We are back with part 2 of our conversation with Leon Yip, former Singaporean firefighter and IVA VC Accelerator Cohort 2 alumnus.

Call 160 | Making Life Saving Everyone’s Business with Deep Tech | Academy Afterthoughts

Call 160 | Making Life Saving Everyone’s Business with Deep Tech | Academy Afterthoughts with Leon Yip

We are back with part 2 of our conversation with Leon Yip, former Singaporean firefighter and IVA VC Accelerator Cohort 2 alumnus.

We are back with part 2 of our conversation with Leon Yip, former Singaporean firefighter, Insignia Ventures Academy VC Accelerator Cohort 2 alumnus, and now working with deep tech startups at Hatch.

Part 1 was all about Leon sharing his journey from the Singapore Civil Defense Force to IVA and finally to Hatch

In part 2, Leon walks the talk, sharing insights working with deep tech startups, from use cases like security checkpoints at global events to replicability and commercialization with government as a customer. 

More episodes with IVA mentors and alumni on Academy Afterthoughts


5 Things We Learned About Bridging Public Safety and Deep Tech 

(1) It goes both ways. It’s not just about deep tech solutions having potential to solve inefficiencies in public safety and security workflows. With the right POCs, This use case can also be an ideal testbed to ensure technologies are robust.

“I think that public safety and security as a seedbed and a test bed for deep tech also has value to the deep tech community…”

(2) Solutions can be found in the unlikeliest of places. For example, the same technology used to improve access to early cancer detection can be cross-pollinated into improving checkpoint security at scale. 

(3) Finding replicability potential. Government as go-to-market should not lock out growth opportunities but instead open up replicability potential, say within other agencies in that government or even private enterprise customers with similar pain points. 

“Firefighting looks very similar when it’s conducted by the SCDF as when it is conducted by an oil and gas company, which has an emergency response team or an airport with an emergency response team.”

(4) The value of “translators” in the market discovery. In the same way that potential customers may not realize the value of the solution until they see it in action, startups may not realize the value of the an untapped market until they interface with end users. Providing these “interfaces” and conversations is where work of people like Leon, and initiatives like Hatch, Pier71, IMDA, among others across the Singapore government, comes in. 

“I think that is fundamental, that curiosity that we are trying to bring into the home team and this public safety and security ecosystem here.”

(5) The value of seeing through the eyes of founders. Coming from the customer / partner POV, Leon was able to leverage learnings from his time at IVA to have a broader view of the various considerations and concerns founders have as they find product-market fit and engage with customers. 

“Having learned some of the concepts of equity and how the dilution of equity, through different funding rounds and what it means for startups to actually find a product-market fit, I began to be able to engage better.”

Insignia Ventures Academy’s Certificate in Venture Capital course is open for applications to its 7th (March) and 8th (June) cohorts! Talk to our program manager Jiaway Koh and learn more here


(00:00) How Leon’s time at IVA impacted his career and his work at Hatch;

(06:30) Use cases of deep tech in public safety and security;

(09:51) Advice for founders working with government as customers; 

(15:50) How IVA impacted the way Leon engages with founders;

(18:38) Rapid Fire Round;

About our guest

Leon Yip is an alumnus of Cohort 2 of Insignia Ventures Academy’s Certificate in Venture Capital course. Prior to IVA he had built a career in the Singapore Civil Defense Force, from frontline responder to part of the headquarters’ innovation development team. From IVA he was exposed to philanthropic capital at Plans and Development of the Temasek Foundation. Currently he bridges the gap between lifesaving and the startup ecosystem at the Home Team Science and Technology Agency’s Hatch, which curates and accelerates impactful deep tech innovations to thrive in the public safety and security domain.

The content of this podcast is for informational purposes only, should not be taken as legal, tax, or business advice or be used to evaluate any investment or security, and is not directed at any investors or potential investors in any ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠Insignia Ventures⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ fund. Any and all opinions shared in this episode are solely personal thoughts and reflections of the guest and the host.


Paulo: Now that you’ve, as you mentioned in our last conversation, really had a mindset shift thinking about innovation. How did that impact the next career moves that you made?

Leon: To kick that off, it’s good to explain what Hatch does to contextualize the work that I actually face day to day. So what Hatch is that we look for startups with innovative technologies that could potentially be applied into public safety and security. These are not necessarily startups that are already delivering public safety and security solutions. 

