SME Centres are Helping Businesses Seize Opportunities for Growth
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are sometimes dubbed the engine of Singapore’s economy, and it’s not hard to see why. SMEs not only make up 99% of all enterprises on the island, they contribute more than half of its gross domestic product and hire seven out of every 10 workers. Besides adding diversity to Singapore’s economic scene, the SME sector makes a vital contribution to economic growth.
As the economy restructures, it is important for businesses to innovate and improve productivity to stay competitive and relevant. Most SMEs recognise this, yet it can be challenging to find the time and resources to identify capability gaps and seek solutions.
While many SME owners are aware of the host of government assistance schemes in Singapore, they sometimes have difficulty determining which schemes are the most relevant to their needs. Some SME owners also have concerns about ease of access to these schemes, and the time and money involved in applying for assistance.
SME Centres Lend A Helping Hand
That’s where the SME Centres come in. SPRING Singapore launched a network of five centres in April 2013, offering free business and productivity advice to give SMEs better access to government support schemes and other resources. These centres are hosted by the five major trade associations and chambers: the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SICCI), the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SMCCI), and the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF).
The centres act as a first point of help for SME owners seeking advice about government schemes, guidance with grant applications and customised business diagnoses, as well as more in-depth information about such matters as productivity, finance, human resources and overseas expansion.
Over the last few months, the Singapore Government has stepped up its outreach for the island’s smaller businesses, recognising that they face many challenges in today’s tough business climate. As a result, the SME Centres now have 12 touch points spread across the island, including seven satellite centres set up in partnership with the People’s Association.
Located within each of the five Community Development Councils (CDCs) and two Community Centres, the satellite SME Centres aim to assist micro and small businesses located in Singapore’s heartlands. These local enterprises also now have better access to value-added services such as employment and training assistance through career centres operated by each CDC.
This year, three new satellite SME Centres will be established, bringing the total number to 15.
A Focus On Productivity
While enquiries from SMEs vary between SME Centres, a number of the centres’ business advisors have reported a rise in requests for productivity-related assistance.
“Many micro and small SMEs are facing rising costs and insufficient cash flow as recurrent issues due to inflation, so businesses are especially keen to know how to defray costs,” reports Mr L. Ananthan, Centre Director at the SME Centre@SICCI.
Once the centre’s business advisors gain a clear understanding of an SME’s key business areas, they have a detailed discussion with the SME owner about relevant strategies that can help the business build internal capabilities.
“Typically, we might offer advice on minimising capital expenditure, investing in skills upgrading, implementing technologies to automate manual processes and tapping the various schemes available to step up productivity improvements,” says Mr Ananthan.
“Medium-sized SMEs with a more stabilised IT infrastructure and proper financial management are usually more keen on understanding how to embark on branding exercises, developing an Intellectual Property strategy and expanding internationally. We advise on all these issues.”
It’s a similar story at the SME Centre@SMCCI. “Our business advisors help SMEs feel more empowered as they set about transforming their businesses, knowing that they can always rely on us for guidance,” says Centre Director Ms Harasha Bafana.
“We also introduce SME owners to SPRING-approved consultants who can delve deeper into key areas where assistance might be needed, such as productivity and financial management.”
The SME Centres also hold workshops to educate SME owners about business and financial management. For instance, the SME Centre@SICCI organises monthly Capability Workshops where experienced professionals are invited to educate SME owners about various organisational functions and how to enhance their competitive edge. Last year, the SME Centres trained some 1,000 SMEs in various capability areas.
Providing Tailored Support
With this system in place, SMEs can now look forward to free business advice and greater access to government schemes. So far, the response has been extremely positive: in 2013 alone, the SME Centres assisted over 20,000 SMEs.
Among those SMEs was De Cheng Xin Xing Trading Pte Ltd which, over the past six decades, has grown from a humble grocery and provision shop to a wholesaler and food services provider, offering local brands.
The company recently approached the SME Centre@SMF for advice on how to improve its productivity and business processes. Following discussions with the centre’s business advisor and productivity manager, De Cheng Xin Xing Trading’s owners were offered support in learning to use the Integrated Management of Productivity Activities (IMPACT) Primer tool, which measures the effectiveness of a company’s productivity according to key indicators.
The SME Centre also helped the owners apply for an Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) to allow them to assess their business management capabilities by identifying strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement.
“By undergoing this process, we were able to prioritise identified capability gaps and develop an actionable roadmap to improve our business management capabilities,” says Ms Nicole Goh, Executive Director of De Cheng Xin Xing Trading.
“The business advisors at the SME Centre really helped us to identify key performance indicators and productivity levers so as to ensure that our business model is viable and healthy in the long run.”