Coming Full Circle to Build a Regional Tech Hub in Singapore

Craig Gravina recognised Singapore’s potential as a health innovation centre during the swine flu and now again with the COVID-19 pandemic. He returned to a place that captured his imagination more than a decade ago, and this time he is recruiting talented professionals to build a health tech hub in Singapore.  

3 May 2021 / By Craig Gravina, ObvioHealth CTO

I first moved to Singapore in 2009 to implement a digital product that managed patient flow at Singapore General Hospital. Coincidentally, this system also managed hospital operations during a pandemic. I was quickly impressed by how technically advanced the hospital and the staff was and their incredible hospitality, often welcoming me into their homes. I formed strong bonds with them, not just as colleagues but as friends.

Then came swine flu. The first case of H1N1 influenza in Singapore was confirmed in May 2009, and an estimated 415,000 Singaporeans became infected with the disease. The hospital immediately went into lockdown, sending most of its staff home to prevent the spread of disease.

While alarmed by the global public health threat unfolding around me, I was amazed by the state of readiness that my Singaporean hospital colleagues and government officials put into place to contain it. These experts implemented hard-won lessons from Singapore’s outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. They successfully rolled out a workflow to continue delivering patient care and minimize the spread of the virus. Fortunately, the hospital never had to deploy its full pandemic capabilities. However, I knew Singapore would be ready in the event of a future pandemic—and that I’d love to return there to build a technology team one day.

I spent the next decade working in health tech at American, British, and Australian companies but continued to track the mushrooming of Singapore’s talent pool—and the infusion of investment and innovation there. In February of 2020, I joined SPRIM, a Singapore health innovation accelerator that is turning complex science into pragmatic health innovation solutions. SPRIM works across the full spectrum of digital health, drug development and biotech, from drug trials through go-to-market strategies. As chief technology officer, I lead SPRIM in developing technology platforms for its portfolio of companies, including ObvioHealth.

ObvioHealth is a virtual research organization (VRO) that is reinventing clinical research using digital technology. We design, configure and run cost-effective virtual and hybrid clinical trials from end to end. ObvioHealth leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify and measure clinical trial outcomes and biomarkers that help us better understand the efficacy of new therapeutics.

ObvioHealth’s state-of-the-art Singapore office

Little did I know that history would repeat itself as soon as I arrived in Singapore, only this time with ObvioHealth we’d be able to help in finding a cure. While the VRO market was already strong, ObvioHealth’s approach was relatively novel—until last year. The pandemic exponentially accelerated the transformation of clinical trials, compressing five years’ worth of technology adoption into one. Virtual clinical trials are now a critical necessity, and we’ve been actively involved in delivering clinical trials for COVID-19 therapeutics. The last year has been a whirlwind of hard work and technology innovation and being part of a team that’s able to make a difference in people’s lives makes all the hard work worth it.

ObvioHealth now has a need to invest to grow our expertise in deep tech and expand our pipeline with products that support our clinical partners. We immediately recognized that Singapore could fill this need. Here, we can tap into a rich ecosystem of health tech companies and talent. We can also partner with academic research centers and health providers within a collaborative ecosystem, similar to what we’ve achieved in the United States.

ObvioHealth is recruiting about 25 people to continue our growth trajectory in Singapore, and we anticipate the team will continue to expand. We are staffing across the whole spectrum of digital product development and innovation—with roles including software engineers, data scientists and product managers. Our strategy is to attract talented people and provide long-term career growth opportunities that equip them to rise within the company.

The SPRIM and ObvioHealth teams celebrating CNY 2020 in the Singapore office
SPRIM’s Ventures Day at the Singapore office in February 2020

Over the years, many talented technology professionals have left Singapore to follow opportunities around the globe. Now, as Singapore’s deep tech and life sciences spaces gain further traction, some people are repatriating to take advantage of new career prospects and to live closer to their families. As they do, Singapore’s tech signal will continue to grow stronger.

With its centralized location, Singapore is well positioned to drive innovation throughout APAC. Singapore is home to over 400 health tech startups, up from about 140 four years ago. The health and biotech sub-sectors secured S$342 million in funding in the first half of 2020, marking a 49 percent increase over the S$230 million secured in all of 2019, according to a PwC report. This burgeoning ecosystem offers tremendous opportunity for startups, technology professionals and investors.

Singapore also offers excellent quality of life—with outstanding infrastructure, an international environment with a diverse expat population, and a warm, open culture. There’s something for everyone here, whether it’s fly fishing (my personal favorite), exploring the beautiful beaches, rivers, parks and gardens, or enjoying vibrant arts, culture and socially distanced nightlife. In many ways, Singapore is akin to the Silicon Valley of APAC, defined by a similar energy and passion for innovation.

A happy return to Singapore during CNY 2020

For me, the role at ObvioHealth offers a chance to return to a place that captured my imagination more than a decade ago. I recognized Singapore’s potential as a health innovation center during the swine flu pandemic and now again throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, I’m proud to recruit talented professionals for an emerging deep tech hub in Singapore. I’m eager to see what the future holds—and I’m proud to build a talented team that will help to propel Singapore’s health tech economy to new heights and contribute to the common good at the same time.

About Craig

Craig Gravina has been creating highly innovative and disruptive digital solutions within healthcare, life sciences, and deep tech for over 25 years. His early career consisted of founding a number of internet and digital media startups during the dot com days. More recently, Craig has served as CTO for several innovative healthcare and life science ventures entering growth stage.

Craig’s success leveraging software and deep learning technologies, and building highly talented and creative teams, has led to significant revenue growth and successful acquisitions of these companies. Craig’s passion is helping the world through innovations in healthcare, which he’s currently doing at ObvioHealth. Connect with Craig here.

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