SMEs Rise Up To The Challenge To Restructure For Growth

SPRING Supported 3,400 SMEs and Reached Out to 103,000 SMEs in 2013

2013 was a challenging year for SMEs because of the uncertain economic situation and the restructuring of Singapore’s economy to ensure sustainable and quality-driven growth. Rising business costs and a tight labour market contributed to this challenging environment. However, there were new growth opportunities, and businesses which have managed to seize these opportunities have done well, contributing to the 3.7% growth in GDP. As the enterprise development agency, SPRING Singapore focused its efforts last year in three key areas:

  1. Supporting SMEs  to restructure through productivity, innovation and capability upgrading.
  2. Helping SMEs capture growth opportunities through the use of technology, commercialising ideas, and accessing overseas markets.
  3. Enhancing its outreach and accessibility to SMEs.

These efforts yielded strong results, with SPRING reaching out to 103,000 SMEs. This led to 3,400 SMEs embarking on SPRING-supported projects in 2013 - a 10% increase from 2012 - and generating more than $6 billion in value-add while creating 21,000 jobs. Among the companies that benefitted, about 80% were micro and small enterprises.

In 2014, SPRING will focus on helping SMEs to build their capabilities, hone their competitive edge, and continue to innovate, so that they can be in a strong position to capture
— Mr. Tan Kai Hoe; Chief Executive, SPRING Singapore

Supporting Productivity And Capability Upgrading


SPRING supported restructuring and upgrading efforts at both the individual company and industry levels. One example is Eng Soon Bean Curd Manufacturing, which received SPRING’s support to automate the labour-intensive packaging process for its dried beancurd products. This boosted productivity by 20% and reduced manpower requirements by 50%, allowing Eng Soon to deploy its workers to higher-priority tasks.

SPRING also supported the collaboration efforts of local enterprises to drive the mass adoption of productivity initiatives for their respective sectors. The collaboration between C.K. Tang and five of its SME suppliers resulted in the set up of an online B2B system to share regular updates on product information and sales. Besides improving operational efficiency, the system is expected to help the SMEs increase sales by 10% and reduce manual labour by 20%.

Capturing Growth Opportunities

SPRING’s wider efforts to build mutually beneficial partnerships between large organisations and SMEs resulted in a total of 37 such partnership projects in 2013, benefitting more than 160 SMEs. These partnerships provided an opportunity for SMEs to build their track records and expand their businesses. One such partnership led by HP Indigo to create a new packaging for its ink canisters resulted in two-way knowledge transfer and opened up new markets for two SMEs, Super Pak Manufacturing and Mega Plus Technology.

SPRING also supported growth through its network of partners. This included some 350 technology projects through seven Centres of Innovation set up within polytechnics and research institutes. In addition, SPRING appointed three Private Sector Translators to help companies in the medical and clean technology sectors bring their ideas to market.

SPRING also encouraged entrepreneurship and supported the development of innovative start- ups. It assisted 100 start-ups in 2013 through 10 incubator partners. In addition, 30 ideas were commercialised through the Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme (TECS).

An innovative start-up which benefitted from the TECS was Water Optics Technology, which has developed a ‘parasitometer’ to detect contaminants in treated water, such as bacteria, in real time. This can potentially lower the cost of testing drinking water by 85% and reduce the time needed to detect parasites from several days to just 24 hours. Water Optics’ novel technology provides up to 90% accuracy and will help water agencies worldwide, especially in countries fighting water- borne diseases.

Enhancing Accessibility

Throughout the year, SPRING worked to enhance its outreach and accessibility to SMEs. 2013 saw the roll-out of five new SME Centres and five satellite centres, which together assisted more than 20,000 SMEs. This expanded network ensures that SMEs can more easily access resources and support provided by SPRING and other government agencies.

Traditional bakery Jackson Bakery & Confectionary is one such SME that received help from the SME Centre@ SCCCI (Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry) when applying for assistance to automate part of its bread making process. This has allowed Jackson Bakery to reduce manpower requirements by 30%.

SPRING also simplified the structure of its grants and streamlined the application process in an effort to make the grants more understandable and accessible for SMEs. All grants are now grouped under the Capability Development Grant (CDG), which offers funding support for projects in areas such as human capital development, technology innovation and productivity improvement. Since its introduction in April 2013, more than 1,000 SMEs have successfully tapped CDG.

In addition to productivity improvements, another area that many SMEs focused their efforts on last year was human capital development. A Budget 2013 initiative, the SME Talent Programme (STP) helps to match students and fresh graduates with SMEs and provides funding support for a student’s studies in return for a bond of up to two years. ABR Holdings is an example of a local SME that believes in the importance of building a pipeline of young talent and turned to STP to reach out to students and fresh graduates.

The Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme is another important aspect of SPRING’s support to help SMEs take the first step towards capability upgrading. More than 1,700 vouchers were awarded in 2013, each in support of consultancy projects to upgrade SMEs in the areas of innovation, productivity, human resources and financial management.

The ICV has since been enhanced to support SMEs in the adoption and implementation of solutions to improve business efficiency and productivity.

SPRING’s online self-help toolkits on productivity, marketing, human resources, financial management and customer service have also proven popular with more than 29,000 downloads in 2013, a 76% increase from the previous year.

The Year Ahead

In 2014, SPRING will focus on helping SMEs build up their capabilities, hone their competitive edge, and continue to innovate so that they can be in a strong position to capture future opportunities for growth. SPRING will continue to support SMEs in their restructuring journey by strengthening the productivity infrastructure and encouraging more SMEs to adopt sectoral initiatives and new innovative business models.

Reproduced with permission from SPRINGnews March 2014 Issue. Published by SPRING Singapore.

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