SINGAPORE: More help is underway for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to innovate and transform, as part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to ensure local firms can emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Innovation Advisors Programme (IAP), for instance, will be expanded to cover new sectors such as manufacturing and logistics, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Tuesday (Mar 2).
The initiative, first launched in 2019 as the Innovation Agents Programme, connects firms with industry experts who can advise them on how to innovate and grow. This is not the first time the IAP is expanded, having had aerospace and infocomm technology sectors added to its list previously after an initial focus on food manufacturing and medical technology.
By December last year, 17 advisers have been appointed to advise companies on 17 projects.
Speaking at MTI’s Committee of Supply debate, Second Minister for Trade and Industry Tan See Leng said the Government wants to do more to help SMEs with innovation and the commercialisation of research and development. One critical aspect is providing them with the “know-how”.
“Our Innovation Advisors Programme facilitates the ‘know-how’ by appointing experts from various fields to SMEs to impart relevant advice and networks,” he said, adding that other ongoing initiatives such as the Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading programme will enable smaller companies to access research talent.
Specialised advisory services will also be piloted at SME Centres to support firms in the areas of digitalisation and financing, announced Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling.
“For example, when an SME wishes to expand but lacks the funds, the SME Centre’s specialist adviser will help to assess the company’s financial health, and recommend the appropriate financing model and available financing instruments,” she said in Parliament.
“The adviser then guides the business owner on how to strengthen his or her loan applications and links the SME up with relevant banks for the application.”
In a separate factsheet, MTI said enterprises can book their appointments with specialist advisers in the area of financing from Mar 1 this year. Details on access to digitalisation advisers will be released by the fourth quarter.
There are 11 of such SME Centres, which assisted more than 32,000 SMEs last year. The new services are expected to benefit more SMEs, said Ms Low.
“We want to help SMEs to build up their capabilities and workforce, so they can raise their productivity and scale up their business,” she added.
SMES VS MNCS
SMEs have been given S$21 billion in grants over the last five years, compared with the S$13 billion granted to multinational corporations (MNCs), said Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in a speech during the same debate.
He was responding to a question from MP Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) about the grants given to MNCs and SMEs. Mr Perera also suggested having a “conditional incentive” for MNCs to work with their smaller counterparts.
The minister said looking only at relative grant amounts versus returns and value-adds would be over-simplifying the situation.
This is because the relationship between MNCs and local firms is often symbiotic, as MNCs that do well are more likely to work with local companies.
The Government also encourages MNCs to work with SMEs through the existing PACT programme. “(This) supports knowledge transfer between larger companies and local SMEs or start-ups. We will do more where it makes sense to,” said Mr Chan.
Meanwhile, the Government’s support for both big and small firms enhances the symbiotic relationship in various ways.
For the former, which are already the best-in-class in their industries, support will enable them to bring in new business and technology that will uplift the local ecosystem and create high value-added jobs.
For SMEs, support is given in “fundamental” areas such as digitalising, entering into new markets and streamlining work processes.
“As smaller businesses level up, they will also grow to become an integral part of the local supplier ecosystem, for MNCs and beyond,” the minister added.
More broadly, building up real and unique capabilities in big and small enterprises, as well as the workforce, is one of the three strategies for the Singapore economy moving ahead.
“We will spare no effort to help our enterprises and workers acquire new capabilities to compete in a more globalised world,” the minister said. “We cannot shield ourselves from global competition but we can and must equip our enterprises and workers to compete globally.”
Other strategies include strengthening Singapore’s position as a global hub for business and technology, as well as becoming a “critical node in global value chains” so that the country will not be displaced easily.
These will be key as Singapore is not returning to a pre-COVID world, said Mr Chan.
“Even if our GDP returns to pre-COVID levels quantitatively, we will have a qualitatively different economy then,” said the minister.
These differences will be seen in the share of sectors and industries, the types of products and services that Singapore will produce and trade with the world, as well as the skill sets needed for people to earn a living.
“Let us help our people, focus our minds on the new forms of competition ahead, for it will be tougher and more global,” he told the House.
“Let’s face up to the competition, do the right things, help our enterprises and people acquire a competitive advantage to distinguish ourselves from the competition.”
TACS TO GET NEW COMPETENCY FRAMEWORK
In other announcements from MTI on Tuesday, a competency framework for Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) will be rolled out in the third quarter of this year.
This framework – a first for TACs – will identify existing gaps and relevant skills required by TAC secretariats and their leaders, Ms Low said. Suitable programmes will then be developed to upgrade and build up the skillsets of the TAC sector.
“For TACs to continue to play the role of supporting industry transformation and business growth, they will also have to attract, retain and develop the best talents,” she added.
READ: Singapore attracted S$17.2 billion in investments last year, exceeding forecast despite pandemic
Businesses can also look forward to new features on the Government’s GoBusiness platform. It will provide a step-by-step guide on how to set up a business, recommendations on a suitable business structure and suggestions of relevant resources.
It will also have a new function to help businesses make checks or changes regarding premise use.
“This will allow companies to quickly check and identify the right governing authority and provide information on the approved uses of rental or purchased commercial premises,” said Ms Low.