In fact, we want to look at different sectors like healthcare, logistics, real estate, agriculture, space tech, different verticals, and see what are the best emerging ideas from these verticals, and how they can benefit our emergency response agencies or other operators like the police force, the firefighters, the paramedics.

So I think that is the basic premise of Hatch, and within which I specifically play a role in building community. The core of my work is to build end-user communities. So this is to find like-minded policemen, firefighters, prison, drug control officers, border control officers to actually come to Hatch as a center and want to learn about what startups can do to actually change and alleviate some of the challenges in the operating environment.

So I think this has made me quite excited about deep tech for public safety and security in a couple of ways. Firstly, I think we can experience it, especially in, or at least in Singapore. I think a lot of people can resonate with having touchpoints with the home team. From the moment that you enter Singapore, you’ll cross the borders, the home team is there. We’ve got passport checks, biometric checks and all, right? Anytime that you need to call the police or interact with the police, hopefully, nothing ill has befallen you. But let’s say you need to return a wallet you found, or you want to visit a relative or a friend who is currently in a prison facility.

So all these are touchpoints with the home team, and the challenges that the home team faces are increasingly complex and manpower is increasingly short. I think this is not unique to the home team, but I think it’s felt especially on the ground. You can see it very tangibly in terms of the very long lines between Singapore and Malaysia when you want to cross the checkpoints, when you have really big-scale events. 

As we speak, the biggest-scale event is none other than Taylor Swift’s concert. So not just the Taylor Swift concert, but other very big events of worldwide significance like the Trump-Kim summit that happened a few years back, F1 races and all. All this adds to the vibrancy and the economy of Singapore. A big premise of why Singapore is recognized as a powerhouse in Southeast Asia is also due in no small part to the safety and security that Singapore projects to its population as well as the wider global audience that sees Singapore as a good place because of the safety and security.

In terms of safety of industries, like the oil and gas industry, Singapore is actually quite robust in ensuring the safety of materials, the way that different substances are being processed, etcetera. But these are all very complex methods that need constant evolution on our part to make sure that the demands of safety and security are met. 

So I think in general, I wouldn’t go into what specific deep tech can actually benefit us because the list is really unending. But I think in general, deep tech that’s coming out of the different universities has the potential when harnessed and applied into our environment to help us solve different challenges that we face, be it at the checkpoints, be it in terms of addressing emerging risks of new drugs that appear from seemingly nowhere. I think these are things that we all, and of course, right now, also another very big scourge, the prevalence of scams all over the place. 

I think these new forms of technology will help us alleviate a lot of challenges on the ground, increase efficiency, and increase morale of our officers as well as the confidence of the public in our home team’s ability to keep the gears running 24/7.

So I think that this is what excites me about deep tech. But I would also like to suggest that the public safety and security sector or the domain also has something that is of value to the deep tech community. And what I mentioned just now, we have a lot of challenges. And I think a lot of tech startups are looking for challenges to solve, looking for impactful challenges to solve. 

A lot of the tech companies have very cool technologies, but maybe they don’t have the right challenge or the use case. They don’t find a product-market fit. I think what we offer at Hatch and in the home team in Singapore in general is that operating environment where deep tech can be tested in a very robust manner. 

So if your technologies are able to be deployed in our operating environment, I think there is a high chance of success for it to be scaled into different adjacent sectors like maritime operations, logistics, transportation. So I think that public safety and security as a seedbed and a test bed for deep tech also has value to the deep tech community, for which I’m very excited.

Paulo: You guys are essentially like a platform for the home team side, as you mentioned, as well as the larger deep tech ecosystem, which I think if you think about it may not even be necessarily limited to Singapore; it could be innovation from anywhere in the region. It could be innovation from elsewhere in the globe, as long as there’s some kind of buy-in or a use case, as you mentioned, where it could actually help ease the work and make things more efficient for the whole team with SCDF.

I know you mentioned that there’s like a whole variety of different use cases, but just for our audience, and I think you did mention some interesting examples with F1 Taylor Swift, like what are some of the innovations there that you think could be hypothetical at this point, or maybe you’re already engaging with some examples here, but maybe just an example for that kind of use case. I think it would be interesting for our audience to hear.

