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Steve Leonard, founding CEO of SGInnovate on the forthcoming EmTech Hong Kong 2018 event

Agnieszka Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 12 June 2018

AI, Blockchain, deep tech and robotics. SGInnovate's Steve Leonard shares more what to expect at EmTech Hong Kong 2018

SGInnovate logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there for SGInnovate?

Steve Leonard (SL):
I’m Steve Leonard, founding CEO of SGInnovate. My team and I work with local and international partners, including universities, venture capitalists, and major corporations to help technical founders imagine, start and scale globally-relevant deep tech startups in Singapore.

SMP: Briefly, when was the company founded, how many people work there and what does it do?

Photograph of founding CEO Steve Leonard of SGInnovateSL: SGInnovate was started in 2016. Our mission is to enable ‘scientist entrepreneurs’ in Singapore to form and build a viable deep tech company. We exist because we firmly believe Singapore has the resources and capabilities to 'tackle hard problems' by translating scientific research into commercially-viable products.  We have a lean team of around 50 people working hard all day to help founders fundraise, find great talent, and create customer opportunities.  

SMP: How is the role of a CEO (or your role) changing in this rapidly evolving landscape?

Deep tech is an exciting but fast-moving space to be in because it includes super-hot areas such as Artificial Intelligence. As the CEO of SGInnovate, I am always meeting new people, hearing new ideas, and seeing new prototypes. I am always learning.   

SMP: What your talk entitled and briefly what will it cover at EmTech Hong Kong (26-27 June 2018)?

SL: I will be having a fireside chat with Toa Charm, Chief Public Mission Officer of Hong Kong Cyberport on 26 June at 2.30pm (registration required). We will talk about deep tech innovation trends in Singapore and Hong Kong and discuss our vision for the industry.

SMP: What do you hope EmTech Hong Kong delegates will take away from your talk and why?

SL: Delegates would be able to gain a deeper understand of the deep ecosystem in Singapore, the challenges faced and what they need to do in order to succeed in this space.

EmTech Hong Kong 2018 banner 600x314

SMP: Why is EmTech Hong Kong an important event for the APAC region?

SL: My family and I first settled in Asia in late 1996. The past 20 years has seen Asia go from ‘largely irrelevant to Silicon Valley’ to ‘the biggest threat to Silicon Valley’.  It’s fair to say that in areas such as AI-related technologies and use cases, Asia (especially China) are now, or soon will be, leading the world in innovation.

EmTech is the preeminent conference scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, corporates and investors can all be together to learn about the very cool new developments. EmTech plays a crucial role in creating these cross-disciplinary interactions.

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at SGInnovate in the APAC region?

SL: A key challenge for any ecosystem is bringing research ‘out of the lab’ and into the commercial world. Very often, technical founders or researchers lack the business experience needed to attract funding and win customers.  Raising investment funds, recruiting great talent, and winning early-customer deals are a few of the ways we help technical founders build their newly-formed startups.  

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

SL: When we have hundreds of people crowded into our space for our weekly ‘deep tech community’ events, talking about genomics, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and many other cool topics. The energy and passion in the room is tremendous.

SGInnovate homepage image

SMP: What do you think the top five things to expect from the AI, Blockchain and robotics space will be over the next 12-18 months and why?

SL: I don’t think of it as ‘top five things’, but in addition to continuing advances in AI and robotics, and more use cases in Blockchain, I also expect to see more convergence among these various technologies.  For example, surgical procedures guided much more by AI-systems and performed by medical-robotics tools. I’m not a big believer in the narrative of “AI will replace doctors”, but I am a big believer in “AI and robotics will soon become indispensable in healthcare”.

SMP: Why is Blockchain so popular, especially of the last year and how can businesses stay grounded?

SL: Ironically, Blockchain is seen as super cool, and databases are seen as super boring.  But in many ways, the Blockchain is basically a cool database with the ability for trustless contribution/use of that database. The world came to know about Blockchain through cryptocurrency, and the ensuing fever around cryptocurrency caused some people to think Blockchain was good or bad, without realising that cryptocurrency is just one application on the Blockchain. I’m personally a big fan of smart contracts as a way of using a Blockchain. I’m sure we will see many businesses using private blockchains as a way of managing their critical business information.

SMP: Is there anything else we should know, or is there anything that you’d like to share?

SL: SGInnovate is a grand experiment of sorts by the Singapore Government. We are set up as a private company, but wholly owned by Singapore Government.  We exist only to be useful to technical founders who have the courage and capability to build a product based on their scientific research. Our job is to help them as best we can to build a viable company. We see everyone as our friend and partner in pursuing technology-based solutions to hard problems.
To give you an example, we have helped startups developed meaning innovations, including a faster and cheaper way to treat industrial wastewater and a solution that allows smartphones to assess chronic wounds. These are practical solutions that will have a positive impact on people’s lives.

SMP: Best way to contact you and SGInnovate?

SL: Drop by our office (we have great coffee to boot)!

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

SL: Eggs, spinach and carrot juice every morning after hitting the gym.  I’m trying to be around for a long time.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

SL: Gave them advice that what they were trying to build was beneath their capability, and to expect more of themselves.

SMP: If you weren’t working at SGInnovate what would you be doing?

SL: Paddle boarding in Hawaii.

SMP: When / where did you go on your last holiday and why?

Diving in the Maldives with two of my kids to see the manta rays.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

SL: Have a double espresso.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

SL: Protect kids from bad people.

Learn more what to expect at EmTech Hong Kong 2018. Register at the EmTech Hong Hong website.

Receive 10% discount off the ticxket price with code ETHK8016 via SMP.

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