Singapore Taps Entrepreneurs to Ensure Elderly People Aren’t Left Out of Smart Nation Program, Tech in Asia

Health and aging are a big part of Singapore’s agenda in its Smart Nation initiative. It’s in that spirit that NUS Enterprise, the National University of Singapore’s entrepreneurial cluster, is teaming up with nonprofit think tank and advisory group Access Health International for the Modern Aging program, as announced today during the InnovFest Unbound festival by Singapore’s Minister in Charge of Smart Nation, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan.

“Modern aging is an area where NUS has long term research interests,” Dr. Wong Poh Kam, director at the NUS Entrepreneurship Center, tells Tech in Asia. NUS is looking into all kinds of research on biology and healthcare, both for the senior population and their caregivers. The aim, according to Minister Balakrishnan – who’s also Singapore’s Minister of the Environment and Water Resources – is the development of ideas that will increase prevention of disease and the need for long term treatment in the latter stages of people’s lives. This is a major factor in the narrative of Singapore as a Smart Nation.

Starting in August, the four month long program hopes to bring together students, health professionals, and researchers with the aim of developing business ideas that tackle the challenges of aging. Anyone based in Singapore will be able to enter, and the program will be scheduled in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with day jobs or studies. Participants just have to have a good idea in the space of aging and healthcare. Through the program, they will be able to network and combine their skills in order to produce a viable business idea.

“The multidisciplinary aspect [of the program] is key,” Adrienne Mendenhall, ACCESS Health country manager for Singapore, tells Tech in Asia. “A lot of tech people don’t have a health background, and a lot of health people don’t have a design and tech background. And none of them are business people. So we are going to actively facilitate this kind of team building.”

Back to School

The program’s curriculum will be divided into two sections; the first section is mostly online, but complemented by in person learning workshops and industry talks to educate participants on the opportunities and challenges in aging and healthcare. “I think a lot of the time people know some particulars, but they don’t think about the breadth of possibilities, and some significant areas are ignored,” Mendenhall says. Examples include disease specific issues such as diabetes, or particular areas like eye care or healthy lifestyles.

The second section is business development, where the teams will submit their business ideas, and twenty of them will be selected to go forward. The chosen teams will receive mentorship from business leaders, multinationals, and successful entrepreneurs on how to develop a business plan.

One winning team will be selected at the end of the program to receive seed funding to the tune of fifty thousand Singapore dollars. A runner up will receive twenty thousand Singapore dollars. But the rest of the teams will also present their ideas in front of investors and business leaders, giving them the chance to move forward regardless. And all the teams will be receiving incubation support from NUS Enterprise.

“What’s different about this program compared to some other educational programs is that the final event isn’t the end of it, it’s more the beginning point,” says Mendenhall. “We’re not just interested in seeing twenty business plans – we want to see twenty businesses. We want them to take off.”

“The end point is a community of educated entrepreneurs,” Dr. Chang Liu, ACCESS Health Pan Asia managing director, chimes in.

The program will be held in Singapore on an annual basis, with plans for further expansion in the region.