We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. But have you ever heard that it takes an InnoVillage to raise a brainchild? Welcome to where great ideas are born and raised, right in the heart of Singapore Polytechnic!
From Impassioned Vision to Innovation Village
“For innovation to take place, you must bring different groups of people from business, technology and design together to share and exchange ideas. From this interaction, opportunities for innovation will arise.”
Mr Lim Peng Hun is SP's Deputy Principal (Technology and Industry) and one of the driving forces behind the formation of InnoVillage
This is the view of Mr Lim Peng Hun, SP Deputy Principal (Technology and Industry). He is one of the earliest advocates of innovation in SP, and amongst the key visionaries that contributed towards turning the concept of InnoVillage into reality.
He had always longed for SP to have a place on campus where collaborative innovation could take seed and ripen. In fact, it was an idea that travelled everywhere with him.
“I remember pencilling it down on paper, where I drew 3 circles to represent the three groups of people. I used that piece of paper as a bookmark and even shared it with some colleagues,” he shares.
Serendipity stepped in when Mr Lim met an architect from Jurong Town Council (JTC). The architect had been involved in the building of a structure called Phase Z.Ro in one-north. Phase Z.Ro was a unique collection of container-like structures built as a temporary space to incubate businesses in the one-north area while the current Metropolis was being developed. During that meeting, the architect shared that he was in the process of removing the Phase Z.Ro Technopreneur Park from the area so as to make way for the construction of the current Metropolis.
“For me, that was a very interesting opportunity,” says Mr Lim.
“They [JTC] were trying to figure out how to get rid of the containers, but I thought that we might be able to use them. So, I came back to talk about that idea with our then principal, Mr Tan Hang Cheong. We just needed to find a good spot on campus to set up a building where these 3 groups of people could come together.
“Mr Tan was very supportive, so we made an appointment, with the help of the architect, to meet the Deputy CEO of JTC. The Deputy CEO gave us his approval as he wanted to preserve the legacy of Phase Z.Ro as well.”
The SIRC (SME Infocomm Resource Centre) team was stationed at the InnoVillage in those early days
In fact, JTC was so taken by this innovative proposal to repurpose Phase Z.Ro that they donated the structures to SP!
Mr Lim’s vision for an innovation and incubation centre in SP was fast taking shape, and in the good hands of a team led by Liang Lit How, a trained architect and an SP lecturer at the time, Phase Z.Ro thus began a new lease of life as SP’s very own InnoVillage!
Innovation from the Ground Up
Should you decide to check out InnoVillage for yourself, you’ll find it a place with a cheery and energetic atmosphere. The containers are bedecked in vivid colours, and there’s just the right sense of vitality to the place – you immediately get the impression that this is a place where people aren’t afraid to experiment.
And when you reach the back of the site, you might even notice that there is a tiny cut-away in the ceiling to create space for a tree. It’s intentional, and for good reason.
When Innovillage was built, a decision was made to avoid cutting down any of the trees in the area. The end result is a bright yellow building nestled within a luxurious setting of vibrant green.
“We did that so we wouldn’t have to cut down the tree,” explains Mr Lim, who shares that the team took special care to ensure that InnoVillage was built in harmony with the landscape and environment.
Other efforts included a green wall to reduce temperatures, photovoltaic panels and solatubes, which are reflective devices that bring natural sunlight into rooms. The corridors even use proprietary energy-saving dimmers invented by SP staff.
“At the time of building InnoVillage, we would approach vendors and ask them if they had any ‘green’ ideas or products to showcase in SP via InnoVillage. If they did, they were invited to donate those innovations to us, and many agreed to,” says Mr Lim on how InnoVillage came to boast its many green technologies.
InnoVillage is known for its luscious green environment and dedication to protecting and preserving the environment
The many green technologies and vendor-donated innovations present in InnoVillage are a strong testament to how every person – and building! – in SP actively champions the poly’s Go Green movement. Any opportunity to protect and preserve the environment is readily embraced!
