offer commercial opportunities for Problem Solvers. Problem Owners (or their commercial partners) are potential first clients of Problem Solvers and can receive ESG’s or IMDA’s support for adoption. Commercial contracts with adopters will form good customer references for other clients facing similar challenges, locally or globally.
The problem statements can be assessed at the Open Innovation Network (www.openinnovationnetwork.sg). Through OIN, interested parties can work together with other entrepreneurs, innovators, and researchers to address demand-led challenges that require collaboration in Singapore and beyond.
Building on past Open Innovation challenges, the NIC platform enables collaboration across government agencies, public research performers, Trade Association & Chambers (TACs), corporates, SMEs and startups to co-innovate and tackle industry-wide challenges. The industry involvement in problem ownership and crowdsourcing approach will help quicken the pace of innovation, commercialisation and adoption of solutions. The three agencies will also be providing S$40 million in funding and support to quicken industry deployment and adoption.
For Problem Owners and Problem Solvers
Unless otherwise indicated in individual challenge briefs, the NICs are open to both Singapore-based enterprises and public research performers. The latter is required to collaborate with at least one company and submit a joint proposal. The development activities of both enterprises and research performers should be carried out in Singapore.
Public research performers include A*STAR Research Entities, local public healthcare institutions, Institutes of Higher Learning, CREATE entities and SGInnovate.
The NICs are open to all agencies and enterprises to participate as Problem Owners. However, only problem statements that meet NIC criteria (such as solution impacting a wide segment of the market, addressing challenges faced by Singapore in the reopening and recovery from current COVID-19 situation, accelerated development cycle to adoption, etc.) will receive NIC funding support.
For problem statements that do not meet the NIC criteria, Problem Owners can still launch them using existing platforms such as OIP or Gov-PACT, without NIC funding support.
“Digital Challenges” are challenges that source for digital solutions to address the problem statements. “Non-digital Challenges” involve technologies beyond digital development and are typically more complex as they may require additional knowledge in areas such as hardware design, materials applications, energy transmission/storage, etc. All NIC interest will be centrally managed and the team will channel the interests/challenges for follow up accordingly.
The NIC team will guide the Problem Owners throughout the innovation journey, from providing resources such as problem framing and refinement support, assisting in proposal shortlisting/assessment, marketing activities to drive proposal submissions from potential solvers through our networks.
The Problem Owner should indicate their preferred IP arrangement for their specific challenge and agree on the IP arrangement with the solver upfront. Otherwise, the default IP ownership should be based on inventorship.
In cases where the solution has nationwide impact, we encourage the Problem Owner to allow the solver to proliferate the solution developed to a wider segment of the industry.
For public research performers, all IP howsoever arising from the project shall, at the first instance, be the property of the institutions in such proportions as they may determine.
It will depend on whether Problem Owner is the IP owner. If the Problem Owner owns the IP, then it is their responsibility to ensure that there is no infringement, to the extent that they are able to do so.
If the Problem Owner is only acting as the customer, and the IP is owned by the Problem Solver, then it becomes a commercial dispute between the problem solver and existing IP owner.
There is no limit to the number of problem statements you can submit. We will prioritise problem statements for each call based on readiness for publication and impact.
We encourage problem owners to submit problem statements even if they are “generic” or sector-agnostic. Where there is overlapping interest, we will engage problem owners on the feasibility of putting out a joint problem statement, to generate greater interest and promote nationwide deployment.
We encourage Problem Owners to clearly state the problem statement and requirements as part of the challenge. ESG/IMDA will also facilitate sharing sessions between Problem Owners and interested Problem Solvers to provide greater clarity in the challenge.
Problem Owners should first assess if off-the-shelf solutions are available to meet their needs. We will also help to assess the draft problem statements to see if new/ready solutions are available as we are interested in developing innovative solutions that are not readily available today.
For Interested Government Agencies
Yes. Outcome-based procurement can be used to procure emerging and innovative solutions through crowd-sourcing and an integrated procurement process, which allows Agencies to support POC through to full deployment without calling for additional tenders. IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform and ESG’s Gov-PACT are channels that support the outcome-based procurement approach.
ESG, IMDA and NRF will provide funding support for development, deployment and adoption for solutions under the NICs, so that the industry is more willing and able to adopt. Generally, we do not expect agencies to roll out solutions on their own, but to work with IMDA and ESG to drive adoption throughout the industry.
MOF already allows agencies to use spiral contracting under the outcome-based procurement approach, which allows innovation projects to proceed in stages from prototype to pilot deployment within a single tender exercise. With spiral contracting, there is no need for agencies to call separate tenders to develop the prototype or for pilot deployment.