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Business Advice

SP's InnoVillage gives start-ups space to mix

InnoVillage nurtures start-ups and strives to be a place for design, innovation and research and development where past and current students get to mingle.
The Straits Times - December 20, 2011
By: Lin Zhaowei
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SP's InnoVillage gives start-ups space to mix Mr Jerry Chen, Ms Ereen Toh, Ms Marjorie Van Der Straaten and Mr Andrew Chia are founders of some start-ups at InnoVillage. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

SINGAPORE Polytechnic (SP) alumnus Jerry Chen, 26, started a business selling original music compositions in 2009 after he left his first job.

But he and his partner could not afford to rent an office, so they worked from home. Later, they moved to a temporary space provided by SP.

In May last year, they moved to a new rent-free incubator space at the polytechnic called InnoVillage, and found a home for their fledging company, Express In Music. They were one of its first tenants, and have done well so far. Sales are set to hit $100,000 this year.

InnoVillage is not just a space for nurturing start-ups like Mr Chen's. Located in a shady corner of the SP campus at Dover Road, it is also a place for design, innovation and research and development.

At the same time, it serves as a focal point for alumni activity, providing opportunities for past and current students to mingle and network.

Speaking to The Straits Times at InnoVillage recently, SP principal Tan Hang Cheong said the idea of setting up the integrated space was conceived about five years ago.

The concept took shape in 2008, when SP secured ownership of the disused container offices from JTC Corporation's Phase Z.Ro Technopreneur Park near Buona Vista MRT, which has since closed. About 80 per cent of the materials used to build InnoVillage were recycled from there.

That and the use of clean technology such as solar panels earned it the Building and Construction Authority's top certification for environmentally friendly buildings.

It was completed in late 2009, and has office space for new business and social entrepreneurship start-ups, where occupants are expected to move out after two years.

The Student Agency, a design and advertising company run by students and alumni, is also based there.

One of the research centres at InnoVillage is the Live Well Collaborative, a Procter and Gamble initiative focusing on products and services for those aged 50 and above.

The other four polys here also have their own entrepreneurship centres and research labs. But InnoVillage is different as it houses these offices in the same compound, providing opportunities for interaction.

'For innovation to be effective, we need the three wheels of technology, business and design to work in tandem. How do we bring these together under one place? That was what we aimed to achieve,' said Mr Tan, who has helmed the poly since 2007.

'People may ask, why not just use a three-storey building... But InnoVillage is different because it's this mixing together that provides the environment to encourage the generation of ideas.'

To provide a convenient space for business meetings and interaction, a cafe was set up in collaboration with local cafe Kaffee Kultur. It is also a training ground for students to learn how to make and blend coffee.

Mr Tan said new start-ups must come in all the time to maintain the energy and drive of InnoVillage.

'For start-ups, our message is: After you grow, you move out. I told the staff that there should be no permanent tenant in this place,' he said.

'I hope that when visitors come back here one year later, this place will have different tenants.'



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