“Innovation comes from crazy people”, said CEO and co-founder of Singapore’s home for start-ups The Hub Grace Sai at the Annual Winsemius Seminar organized by the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. The topic of discussion was “smart nations”, using technology to create a better life for the residents in the city.


Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State, Ministry for Communications and Information and the Ministry of Education, set the stage in his opening speech, followed by Mayor of Eindhoven Rob van Gijzel. Mr Van Gijzel remarked on the importance of “smart society” when thinking about “smart cities”. He emphasized that it is not the technology that makes the city smart, but the people using technology and the way they use it. He advocated strongly for involving the users, the people living in the city, in discussions and plan-making for the future.


“I am jealous of Singapore”, Mr Van Gijzel continued, comparing his experience to that of the city state. “For us, there are so many layers of government. Every layer comes with friction and questions. In Singapore, you decide and organize quickly and make the disruption happen.”


But still, things could be moving so much more quickly, said Dr Hai Wang, Executive Vice President at NXP. A smart city or a smart nation is too big and complex for any single entity to bring about, he mused. “Government, universities and companies must all be a part of it.” Taking smart mobility as an examply, he talked about reducing car accidents, and enabling road traffic to be denser – thereby solving two great problems of current cities. Looking at those benefits, he said in response to Mr Van Gijzel: “Can we move faster? Even one day faster would potentially save hundreds of lives!”


Mr Kok Yam Tan, Head of the Smart Nation Programme Office in the Prime Minister’s Office, reassured Mr Hai. “The trajectory of the technology is clear. The purpose of the government is clear. Now we look to the citizenry to let it all come together.”


Ms Sai too saw an important role for the city population. “The biggest bottleneck right now are the innovators”, she said. Ms Sai advocated for a cultural shift towards more creativity in problem solving. “Such a shift is low tech”, she said. “It is about story telling, role models and mentors. It is about repeating ‘fail fast, fail often’ and ‘done is better than perfect’.” But she believed that this low tech approach will lead to more high tech innovations.


The seminar ended on a positive note, after an audience member asked whether startups would really be looking out for citizens and not aiming for the big bucks. “Millions and millions of entrepreneurs fail, just like I did [in my startups]”, said Mr Hai with a smile. “The startup survival rate in five year’s time is less than ten percent. Without a passion, a strong belief in what you are doing, you won’t start a company.”


Ms Sai said the same of the entrepreneurs she has met through The Hub. “People are out there to solve the problem. Money and profit is a by-product.”



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To read the review of the DutchCham Winsemius Gala Dinner click here.