Expert advice for tailor-made innovations
Over five decades of innovation and commercialisation experience has equipped IPI Innovation Advisor Dr Loh Wah Sing with the tools to help SMEs in accessing new target markets.
Apple, Facebook, Razer and more—numerous well-known companies started out as SMEs and gained access to international markets by addressing consumers’ ever-changing needs. While international expansion remains the objective of many of Singapore’s SMEs, it is no easy feat.
From differing product regulations specifications to discovering the needs of a whole new market, new entrepreneurs can face major challenges while going global. However, with an entrepreneurial veteran on their side, SMEs may be able to navigate overseas markets with greater ease.
One such guide, IPI Innovation Advisor Dr Loh Wah Sing, taps into roughly five decades of industry experience in the chemicals and materials sectors to help SMEs deal with operational challenges as well as shoot for international growth.
Building a harmonious working relationship
A former Deputy Executive Director of the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Science at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Dr Loh’s fruitful career encompasses several senior technical and management appointments in sectors ranging from chemicals and materials to precision engineering and environmental management.
One particularly notable invention of Dr Loh’s is a long-lasting, algae-resistant paint developed specifically for humid climates where Singapore is located. The solution gained him substantial recognition, including the Institution of Engineers Singapore’s Innovator Award, and continues to be used on public housing estates since 1991.
Accordingly, Dr Loh’s expertise lies in developing market-oriented technology, from proof-of-concept to commercialisation. His remarkable acumen has allowed him to assist SMEs as they identify and solve challenges during product and service development as well as commercialisation.
By fostering an intimate and productive working relationship with clients who seek his professional guidance, Dr Loh adopts a client-centred approach and gains more insight into the barriers they face.
“I always strive to understand both the market as well as the company ecosystem,” said Dr Loh. “Having in-depth dialogues with clients gives me a window into their perspectives, which makes it easier for me to get to the root of their problems.”
Top tips for commercial success
In his experience, Dr Loh has found that a major challenge companies typically face is understanding the detailed needs of the market and pivoting their product to suit them. He believes that by remaining patient, collecting data and starting on a small scale, companies can confidently develop valuable solutions that are likely to succeed.
“I recommend going out to interview customers in addition to laboratory work. Our perceptions of what the market needs and actual feedback from consumers may be entirely different,” explained Dr Loh. “Many innovators who don’t do this enough end up with products or services that need substantive re-work or in extreme cases, become white elephants.”
Having said this, Dr Loh also shared the episode of how a supposedly doomsday non-sticking adhesive sample prepared in 3M’s laboratory was subsequently turned into the widely publicised post-it note business.
Developed over his career as a scientist, Dr Loh also has a knack for translating complex scientific content into understandable terms that clients can make sense of. With clear and concise information, miscommunication can be averted during the consultation process and clients’ needs are naturally better conveyed.
“You must be able to talk in a layman language that clients understand, not using high-sounding concepts or complicated chemical reactions for illustration,” added Dr Loh.
Giving companies strength to stand on their own
Applying his seasoned skills in his role as an IPI Innovation Adviser, Dr Loh currently provides expert advice to Siang May, a market leader in the production of synthetic fibre products used in various industries ranging from agriculture and aquaculture to commercial and sport fishing.
With Dr Loh’s support, Siang May is in the process of developing a suite of new products and services targeting markets that will bring about more effective use of resources and higher cost performance benefits for both existing and new clients thereby contributing to sustainability. The company’s in-house R&D team will widen and deepen collaboration with local R&D centres to speed up achievement of the goals.
With a wealth of experience in innovation and commercialisation, Dr Loh is well-positioned to assist and guide Singapore’s SMEs, across a variety of industries, as they navigate the challenges of taking their products and services overseas.
“It’s meaningful to me that I’m able to help budding SMEs and give back to the society within my means and expertise,” said Dr Loh.