Spanish entrepreneur Bruno Navarro is the CEO of Smartcity Projects, a Singapore-based company that specialises in building smart infrastructure technologies.
Their biggest project to date is the launch of Singapore’s first automated underground bicycle parking system at Kampung Admiralty integrated development in 2018, which was built in collaboration with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Even though the system ceased operations after a short two years due to low take-up, it was deemed as a useful pilot project that helps understand users’ experience and preferences for such technology.
The company is now in talks with the Housing Development Board (HDB) to bring in a high decontaminating pavement technology that can remove pollutants from the atmosphere, including those present in haze and fumes.
If it’s successfully installed in Singapore, it will turn our nation into the first city in the world with zero air pollutants.
Navarro also plans to bring in a physical and mental performance enhancement technology, which he has secured an exclusive right to sell in Singapore. While the exact product is still under wraps, he shared that this technology has been used legally and safely by the world’s elite sportsmen and the Spanish military.
Striking a S$4.7 million deal with LTA
Navarro first came to Singapore in 2012 as a trade analyst for the commercial office of the Embassy of Spain.
He did business management in Spain and Sweden for his undergraduate studies, and then a Master’s degree in experiential marketing, event management and protocol. He also specialised in “internationalisation of the enterprise” which granted him a one year internship with the embassy of Spain. Due to his stellar performance at the embassy, he got selected to be sent as a representative overseas.
He chose Singapore because he felt that it is an exciting city with a lot of smart talent and startups. Moreover, it was ranked the best country in the world to do business for five consecutive years.
“It seems like a great place with great opportunities. It is a proper first-world country in Asia, a continent I had never been before. I felt like I would grow and expand in such a country,” he said.
He quit his job at the embassy to work for a luxury furniture company called Royal Interiors that imports luxury furniture from Europe to Singapore.
There, Navarro found out that LTA was planning to build an automated bicycle underground parking system, which was inspired by the success of a similar system in Japan.
Navarro saw this as an opportunity to supply a superior technology called Biceberg from Spain. It is a patented automatic bicycle parking system that stores bicycles and other belongings safely within individual cells.
Biceberg is superior to the Japanese technology in a lot of ways. For one, it has the capacity to store bigger bikes with attached accessories like child seats, baskets, saddlebags and helmets.
The system is also fireproof and can be connected to a mobile app for tracking the time and checking the availability of slots.
He ended up securing a S$4.7 million contract with LTA to bring in the system, which prompted him to quit his job again to incorporate Smartcity Projects in 2015.
The project was dubbed SecureMyBike by LTA, and Navarro was very excited to build the biggest installation of Biceberg system in Singapore, which can house more than 500 bicycles at Kampung Admiralty.
Users can choose from one of three kiosks to deposit and retrieve their bikes. They can place their bicycle, along with cycling gears, into a storage cell.
The storage cells are housed in three separate underground cylindrical shafts, which extend about 10 metres underground each. Each shaft stores 167 bicycles, spread across seven levels.
Unfortunately, after testing it for two years, the system failed to get a lot of users. On average, only three of its 500 lots were used daily between February 2018 and September 2019, and fewer than five monthly passes were purchased on average.
Why it failed to gain traction
Navarro explained that the biggest factor that contributed to the failure was LTA’s oversight in choosing the location of the instalment of this project.
First off, the Kampung Admiralty integrated development building is located right next to Admiralty MRT station, where there are a lot of free surface-level bicycle parking slots available.
Secondly, underground bicycle parking system is located around a five-minute walking distance from the MRT station, and the kiosks are accessible only through a flight of staircase.
Not only do people have to travel further to reach this building, they also still have to carry their bikes up the stairs to deposit them into the kiosks. It’s too much hassle to store your bike for the price of S$0.45 per hour. Cyclists would rather lock their bikes somewhere more convenient and free.– Bruno Navarro Valle, CEO of Smartcity Projects
Navarro regretted this oversight, since it was a waste of millions of dollars of the government’s money. The underground parking system would have performed much better if the LTA had put more planning and thought into choosing the best locations for installation.
According to Navarro the Singaporean way of doing things is sometimes too restricted by old standards and bureaucracy. This working culture proves to be a challenge in implementing new and innovative smart city solutions.
“I think Singaporeans use too much resources to secure permits, certification, and all kinds of red tape, instead of allocating resources to conduct practical surveys and trials to ensure the success of a project,” said Navarro.
Although SecureMyBike has since been scrapped, the team clinched a tender with the government of Israel to install four Biceberg systems in Tel Aviv.
Israel had consulted him to learn the mistakes from the Singapore launch and ensured that they chose appropriate and accessible locations for the Biceberg.
