Tucked away in two back rooms on the on the second and third floors of the National Design Centre (111 Middle Road) in Singapore, the government’s Infocomm Development Agency (IDA) has created a maker space that is free to use for entrepreneurs, students, and startups that need it. The maker space, called IDA Labs, has iMacs, 3D printers, a laser cutter, microcontrollers for shared use, and often holds workshops for students. When I was there, a group of students, probably no older than 15 years old, were also attending a workshop there on how to build a drone.
I was introduced to IDA Labs by a contact I had met in Silicon Valley, who was working on expanding the reach of the IDA by setting up offices in California. He was introduced to me by another contact that I had met at a robotics conference a few months earlier.
The space, near the Bugis MRT stop, is quite centrally located, and, more importantly, is very close to Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square, two places to find all sorts of electronics, parts, and raw materials for most of projects you can dream of (albeit some things such as Arduino boards are quite expensive). Although walking through the throngs of shops can be an exercise in frustration and a very time-consuming feat, you can usually find whatever it is that you’re looking for if you just ask around and have enough patience to find it.
At the maker space, I met some interesting people there who were doing startups, with IDA Labs as the incubator for their ideas. In this case, they were all hardware-related startups, which made sense to me, given the context. Some had prototypes to share and discuss, while others were still solidifying their ideas, but all had a great appreciation for the space that they were given, free to use.
The reason behind why the Singaporean government is pouring money into building spaces for tech startups and letting them use these spaces for free is the same reason this kind of thing is actually happening across many parts of Asia—from Hong Kong to Malaysia to South Korea. Everyone is attempting to recreate the conditions of Silicon Valley, some with more success than others.
By fostering an environment of innovation and education, the Singaporean government is showing that it is interested investing in the future of the country by diversifying the pool of talent, creating new opportunities for its citizens, and focusing resources on individuals that can make a difference. It is also using these tools to attract talent from around the Asia-Pacific region to strengthen its standing as a business and startup hub.
During my time there, I also utilized IDA Labs for a personal project. I designed and (mostly) built a motorized selfie stick to allow for panorama selfies. Here’s a work-in-progress photo:
I was unable to complete it during my time there, since I also had spent a lot of time networking, finding parts, and exploring the city, but I eventually completed the project at the Penang Science Cluster in Malaysia, a similar project to IDA Labs, but supported instead by private companies, rather than the Malaysian Government. I’ll discuss my observations of the Penang Science Cluster in a future post.