Innovation: When to make the leap

For entrepreneurs and innovators one of the biggest and most difficult questions is when to take the plunge and commit to turning their cherished big idea into hard business reality.

And with economic uncertainty now apparently the only certainty, that question becomes all the more pressing.

gary-wang280Wang founded Chinese video streaming site Tudou.com in 2005But for Gary Wang, founder of Tudou.com, China’s largest online video site, the answer is simple: “there is no such thing as good timing or bad timing”.

What matters, he says, is that whatever time you choose to go for it, that your commitment is backed up with passion.

Wang was the keynote speaker at the opening of Innovfest 2013, the annual conference for innovators, educators, and investors organised by NUS Enterprise.

In its fourth year this year, the conference drew some 700 participants to meet, mingle, and potentially plant the seeds of future business deals.

Trial and error

The conference was opened Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who welcomed what she said was “an important platform for the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship”, connecting the brightest minds from the business, academic and financial communities.

skydive280Commitment and passion matter more than timing, says WangIn his address Wang recalled his own experience of launching Tudou.com in 2005 as one of trial, error, upturns, downturns, and ultimately success.

Launched well before even YouTube hit the big time, Wang admitted that with hindsight that it probably hadn’t been the best of times to launch an online video platform.

Changing technology; economic cycles of boom and bust; and changes in government regulation meant that the story of Tudou’s development had swung from good timing to bad timing, to really good timing and even terrible timing.

As a young startup, he said, Tudou was “merely a little drop in the giant wave of economic and technological developments”.

It’s the same story across the business world, Wang told the conference. Economists slave away to spot macro trends and micro movements, stock traders all watch to catch just the right time to buy or dump one particular stock or index fund.

But the fact is, he said, quoting one Hollywood screenwriter’s pithy summing up of the entertainment industry: “Nobody knows anything.”

Wang, who is now working on his next big project – creating an animation studio in China to produce family-friendly fare for Chinese audiences – said his experience had revealed an important lesson: “Timing comes from your own heart.”

“If you have that bug that keeps you up at night, causes you to put your fork into your drink glass rather than your plate, talk like a parrot to anyone who cares to listen to your idea, or have so long kept a secret idea you cannot hold it any more, it is the right timing.”

Challenges

With that in mind, delegates at Innovfest focused attention on other key challenges facing innovators, including technology commercialisation and intellectual property (IP) management.

Innovfest 2013
Two companies whose products got their start at NUS were honored at the conference.
Awak Technologies received the Promising NUS Start-up Award for developing a battery-operated wearable dialysis device. Awak’s president and CEO Neo Kok Beng is also an adjunct associate professor at the NUS Business School and Faculty of Engineering.
Pete Kellock, an adjunct professor at the NUS School of Computing, was named the Outstanding NUS Innovator. He’s the co-founder of muvee Technologies, an automatic video production software company, although he  stepped down as CEO in 2007.

Among the companies highlighted at the conference was Clearbridge BioMedics, a firm developing technology to detect, isolate and retrieve circulating tumor cells in a patient’s blood.

Indranee Rajah, the minister who opened the conference, described the firm as an excellent example of how a technology that began its life in a university lab is realizing its potential to save human lives.

Another company highlighted at the event was PatSnap, a software firm developing an online patent search and analytics platform.

Both Clearbridge and PatSnap have benefited from support from NUS Enterprise.

The conference also served as the launch platform for NUS Living Labs. Under this initiative the university’s Kent Ridge campus will be used as a test site for new interactive digital media (IDM) and communications applications.

Developers and researchers will be able to take advantage of sensing technologies already installed around the campus and shareware that provides campus maps, blueprints and databases to test their products. They’ll also be able to call on NUS staff and students to act as pilot users and testers.

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