Singapore Acceleration Centre: The birthplace of innovation

Singapore has steadily built a robust maritime innovation ecosystem over the years and maritime corporates like Wärtsilä are becoming an important part of the ecosystem. The new technologies and innovations coming out of this ecosystem promise to keep the industry in Singapore, and world over, competitive in the future.

Singapore’s economy, with one of the highest trade-to-GDP ratios in the world, is heavily dependent on its maritime sector. Following a surge in investments in the maritime sector, starting in the 1970s, Singapore is today the world’s largest transhipment hub, moving over 33 MTU (Metric Tonne Units) a year, with a ship arriving or departing Singapore every 3 minutes. The country continues to invest in next generation infrastructure, such as the Tuas Terminal, which will ultimately have a 65 million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) capacity, making it the single largest container terminal in the world.

Chris Chung, Director of Ecosystem Development for Wärtsilä Singapore elaborates, “Singapore has limited sea space and high levels of utilisation. Strategic initiatives such as the Tuas next generation port and Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map enable continuous innovation to enable greater efficiency, effectiveness and navigational safety. Smart technologies and innovation on an ecosystem level are critical enablers,” he says.

The maritime industry itself faces disruption.

“Technological innovation changes all industries, including the maritime industry. The competitors of the future may be from the same industry or from a completely different kind of industry, like supply chain operators,” says Janne Lautanala, General Manager, Open Innovation, Wärtsilä.

The need for Singapore and the maritime industry to continue to innovate is clear. Singapore is well-positioned to respond to these challenges and lead the next wave of transformation in the maritime industry, having nurtured an ecosystem that encourages exciting new innovation.

Creating a new space for entrepreneurship

The maritime innovation ecosystem in Singapore brings together port authorities, regulators, academia and maritime corporates. It leverages Singapore’s traditional strengths of world-class infrastructure, highly-skilled workforce, proactive governmental agencies and strong protection for intellectual property rights while creating an important new space for the energy and passion of entrepreneurs.

"Entrepreneurial start-ups will drive many of the innovations that are significantly transforming the maritime industry cluster,” believes Prof. Wong Poh Kam, Senior Director, NUS Entrepreneurship Center, a division of NUS Enterprise. NUS Enterprise is the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS).  

This entrepreneurial approach is exemplified by ‘Port Innovation Ecosystem Reimagined at BLOCK71’ (PIER71). Founded by the MPA and NUS, through NUS Enterprise, PIER71 is the entrepreneurial marina for the region’s maritime innovation. One of the flagship programs of PIER71 is the Smart Port Challenge, which welcomes start-ups globally to pitch solutions to pressing technological challenges identified by maritime corporates.

Another program designed to enable entrepreneurs is PIER71 Accelerate, an 8-week mentor-led program which provides access to a large network of industry mentors, domain experts, investors and corporate partners.

“We can’t change the industry by ourselves”

Wärtsilä too has quickly identified the need to create an ecosystem that fosters a collaborative and entrepreneurial approach to innovation. It has launched the Wärtsilä Acceleration Centre in Singapore, mandated to promote innovation by collaborating with industry, academia and local partners. The Centre in Singapore is one of three Acceleration Centres that Wärtsilä has established during the last two years.

“We at Wärtsilä have acknowledged that we can’t change the industry by ourselves,” says Alid Dettke, Vice President, Open Innovation at Wärtsilä, “and that it makes sense to collaborate with other companies that have specialised technological capabilities. That is one of the reasons we want to work with start-ups and Singapore’s maritime ecosystem is an ideal setting for this.” 

With its multiple business lines and locations spread across the globe, Wärtsilä has developed a robust pipeline of exciting new technologies. However, the company’s innovations in areas such as power, engines, sensors, automation and navigation often happen within deep technical expert teams, which might restrict the opportunity to synergise across business lines, and develop end-to-end solutions. “The Acceleration Centre brings together passionate people from different teams across the globe, to work on real customer problems, real industry problems,” says Chung.

Innovation, however, does go beyond technology. “We were attempting something new within Wärtsilä, with fit-for-purpose processes to account for a One Wärtsilä project in a unified way. So, we improvised on the job, innovating the way in which we work with each other,” says Jan Grothusen, Managing Director, Guidance Marine, Wärtsilä Voyage Solutions. 

These efforts are starting to pay-off. The Acceleration Centre launched its first project, the IntelliTug, a harbour tug with autonomous navigation capabilities. “IntelliTug is an example of a strategic co-creation project that seeks to address real-world challenges, together with key client PSA Marine, regulator Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore, class society Lloyd’s Register and R&D organisation Technology Center for Offshore and Marine, Singapore. As a purpose-built facility for collaboration and co-creation, the Acceleration Centre has been a great environment and hub for the project team,” says Chung.

Keeping the maritime industry competitive and viable

This collaborative and entrepreneurial approach to innovation in the maritime industry bodes well. People and ideas from seemingly disparate business lines and technological platforms are coming together, to create an ecosystem that is truly innovative and promises to keep not just Singapore’s ports, but also the maritime industry itself competitive and viable in the future.

Wärtsilä too is reaping the benefits of this approach, by making the advantages of innovation transferable across business lines. “Since we’ve launched the Acceleration Centre and publicly announced the IntelliTug project, there’s been a lot of brand reappraisal for Wärtsilä. Our clients are realising that we’re doing much more than great engines,” observes Chris. “We have started the innovation journey with projects in the maritime industry and are looking for opportunities in the energy sector as well. This is just the beginning,” concludes Lautanala.

Written by
Sunanda Jayaseelan
Contributing Writer at Spoon Agency