Leon: Sure. But first, I think what you mentioned just now, to jump on that thought, Hatch is not about Egg or hatching or chicken; it’s actually about being a gateway for startups to explore public solutions. That’s the meaning of hatch. So even that meaning itself, you know the word has multiple dual meanings, which is reflective of the kind of dual use that we are looking for in terms of incubation. 

You can really go on and on about the word, right? But I thought that actually was a very apt name. And when I heard that, ‘Oh, this new center is going to be called Hatch,’ I was like, okay, this is the place I want to be.

So use cases and technologies. Yes, I’m able to share a couple of them actually. We run open innovation challenges quite regularly, where we actually publish our statements for startups all over the world to apply and submit our proposals for. We recently graduated our first batch of startups, five startups, I think, of which I can share a couple of startups that I am quite interested or particularly excited about.

The first one is a startup originally in the healthcare or medical space. So they originally used that technology to scan for breast cancer. And I think the intent was actually to bring this technology to underserved populations or segments that couldn’t necessarily have access. But likewise, we saw the base of the technology. 

Now I’m not too technical in nature, so I’m not going to try to dive deep into the technique of it. But I think that we saw the potential for the similar technology to be potentially deployed at our checkpoints to also provide a safe way to scan travelers to ID whether or not they are carrying any dangerous items. 

And with that kind of test, I think the vision in mind is to have systems where travelers wouldn’t have to divest their coats, their backpacks, their laptops, and will be able to just walk through maybe a corridor. 

And as you walk through, actually, the corridor is stitching a picture of whether or not you are a potential threat or you are a safe traveler. So I think that this is actually one good illustration of the technologies that are coming into our center. Of course, it’s all experimentation.

And what we do is that we provide some prize money for startups to do a POC. And the POC is done in conjunction with our immigration and checkpoint authority colleagues, as well as our HTX science and tech experts, to provide design guidance and design partnership to shape the product development to make sure that it is fit for our operating environment from day one. 

So I think that’s the formula of how the technology is being developed or the POC, the proof of concept has been developed with us through our program.

Paulo: If you guys want to learn more about the other, I guess, the graduates of that first cohort and what else Hatch is working on, what other startups they’re working with, I’m going to link his LinkedIn in the description so you guys can reach out and have a deeper conversation on that. 

But I am interested in that whole process because you’re essentially giving them a go-to-market, access to their first customer which is essentially the Singapore government, specifically the home team. 

What would your advice be for entrepreneurs, as you mentioned, maybe developing sort of technologies and thinking about different sectors that these technologies could apply to, and maybe even considering public safety and security as a use case? How should they think about engaging with the government as a customer? 

How should they think about scaling their solutions, perhaps, once, say, like a POC works with the government and thinking about how else to scale that solution and expand their market?

Leon: Jumping straight into the last portion of what you just mentioned, for me, the key thing is for startups to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their technologies and to find the partnerships within the ecosystem that are necessary for them to actually go to market to serve a government agency.

It’s not just in the Singapore context, but I think many governments would find it very difficult to work directly with just one startup to deliver the full suite of solutions. So I think what might be more commonplace would be for us to test the technologies and for the startups to also be introduced to our ecosystem of partners who are able to actually integrate the technologies into full-suite solutions. 

And it is actually through these partnerships with other tech companies that their solutions can scale, not just to the Singapore government if it’s validated, but also potentially to their customers in other sectors around the world. Specifically to public safety and security, at least in Singapore, I think what we’re trying to do at Hatch is to really break down the walls between these different home team units, as well as the innovation ecosystem. 

Firefighting looks very similar when it’s conducted by the SCDF as when it is conducted by an oil and gas company, which has an emergency response team or an airport with an emergency response team.

There is some accessibility there, and we are not that scary. I think the guys in uniform are not that scary. Come to us, come to our center, come to our events. We try to have as much outreach to the ecosystem as possible. And put end users and startups in the same room, hopefully in time to come speak similar forms of the language. 

I think that on both ends, both sides of the fence, there is an interesting coming together of end users being curious about startups being more curious about the operating environment. I do think that it is something that we want to explore further and see how we can have that transfer of knowledge, transfer of context, across both sides. So for us, for the end-user side, it’s for us to know what’s new and great out there. 

