Incubator to support start-ups from polytechnics launched

SINGAPORE: An incubator supporting start-ups by polytechnic students and alumni was launched on Monday (Sep 18), as part of efforts to boost entrepreneurship in Singapore.

Jointly run by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic, the incubator, called Pollinate, will help start-ups scale-up operations from the idea creation stage, commercialise their products and expand their market. 

The 728 sqm space is located at Block 71 at JTC Launchpad @ one-north, which is the base for start-ups and incubators across several industries.

Pollinate’s co-working space has the capacity to house around 90 staff from 20 start-ups at any one time, with monthly rental rates ranging from S$100 for a single desk to S$1,000 for a room for 16 staff. It also has rooms that can be used for meetings, conferences and lessons, said the incubator’s director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office Patrice Choong.

The National Research Foundation will support the incubator through a S$1 million fund over three years. The start-ups will also get help with talent support and training from the Ministry of Education as well as agencies like SPRING Singapore and SGInnovate.

According to Mr Choong, the incubator could go some way towards helping start-ups address questions such as whether the product’s usability can be improved, or whether data collected and stored by an app or platform is safe. They can also test their products as they head to market.

Mr Choong said the start-ups and students in the polytechnics can also benefit from each other: “While the students can use the apps and products developed by the start-ups as a real case study, the students can also use that to develop and submit a report on the security test, on the usability test, and submit it to the start-ups.”

He added that alumni from these start-ups can tap on incubator exchange programmes with overseas partners of polytechnics in key entrepreneurship hubs of the world, including Beijing and Silicon Valley.

Pollinate currently has 14 start-ups on board since its mid-year soft launch. It aims to incubate 30 companies over three years, with a “good number” to increase their company valuation by 20 per cent or reach a quarter of a million in revenue or third party financing by the first year of incubation, Mr Choong said.

A “VERY, VERY VIBRANT PLACE”

After a couple of years working out of an industrial complex in Tai Seng, Temasek Polytechnic alumnus Chelsea Chan said she found Pollinate to be “a very, very vibrant place” for her food and beverage point-of-sales platform called FoodZaps.

“All the start-ups are joining (efforts) together, so it is kind of like forming our own club, having our workforce together. We go to events together, we make business strategy plans together, and with the different ideas being thrown about every day, it actually brings us more ideas of what to do,” said Ms Chan.

These include ways to integrate and support payment systems like FOMO Pay and MPay, as well as human resource functions into her platform. She said she hopes FoodZaps can further entrench itself in the 71 countries it has already gotten a foothold in.

“Because it is a close working environment, it is also easier for us to set up meetings. So you can easily walk up to any office, grab anybody then go to a meeting room to have an ad hoc meeting. Because one of the key points working with a start-up is the speed. By working here it gives us more flexibility in terms of communication, idea exchange and even integration of technology,” added Ms Chan.

Co-founder of brand communication start-up Highspark Eugene Cheng agreed, and said the incubator filled an important gap within Singapore’s start-up space for polytechnic alumni hoping to take their skills down the path less trodden.

“When they feel empowered to do that, and then they find that they don’t really have any resources that are catered for them, then it becomes really difficult or they feel scared,” said Mr Cheng. “Or everyone’s telling them that they have to go to university. And what if they can’t get into university? Then what’s next?”

Co-founder of brand communication start-up Highspark Eugene Cheng (far right) with his team. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)

“You then see other people who have done it, and you can also speak to the Pollinate staff who will then tell you ‘don’t worry, we’re here. We have some grants, we have some mentors, and all these things are here for you to just grab if you want to’”, Mr Cheng added.

“And I think that really makes all the difference. It’s not just about it being just for poly students or because it helps get people together.”

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