Singapore’s reputation as an innovation hub is recognised globally. Not only are we ranked 5th in the 2018 Global Innovation Index, we also topped the list for Asia. Speaking to Chew Mok Lee, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for ICM & Digitalisation of Enterprise Singapore, The IT Society finds out how the agency pushes the agenda of innovation and internationalisation for Singapore by helping companies – big and small, young and established – go places.
Q: Question, ML: Mok Lee
Q: What is in it for Enterprise Singapore to help companies innovate and go global?
ML: Our domestic market is small, but also very open – and easily influenced by the evolving global business environment. For companies to be resilient and grow, they need to embrace innovation and venture beyond Singapore to keep up and stay ahead of the dynamic and competitive landscape. That is why, at Enterprise Singapore, we see innovation and internationalisation as mutually reinforcing strategies that go hand in hand together. They are essential for bringing about growth as well as enabling scale – for businesses and the Singapore economy.
Q: What roles do tech startups play in driving innovation and advancing Singapore’s economy?
ML: While the Singapore economy has a healthy mix of startups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large local and multinational companies, the tech startups segment is definitely one of the promising and innovative clusters. They challenge the status quo and introduce new ideas. In the process, they create a ripple effect that strengthens Singapore’s startup ecosystem and competitive advantage regionally and globally.
Q: Given the importance of tech startups, how does Enterprise Singapore support greenfield tech innovations and maintain the tech industry’s vibrancy?
ML: Over the years, we work closely with both private and public sector partners to help companies commercialise technology and bring innovations from labs to markets. And as one of the ways to bring these to the next level, we are encouraging technology and solution providers such as startups, universities, research institutes or centres of innovation to work together and come up with solutions to tackle industry specific challenges.
At the same time, the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) – introduced in 2017 – connects Singapore-based startups with major innovation hubs around the world. This extensive network not only makes finding partners and new businesses easier, but also empowers greater information exchange and co-creation of innovation and ideas. To date, we have established alliances in eight cities across seven countries like Beijing, Bangkok, Berlin, Jakarta, Paris, Munich, San Francisco and Tokyo. And we have plans to roll out more.
Q: What can Enterprise Singapore offer tech companies looking to internationalise?
ML: There are different types of financial and non-financial assistance that Enterprise Singapore offers to businesses at various stages of their overseas expansion journey. If companies are looking to enter a new market, they can participate in trade shows and missions led by trade associations and chambers, and get support under the International Marketing Activities Programme (iMAP).
For those who are ready to engage help through partners in overseas markets, the nine partners in our Plug and Play Network can provide pre-entry market advisory and research and business matching services. They can also connect the companies to a network of in-market mentors, investors and networking via co-working spaces in China, India and the Southeast Asia markets. There is also the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) Grant and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) to help businesses build capabilities for their overseas expansion. Besides financial assistance, Enterprise Singapore’s overseas centres and team in over 35 cities are ready to support companies with in-market project facilitations and interests.
Q: For traditional businesses, does Enterprise Singapore have any schemes to help them adopt technology and innovate?
ML: Regardless of size and industry, businesses can benefit from innovation and the use of technology. However, some may be unsure how to get started. To make help accessible, we have business advisors at our 11 SME centres to provide advice and diagnosis on how to get started.
Besides advisory, there are readily available and easy-to-use solutions that can help companies improve productivity by managing functions such as accounting, inventory management or human resource services. One example is Tech Depot – a one-stop e-platform on the SME Portal that offers SMEs access to over 40 technology and digital solutions such as customer management and data analytics. Companies can also tap into the Productivity Solutions Grant to adopt pre-scoped tech solutions and equipment, which subsidises some of the qualifying costs.