Naturally, all of this got the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) attention. And in recognition of InnoVillage’s extensive use of green and sustainable solutions in its construction, BCA awarded InnoVillage the coveted and prestigious Platinum Green Mark award. Furthermore, by using recycled materials in 80 per cent of InnoVillage’s construction, sizeable cost savings of $4 million had also been realised.
“We were the first small-scale building to be given this award,” reveals Mr Lim with pride, “Before us, most awardees were big buildings, designed from scratch."
Indeed, in both form and function, InnoVillage truly stands for innovation. Innovative thinking thrives here, and its numerous green innovations help ensure our shared planet continues to thrive.
Seeding Success at InnoVillage
Today, InnoVillage crests an SP hilltop amidst large greenery. It serves as a research and innovation hub where academics, researchers, industry partners, students and alumni can converge, collaborate and innovate. InnoVillage also functions as a business incubator that houses start-up businesses that have received the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) Start-ups Grant from SPRING. Countless ideas are explored by the InnoVillage community, and every day, new innovations for products and services steadily take shape.
This inventive vibe was intentional from the very onset of InnoVillage, says Mr Lim.
“InnoVillage has a concept of being simple, raw and rough. We wanted an environment where things are raw and rough, because only then are people willing to experiment – they will not hold back when trying something new,” he says.
Also inherent in the InnoVillage makeup is the concept of flow and change. Mr Lim explains: “If you stay in one place too long, you become stagnant. Hence, people who go into InnoVillage can only stay there for a period of time. After that, they must move out.”
Far from being harsh, the idea of flow is that start-ups wouldn’t stay at InnoVillage for more than a few years. This practice of having a limited period of stay works to spur businesses to move forward.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the case of Stirring Hearts, which started out at InnoVillage.
Ms Ereen Toh is very grateful for the help SP and Innovillage has given her in kick-starting her company, Stirring Hearts
Founded by SP Business School alumna Ms Ereen Toh, Stirring Hearts is an SP-nurtured company that specialises in creating hand-made cards. It also runs creative workshops so more people can learn to create heart-warming gifts with their own two hands.
According to Ereen, Stirring Hearts might not have taken off were it not for SP and InnoVillage.
“SP gave me much support throughout, encouraging me to take part in the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (YES) by SPRING Singapore, which provides funding for business start-ups by young entrepreneurs like me. And in InnoVillage, I had an ideal space in which to chase my entrepreneurial dreams to the fullest. SP and InnoVillage helped my business to flourish. I’m really grateful.”
InnoVillage also attracts high profile industry partners seeking to synergise innovative initiatives. For example, it houses the first and only Live Well Collaborative lab in the Asia Pacific region.
The Live Well Collaborative (LWC) is a non-profit centre founded in 2007 by the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Procter and Gamble (P&G). In September 2010, it set up shop at InnoVillage by forming the Live Well Collaborative – Singapore (LWC-S).
The LWC-S has since completed more than 25 sponsored projects and 10 innovation projects, involving over 20 lecturers and more than 350 students. Indeed, Mr Lim’s vision of InnoVillage being a collaborative space where different groups of people from business, technology and design come together to exchange ideas is evident in this facility.
The Live Well Collaborative-Singapore, the only one of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region, is housed in InnoVillage
One of these LWC-S projects now sits proud at Boeing’s Concept Centre in Seattle. This innovation is a working prototype of an aircraft passenger chair dubbed the Boeing Stretchair. It was developed during one of LWC-S’s Boeing Studio workshop programmes, which bring students from various disciplines together to brainstorm on new ways to improve and maintain people’s travel experience.
The Stretchair enables the passenger seated closest to the aisle to stand slightly while still safely strapped in with a seat belt, thus allowing an inside-seating passenger to cross over more easily. Additionally, the seat backing of the Stretchair does not shift even if the seat moves – the passenger seated directly behind thus does not need to re-adjust the angle of his LCD screen or have his food tray jerk each time the seat in front is adjusted.
This chair is an innovative product that aims to replace the current seats used in the economy class cabin space. Who knows, you could well find yourself in one the next time you travel!