SINGAPORE: Despite a challenging year in which it had to navigate a volatile external environment and a post-merger transition, Enterprise Singapore said on Thursday (Mar 14) it made "good progress" by assisting 76,000 local firms across different growth stages and business capabilities in 2018.
This covered a range of assistance from "in-depth discussions to generic enquiries", said chief executive officer Png Cheong Boon. About 30,000 firms were engaged by its partners at SME Centres through activities like business advisory and workshops.
These figures were shared at the agency's year-in-review report, its first after it was formed last year through a merger of SPRING Singapore and IE Singapore.
Last year, Enterprise Singapore supported 7,000 capability-upgrading projects. When implemented, these projects are estimated to generate S$10.2 billion in value-add to the economy and 10,500 skilled jobs.
It facilitated more overseas projects in 2018, up 25 per cent to 570 projects, with half of these in China and Southeast Asia. All of these projects are expected to bring about S$11.1 billion of overseas sales and S$6.1 billion of overseas investments.
More than 1,000 start-ups tapped on its Startup SG Programmes and partners for assistance, said Enterprise Singapore. Under the Startup SG Equity, it co-invested nearly S$36.5 million in 52 start-ups, catalysing about S$118 million in private investments.
Mr Png said: “We have done a lot in our first year as Enterprise Singapore, but it is not without challenges.”
The new Government agency had to "concurrently deal with the changes, transitionary issues and integration matters" arising from the merger, and there were situations where the agency fell short.
"Approvals for grant applications and disbursement were slower in some cases. We might not have responded fast enough to customers' enquiries and many of us were still unfamiliar with our own programmes," added Mr Png.
“It was a lot more challenging in the beginning but over the last few months, we have straightened most of them out and I’m confident that moving forward, we should be able to operate smoothly.”
Going forward, Enterprise Singapore will focus on "three important and mutually-reinforcing priorities" after conducting a review of its strategies.
These include "sharper" approaches to help local firms raise productivity, strengthen innovation and accelerate internationalisation.
Chairman Peter Ong acknowledged that these three areas were not new, but said the agency will be approaching them differently.
When it comes to fostering technology adoption, the agency will focus more on "market-led innovation", where technology solutions are developed based on the opportunities and problems faced by industry players here and in other markets.
"We will focus more on market needs, then we innovate based on that," he said.
On helping more firms to venture abroad and to do so in the earlier stages, Enterprise Singapore said it will invest more efforts to help a broader base of SMEs build necessary capabilities and be connected to support networks in these markets.
The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) said in a statement that it supports the three priority areas identified, and that a strategic partnership with Enterprise Singapore to help businesses internationalise is in the works.
“The enhanced support from Enterprise Singapore comes at an opportune time as many of our companies are actively looking beyond Singapore shores for growth. But venturing overseas alone can be daunting for many of these companies as it involves risk and a significant outlay of resources and time,” said SBF CEO Ho Meng Kit.