Hi Szeki, where are you from and what is your background?
Born and bred in Singapore, I have been in tech most of my career, and marketing has always been my passion. The creativity in marketing is what I enjoy the most – with the license to always push boundaries and think outside the box. Have had the good fortune to work with some of the greatest brands including HP, Motorola and with some of the most passionate and talented people.
On a personal front, I have 3 wonderful grown up kids, who bring me great joy and pride. I am proud to have watched them grow up, always at their side through the years. To have achieved this, and still be able to build a career has been an incredible blessing.
Please tell me more about SGInnovate.
Currently, I lead the Community and Brand team at SGInnovate.
At SGInnovate we believe that the world’s biggest problems can be addressed by Deep Tech and our mission is to work with entrepreneurial scientists to build Deep Tech startups from Singapore, for the world. The Community and Brand team works to drive conversations on important topics around Deep Tech, and the potential impact of frontier technologies such as AI, autonomous technology, quantum, robotics, medtech. We organise an average of 2-3 events a week at our premises, bringing great speakers from across the ecosystem to share their experiences, their journeys of innovation – we believe these conversations inspire ideas, spark conversations, and build networks. All part of the process of building great companies.
At SGInnovate, we build and scale Deep Tech startups into high potential companies with global impact. Our Deep Tech Nexus Strategy is focused on adding tangible value to the Deep Tech startup ecosystem in two key areas – development of Human Capital and deployment of Investment Capital. With the support of our partners and co-investors, we back entrepreneurial scientists through equity-based investments, access to talent and business-building advice.
Since our inception in 2016, we have invested more than S$40 million in more than 70 Deep Tech startups. Our Deep Tech community has also grown to more than 32,000 individuals currently, with an average of around 200 events hosted a year.
Some of our key programmes and initiatives include:
- Venture Building: We provide business-building advice and work closely with the teams on areas such as fundraising, sales, strategy, branding and talent.
- Venture Investing: We focus on companies with proven technology and market traction, with the objective to speed up their internationalisation through collaboration with our overseas portfolio companies.
- Deep Tech Workshops: Through offering workshops in areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity, we aim to build up the Deep Tech capabilities of talent in Singapore.
- Comet: Highly sought-after Deep Tech talents will have dedicated 1-1 meetings with high-potential Deep Tech companies to explore potential job or collaboration opportunities.
- Summation Programme: An apprenticeship programme that places top talents into high-potential Deep Tech projects in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, IoT, Robotics, and Quantum Computing
- Community Events: Through Deep Tech community events, we bring together great minds across the ecosystem to discuss, share and inspire ideas of innovation.
- Deep Tech Summit: Bringing together leading minds in Deep Tech to exchange ideas, collaborate and build a strong and sustainable future economy.
You are part of the founder members, could you share your journey from the idea up to what SGInnovate is today?
As part of the pioneer team (I was employee #3 after our Founding CEO and his PA), it is a privilege to be able to build a brand and a team from scratch.
When I first joined SGInnovate, “Deep Tech” did not exist as a category. Google it and the search resulted in electronic dance music and DJs such as Martin Garrix. We set out to build thought leadership in Deep Tech, as well as awareness around Deep Tech and its potential impact. There were many challenges in place – we had to create impact, fast. When faced with such a situation, I have found that the best course of action is to roll up your sleeves and “just do it”.
In building a Deep Tech community, I would reach out to organisers of interest groups in AI, robotics…anything related to Deep Tech, and offer them our venue to host their events. Together with the team that I have built, we would knock on doors of potential partners – universities, corporates, organisations – and together we would curate and produce Deep Tech-focused events.
Over time, this grew, and in just 3 years, we are now the largest and fastest-growing Deep Tech community in Singapore, having grown our database to over 32,000 individuals. Of course, this would not have been possible without our partners – we have established many great partnerships and these will continue to grow. We continue to challenge ourselves, never being content with the status quo, to try new things and experiment.
Building the team was one of the key priorities when I started at SGInnovate. And mind you, not just any team, but a high impact team, with talented professionals passionate about our mission and driven to support the organisation. One of my greatest pride is in the team that I have built – I truly believe that each of my teammates is best-in-class and driven to consistently raise the bar in all of our activities.
I am a firm believer that one of the key successes of a leader is in building a team that can “outlast” you, and I am proud to say that I believe I have achieved this.
What were the main challenges you have faced? What were your first successes, your failures?
When I joined SGInnovate, one of my first tasks was to launch SGInnovate within 2 months – we had no logo, no website and no team. We forged ties with great agency partners to achieve this, with great success. I often joke that that period was a “natural weight loss programme” for me, as it was such a stressful period. It’s nice to be able to look back now, with a smile.
Personally I don’t like to label non-successes as “failures” – rather, I see them as learning experiences. I have learnt that not everyone will thrive in SGInnovate.
We are a startup. The environment we work in is dynamic and sometimes unstructured, with things moving and changing quickly, and these may not be suited to individuals who prefer structure and predictability. I have also learnt this the hard way where some of my initial hires left the organisation early in their journey due to the poor job fit. This is the reason I encourage our candidates to meet with several teammates, and to get as much information as they can before accepting our offer. I find that being open and honest about expectations is the best for both parties.
Deep tech is a really critical for countries, what are the perspectives here in Singapore?
Deep Tech refers to technologies based on genuine scientific discoveries that have produced novel and defensible intellectual property (IP). Swati Chaturvedi, Co-founder of Propel (X), an online investing platform for Deep Tech in Silicon Valley, first popularised the term in 2014 in order to differentiate those firms from startups engaged in business model innovation, incremental service improvements or the deployment of standardised technologies.
We believe that hard global problems such as in ageing population, urban density, food security and climate change can potentially be solved using Deep Tech. Singapore, where we are based, is uniquely positioned and has the key ingredients (e.g., strong education system and pool of technical talent, access to venture money, corrupt-free Government) to realise Deep Tech innovations that can tackle these challenges.
With the support of our partners and co-investors, SGInnovate supports entrepreneurial scientists through equity-based investments, access to talent and business-building advice. Our efforts are prioritised around emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Tech, MedTech and Quantum Tech, which represent impactful and scalable answers to global challenges.
How “Dare you” to be a woman in deep tech?
And why not? Skills and expertise are not defined by gender, but by the individual. I bring a lot to the table. I just happen to also be a woman. I have never felt disadvantaged just because of my gender because I truly believe that we are the masters of our own destinies.
We own our future. No one else does.
How do you bring more diversity?
Diversity is important when we want to capture different viewpoints and abilities. When hiring for the team, we look at potential teammates from different backgrounds, and who have different mindsets and opinions.
Collectively, this creates richness in our thinking and approaches to tackling situations. Life would be so boring if we are carbon copies of ourselves!