How a Nation of Innovators is Helping Drive Asia Forward
As the Asia-Pacific region continues to lead global economic growth, despite global uncertainty, economies such as Singapore’s have been key to driving the region forward. Look beyond the skyscrapers that punctuate the skyline of this global financial hub and you’ll discover the Asian giant is also home to a skilled manufacturing industry that makes up nearly a fifth of the country’s GDP. Travel north-west from the downtown central business district and you’ll find yourself passing research centers specializing in everything from precision engineering to biopharmaceuticals. Keep going and you’ll find engineering start-up HOPE Technik, which, despite being small in size, is making big waves across the world.
Founded by Peter Ho and three of his contemporaries, HOPE Technik operates in a range of engineering disciplines including emergency response vehicles, robotics, and exoskeletons. Hailed by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a prime example of an enterprise that is building new capabilities in an economy defined by disruption, HOPE Technik has grown rapidly since it was founded just over a decade ago.
Ho, a life-long engineer with motorsport in his blood, started the company to make something of his passion. “I’m an engineer. Properly an engineer. I love nothing more than actually building stuff,” he proudly proclaims.
Since the company’s inception in 2006 with just $7,500 USD, they have grown to over 140 employees–affectionately referred to as “teammates”–and have developed a range of products that have found customers all over the world. Specializing in vehicles designed for emergency services, robots, and drones, HOPE Technik operates a business. that look for challenges and develop them into viable products. This has taken them from their motorsport roots to diverse industries, and even beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
When Airbus came looking for a partner to help develop a research prototype to take passengers to the edge of space, HOPE Technik secured the contract. A contract that would have been almost impossible to win for a company of HOPE’s size without the help of the Singapore Government and their focus on enabling partnerships.
“Airbus wanted the project to be done in an innovative, rapid, and efficient way,” explains Ho. “We had to go and figure things out that didn’t really readily exist.” Designing, developing, and manufacturing the prototype plane’s airframe, avionics, and user interface from scratch called for serious innovation. This drive to invent is built into the core of the company.
According to HOPE Technik’s founder, “You can’t foster innovation, you have to demand it.” Teammates embody the mantra that defines company culture: ‘Small in number, strong in force.
Ho understands that as the manufacturing industry globally becomes more competitive, HOPE Technik and other Singaporean companies need to have a point of differentiation. “We know that the reality is you’ve got the super manufacturing silos of the world, like China, that are growing. So we need a strong proposition to the buyer.”
Ho believes that Singapore can’t compete on cost, so its people and ideas need to be stronger. “The only proposition we can have is a better solution. What would a better solution mean? Same constraints, same boundaries for everybody, but a better idea. That’s innovation.”
To compete with better ideas requires the infrastructure to enable it. The government is acutely aware of the role that it plays here, having recently committed approximately $14 billion USD over the next five years to spur the country’s R&D capabilities, enterprise innovation, and entrepreneurship. Over the past decade, the government has already put more than $22 billion USD into R&D to help companies develop and test new products and solutions.