Pierrick BOUFFARON, Singapore / Director of Development & New Ventures at NUS (National University of Singapore) with 15+ years of global experience across strategy, investments, tech policy, and operations. Chairman and investor at Nemean Labs.

1. How do you define innovation, and why is it important for you (personally, not for your professional activity)?

I tend to see innovation as the fragile balance that people, institutions and societies strive to find between organizing change and implementing novelties. This central notion of balance is paramount: the efforts of conceptualizing and/or operationalizing innovation —i.e., challenging its roots, meanings and processes, etc.— have been one of the main frameworks used by modern societies to think and talk about a collective future. Obviously, the good comes with the bad and the ugly. Let us keep in mind that the concept of innovation is to be used in order to emulate, rather than dictate.

2. If we only consider “digital” what’s the biggest impact you witnessed directly these last years (remote working notwithstanding)?

I am tempted to answer the accelerated deployment — and often unsupervised use — of new-generation chats such as WhatsApp, Slack or WeChat in professional environments. It appears that our collective default on any task is to use that simple button to use a chat — and we are doing this multiple times a day. They blurred all lines between professional and personal, hierarchies, priority topics, organization of workflows, communication patterns. Younger staff, willingly or unwillingly, influence their peers in doing so. The chats don't serve the corporate or institutional projects anymore, they truly impact the way projects are initiated, orchestrated and executed.

3. What’s currently the hottest topic in your field that you believe might have a chance to really be transformative?

Lately, I have been focusing on advanced materials. Novel properties of smart materials are more and more associated with their ability to adapt to external environmental changes including temperature, pH, light, moisture, fluids composition, etc., in order to activate unique or pre-programmed functions. The extraordinary potential of such smart materials results mainly from their surface functionalization: the best scientific and technical teams have recently made giant leaps in applied research. This is a game changer. One day, materials are going to behave like 'living' organisms.

4. In contrast, what's the most over-hyped topic and why?

I would tend to say quantum computing in deep tech and cryptos/NFTs in the digital realms. While I am pretty excited about these fields — that I follow closely and even invest in— the current frenzy does not help to differentiate what is valuable today, what will be tomorrow (in the short, medium, and long terms), and clearly does not underline enough the extraordinary scientific, engineering and market efforts required to bring the fields to maturity. Some could argue that it is chicken-and-egg rhetoric. Hype can bring investments that are useful for the next cycles... but many market players will get burned.

5. What is the most surprising weak signal you have direct knowledge of that we all should be paying more attention to?

Probably the growing interest of family offices in the venture capital asset class and new forms of innovation financing. Being currently based in Singapore, I witness firsthand how (1) family offices multiply and grow in size, (2) tech VC is increasingly a solid part of their portfolio strategies, both in direct and indirect ways. As many of those families have industrial roots as well as their own interests, beliefs and convictions (therefore, less standardized behaviors than traditional investors or LPs), they represent interesting new entrants in the space. A trend to watch in the next decade.
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