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MARKETS & INVESTING | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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How Singapore is bringing sustainable ideas to life

Temasek and StartupX have launched an innovation programme in support of the sustainability agenda.

Building on the city’s sustainability push, Temasek and StartupX have jointly launched HyperX, a 12-month impact-driven hackcelerator programme (hackathon + pre-accelerator + accelerator) that aims to bring sustainable ideas to life. The programme will kick off with a three-day hack on November that aims to gather over 150 applicants.

Participants can help devise commercially-viable solutions, which can range from meeting the growing global demand for food and water without harming the environment to addressing the specific needs of an ageing population. 

“We all have a stake in driving a sustainable world. It is easy to focus on the present, however, our actions today can affect the well-being of the generations of tomorrow,” said Durwin Ho, managing founder of StartupX.

A veteran in the competitive startup landscape, Ho played a crucial role in growing one of Singapore’s largest startup communities, raising over $600,000 in sponsorship from government agencies, investors and organisations to help budding businesses achieve the next level of growth. In an interview with Singapore Business Review, Ho outlines his vision for the programme and how to begin the future today.

Can you tell us more about this programme? Sustainability is such a massive concept, with solutions designed to improve mobility, energy and business models, among other areas. How do you bring this idea down to size in making decisions for the programme?

HyperHack is the first stage in the HyperX programme. HyperHack is a hackathon, targeted at budding entrepreneurs who are keen to connect with like-minded individuals to develop ideas collectively. It will take place from 8 to 10 November 2019.

This will then be followed by HyperSpark, a pre-accelerator programme for startups with the most potential to refine their ideas and develop into a fully-fledged startup that will commence in February 2020. We hope to bring in 30 high-potential startups to go from prototype to market launch, with only the best and most promising 10 startups making it through to Demo Day.

The final leg of the HyperX programme, HyperScale is a high-growth programme which will support existing, high-impact startups, who are ready to expand and scale their sustainable innovations globally. It will take place in July 2020.

Participants can choose to participate in one or all parts of the programme, depending on your growth needs. HyperX is designed to fit entrepreneurs and startups at different stages of the business lifecycle.

Due to the theme being sustainability, we want it to be deliberately broad for the same reasons that you describe. There are so many different ways you can have an impact on the generations of tomorrow through innovation in this space. We want to encourage out of the box thinking across the whole spectrum of sustainability. Sustainability is not just about the environment, but it spans across 3 main pillars - environmental, economic and social. Moreover, the HyperX programme also supports the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), laying out the path to a better and more inclusive world of hope and opportunities.

How would you assess Singapore’s sustainability initiatives both in the region and on a global scale?

You only have to look at the fact that Singapore was named Asia’s most sustainable city in 2018, affirming the Government’s stance on the advocacy of sustainability development. More recently, there is a renewed focus on sustainability within ASEAN countries - ensuring it is a core focus for policy developments moving forward. On the international front, this was supported by signing up to the COP21 Climate Accord. Hence, in many ways, the Singapore government is one of the pacesetters on these issues, regionally and on a global scale.

This is compounded by the abundance of infrastructure and support for people to innovate and build business ventures in Singapore. This creates an ecosystem friendly for driving solutions for some of our most pressing sustainability needs.

With such a thriving startup ecosystem, how do you see the sustainability agenda playing out? For instance, some may argue that fintech still holds investor’s attention, accumulating massive capital injections year on year. When will sustainability finally be the top priority?

Sustainability is a topic of high interest and on the agenda of most countries lately. There is increasing attention on sustainability concerns, such as climate change, income inequality, food security, environmental resource scarcities to name but a few. You only need to walk around the floor of conferences to see the sheer number of startups innovating in the intersection between sustainability and say, fintech to see growing innovations around the sustainability agenda.

Of course, there will always be industries that draw the attention of investors far more than others. However, I think one of the most important things to remember is how there has been a generational change of late, where the conventional idea of creating value for shareholders cannot be the most important consideration for companies – businesses can also do well by doing good. This, I think is really starting to play out in the startup landscape. This is also reiterated by the global attention placed on creating a sustainable future across the whole of society, where individuals, communities, policymakers and corporations all have a role to play.

You have extensive experience in nurturing budding startups to success. How do you leverage this prolific career in support of this endeavour and what particular career experiences have proven useful?

Having run Startup Weekend Singapore, a hackathon for early-stage ideas, for many years, we have learnt a lot from our interactions with numerous startup founders, industry mentors and judges. This has helped shape our thinking around what we do today – especially with the HyperX programme.

By listening and learning from pitches throughout this time – and from the success and challenges of our various programmes that help nurture early-stage startups - we are able to guide and assist the founders more effectively from the soft skills to the actual hardware.

Due to the growing vibrancy of the space we work within, we have built an intensive network of resources and rich experience to tap on when it comes to helping the founders navigate around their obstacles and achieve their goals. This will be one of the central facets of HyperX - its industry mentors, made up of seasoned founders, illustrious mavericks and hands-on professionals.
In many ways it is clear that experience has taught me the importance of access to the right help and guidance and at the right time. That is what we do at StartupX.

As HyperX is the world’s first sustainability hackcelerator, we aim to bring together global innovators and provide them with a first-class ecosystem of support to maximise the potential of their ideas and turn them into reality. This may be our most ambitious pursuit by far, but we have the utmost confidence that collective actions from individuals from across the world are imperative to tackle the biggest economic, social and environmental challenges the world faces today.

Beyond HyperX, we are constantly looking to elevate the early-stage tech and startup ecosystem on various fronts – consulting for corporates, running innovation challenges, and startup initiatives to uncover emerging entrepreneurial talent with revolutionary ideas. Ultimately, our goal is to cultivate innovation, growth and impact for a more sustainable world by empowering the people behind this – that is what HyperX is, an enabler of innovation and change. 

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