The system is expected to launch in 2022. It will be spread across four locations in a building — one at each corner — with the storage capacity of 50 bicycles each. Navarro thought this approach makes more sense as spreading the systems will also prevent the build-up of long queues during rush hour.
Concrete blocks that absorb air pollutants
His next project is bringing in ecoGranic, a patented precast concrete pavement of high strength that actively removes pollutants from the atmosphere, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds present in haze, industrial and transportation fumes.
It works just like the process of photosynthesis. A natural oxidation process called photocatalysis breaks the polluting gases into elements that are harmless to our health and beneficial to the environment at the same time.
This process requires 50 per cent of any light spectrum to break atmospheric molecules, hence the pavement usually works in the daytime.
2.5 square metres of ecoGranic has been tested to remove the pollution of one car per day. The air quality tested above a stretch of ecoGranic pavement proved to be 92 per cent cleaner than the air quality above the spot just next to it.
Other competing products in the market can only purify five to 10 per cent of pollutants. Our product is superior because it decontaminates 50 to 100 per cent of pollutants.– Bruno Navarro Valle, CEO of Smartcity Projects
Smartcity Projects estimates that 2 million square metres of ecoGranic installation is required to purify the contamination produced by all of Singapore. This will make it the first country in the world to have zero atmospheric pollutants.
According to Navarro, they are currently in talks with HDB to launch a pilot instalment, possibly at an MRT station.
A well-rounded entrepreneur
Outside all of these innovative projects, Navarro shared that he has always had a keen interest in artistic and entertainment projects that create social impact and add value to the welfare of the public.
For example, he organised a multi-country cartoon exhibition to promote gender equality that showcased in Spain, Sweden, Mexico, Cuba, and Singapore.
He engaged prestigious cartoonists, including Pulitzer prize winners from 20 different countries to come up with illustration pieces that reflect, criticise, and visualise different aspects of the fight for gender equality.
This exhibition was inaugurated at the Arts House Museum in Singapore by Dr. Kanwaljit Soin, the first female nominated member of parliament.
In 2015, he also helped to bring in the world’s most expensive perfume collection to debut at the Singapore Grand Prix, through his connection with World of Diamonds — one of the world’s largest privately-held diamond corporations — in partnership with leading Spanish perfume house Cuarzo The Circle.
The diamond-encrusted perfume creation, The Royalé Dream, is made of of a palladium-plated, lambskin-lined ostrich egg designed to hold three artfully adorned perfume bottles, as well as a lambskin pillow fitted with a blue diamond ring. It was sold at nearly US$140,000 through a silent auction at the F1 weekend.
Recently during the pandemic, he co-founded an online latin dance learning platform together with Singaporean Brenda Liew, who is Asia’s first latin artist and female soloist to earn a global reputation and accolades.
Called Brenda Liew Online, it has become a hit with 550 active users subscribing from 60 countries all over the world. They put almost zero investment and expect to have 10 times growth in a few years.
I have always been interested in the governance and the public sector, and I want to improve the welfare of the society in general. I launch projects that bring positive social and environmental values.
To me, the making of a smart city requires collaboration across different domains — certainly technological innovation to create smart infrastructure, but also domains like entertainment and the arts to improve people’s mental health, life appreciation and satisfaction.– Bruno Navarro Valle, CEO of Smartcity Projects
What does it take to build a smart city
According to Navarro, building a smart city and a smart population is an all-rounded process of evolution. He wants to do his part and contribute to create the best, most efficient, and most satisfying lives for the people in the cities he works with.
For Singapore, he likes the city because the people and the government are very forward-thinking and research-driven, which encourage the culture of innovation and experimentation.
Its safe and friendly regulatory environment also makes it easy for entrepreneurs like himself to manifest his ideas. However, problems with red tape can still be improved.
Conducting business in Singapore is also made easier thanks to his ability to connect the dots, in addition to his warm, likeable Spanish personality, which he describes as his biggest strength as an entrepreneur.
I get along so well with many different people. I can win the hearts of many different stakeholders. For all the projects I manage, I find a happy place where everyone can agree upon and collaborate peacefully. I want to create the best outcome within my limitation and capacity.– Bruno Navarro Valle, CEO of Smartcity Projects
He gets his business ideas through varied connections, as well as active research on new and upcoming technologies. Sometimes, business opportunities land on him through a combination of luck and serendipity.
Quoting Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled Outliers, he said that success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances — some deserved, some not, some earned, and some just plain lucky.
“I work hard, as best as I can, without compromising my wellbeing. I remain alert to opportunities, and I leave the rest to serendipity,” Navarro mused.
Featured Image Credit: Smartcity Projects