Working in Singapore

For a product-testing and certification company, Singapore is a great place to do business. The country itself is fixated  on quality and fervent in its desire to produce world class products, both of which lead to demanding regulations and a constant need for testing and certification. But opportunity also flows in from beyond the country’s compact borders. Singapore’s grade-A business infrastructure, and business-friendly rule of law make it a regional business hub for all of southeast Asia. Businesses in neighboring countries seeking to market products beyond their own borders naturally turn to Singapore for testing and certification services, making it a  truly ideal place for such a company like TÜV-SÜD to set up shop.

Unlike in the United States, many European countries have no federal regulatory departments like the FDA or EPA. The governments of these countries instead accredit private companies to perform product testing, auditing, and training according to domestic or European Union regulations. TÜV-SÜD (short for Technischer Überwachungsverein SÜD or technical inspection association – south) is the largest technical inspection association company in Germany  and the sixth largest in the world, with 2.3 billion in annual revenue. Its German facilities offer services ranging from evaluations of water purity and automobile safety to the certification of socially responsible labor practices.

When TÜV-SÜD decided to expand the company’s business to southeast Asia it is no surprise that they chose Singapore, where they took over the existing government-owned facility  called PSB. That acquisition gave birth to TÜV-SÜD PSB,the headquarters of its German parent company’s business in southeast Asia.

TÜV SÜD’s five-story facility PSB, located in Singapore’s science park, has labs offering electrocompatibility, chemical, microbiological, environmental, biocompatibility, and condom testing (for the WHO), which are routinely carried out in accordance with both domestic Singaporean and multinational standards. Across the hall from the biocompatibility lab on the second floor are the offices of the corporate staff–  marketing directors, a corporate board member, and the global CEO of product services. For a prospective biology major interested in the intersection of biology and business, the ability to work on both wings of the second floor provided an ideally integrated experience.  

On the science side I spent time in the biocompatibility laboratory, which performs in vitro and in vivo testing for medical devices. The lab has done particularly well both because it can perform tests that the American and European regulatory bodies require for medical devices, but rarely permit under their jurisdiction, and the legal incentive of manufacturers to ensure that their high-risk medical products are safe, regardless of the price of testing.

Though I was unable to participate directly in hands on testing, due to their sensitive nature and the short length of my time at TÜV SÜD, I chose and spent time closely observing specific tests over the course of my six week internship. I focused primarily on in vitro tests, which I engaged through reading test protocols, conversing with lab managers and observing procedures first hand. Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 3.20.42 PMOne such study I followed was a “mammalian cell mutation test,” also called an AMES test, which detects mutagenic properties of a substance in reverse. Using cells that lack a functional gene for the essential amino acid thymidine, the ability of the cells to grow in the absence of thymidine after exposure to the extract indicates whether it caused a reverse-mutation that shifted the gene back to a functional form. Understanding tests like the mutagenicity, cytotoxicity, and endotoxin procedures I observed also proved useful in my other work at TÜV SÜD, much of which also revolved around medical devices.

On the other side of the hall, I worked on several projects for the medical health services division of product services. For my first project, I curated a long-list of attractive medical device testing clients based on factors like product areas and likelihood of being acquired by larger companies.  For the second, on which I spent the majority of my time, I searched for small American medical device testing companies whose areas of testing or access to top industry players would make them attractive candidates for acquisition. The project included research into the logistics and potential profitability of testing,  and undisclosed financial information of private companies, and my personal investigation into potential profitability of new areas of medical device testing.

My final project focused on increasing the efficiency of the medical health services division by searching for new ways to automate certain digital services processes. I investigated ways to streamline routine audits and travel schedule management for auditors, but my most significant contribution was  an outline for a web-crawling market intelligence program that would automatically screen regulatory approval databases of organizations like the FDA to identify potential sales leads and share them among the marketing staff at TÜV SÜD.

Though my internship was short, I felt pleased to have made two potentially valuable contributions  to the company. Several of the potential M&A targets I identified were received well enough to be included in a presentation given by the CEO of product services the following week, and a data specialist from the office’s digital “Center for Excellence,” was eager to begin a collaboration with the MHS department on a pilot program of my digital service proposal. For my own part, I came away with a much deepened and enriched understanding of multinational commerce, the worldwide regulatory system, and the daily workings of a huge, diverse business.