For startups, it’s perhaps, what does your customer look like? What does your customer think? What is the fit of your technology to this solution, not just one particular solution, but to this whole constituent of end users that you are looking to serve or looking to potentially serve? I think that is fundamental, that curiosity that we are trying to bring into the home team or rather this public safety and security ecosystem here.

And in terms of scalability, I do think that the Singapore government is proactive in its different verticals, or to take the lead and actually experiment with startups. Some might be a bit more gung ho than others, but I think that across the board, there are efforts to actually bring in new technologies into the Singapore government and let the Singapore government kind of wave the flag of entrepreneurship in certain areas. I think the fintech sector is one that has really flourished. 

Other areas that are also very much the beneficiary of innovation activities from the government will be your food sectors, food safety, food security. There’s the whole 30 by 30 movement. So I think that’s also spurring a lot of innovation. Maritime is another very good example. I think Pier 71 is one of the pioneering government-related accelerators that is championed by NUS as well, right? And they have very credible startup stories and collaborations with startups, IMDA has their own open innovation platform. 

So Singapore, in terms of public service, I think we can be very happy with how forward-looking quite a few of these agencies are, but yet at the same time, we can’t take it for granted. So I think entrepreneurs, we would have to be quite proactive in searching out these opportunities and reading the economic situations and what’s top of mind for the leaders and tuning towards our requirements. I’ve spoken in quite specific general terms. If you want to go into more specifics, I’m always open for a chat.

Paulo: Once again, this conversation is really to just speak to the interest of our audience and really pull the curtain back a little bit on how startups can work with the Singapore government. 

It is a lot more accessible than people think, and I think even if things, I think, especially when you think about deep tech and government innovation use cases, the connotation there is that it can be a little bit slow-moving, quite niche, or still quite early, but I think there is momentum as you’ve clearly painted that picture of there is momentum. There are initiatives across the board. And it’s just really about finding the people that you can talk to, like Leon over here. 

So before we head into our rapid-fire round, I also wanted to bring back this conversation to Insignia Ventures Academy. And you did talk about what you mentioned about bringing these two groups, like the government side and also the startup side, and having them being able to speak the same language. I think that’s really something that you want to cultivate through the program of the fellows being translators in some way coming out of the program where, you know, and bringing that translation capability to their own work or career. 

I wanted to zoom in to what’s one experience or one relationship or one working relationship that you had pre-IVA that has had the most impact on your career. Now what, Hatchen and HTX?

Leon: During my time in SCDF before Insignia Ventures, I was speaking to a couple of entrepreneurs that were very intriguing personalities. They were really go-getters, very confident of themselves, very clear with what kind of problem space they wanted to be in and to solve. 

But they had a lot of different considerations, like funding from investors and what would my investor think and things, and I couldn’t really quite wrap my head around it at that point of time. Because I’m like, hey, what do you mean, no, we are potential customers, so I had a very initial kind of mindset of if we are traditional, contract getters, contract signers. 

But I think it was only after the IVA experience that a lot of things that this founder was talking about make a lot of sense. And after I managed to engage him meaningfully, having learned some of the concepts of equity and how the dilution of equity, through different funding rounds and what it means for startups to actually find a product-market fit. 

I began to be able to engage better. And now we are very good friends, and I go to him for that kind of scoop on the startup ecosystem. This is one particular relationship that I had that really benefited me and had an impact on my career. 

I think, but I will also say that today startups are actually quite well-received in SCDF and in the home team, not just because of what Hatch is doing. In general, the sentiment is that startups are carriers of innovation. And I think that is that recognition. For today, I believe that a program like IVA would be very much more well-received for public servants to actually be exposed to in a more mainstream systematic manner.

So I’m very glad that juniors or other peers around me might actually be able to reap more immediate benefits from being a part of this program. But I think just a few years ago, the concept was still quite abstract. It’s still quite academic and it shapes things like how to spread awareness. But I think now it’s time to really be able to put things into practice. 

Paulo: Since you’ve been part of the program, we’ve had a lot more public servants actually join the program as well throughout the past course, and we welcome anyone that’s tuning in right now who is in the public service and thinking about how to better leverage innovation as Leon has done with the SCDF to do their own respective areas of work to maybe have a chat with our program lead at IBA and explore that opportunity.

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