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Speech by SMS Chee at the Emerging Enterprise Awards 2019

Speech by SMS Chee at the Emerging Enterprise Awards 2019

SPEECH BY MR CHEE HONG TAT, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE, MINISTRY OF TRADE & INDUSTRY AND MINISTRY OF EDUCATION FOR THE BUSINESS TIMES’ EMERGING ENTERPRISE AWARD 2019 ON 3 OCT 2019, 7.30PM AT RAFFLES HOTEL

 

Mr Wong Wei Kong, Editor, The Business Times,

Mr Linus Goh, Head of Global Commercial Banking, OCBC Bank,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

INTRODUCTION

 

  1. Good evening. I am delighted to join you at the Emerging Enterprise Award today.
  2. Now in its twelfth edition, the Award has recognised and showcased some of our most promising businesses over the years. Many of these enterprises have gone on to achieve international success in their respective fields. I would like to commend the Business Times (BT), OCBC Bank and your supporting partners on your sustained efforts in organising this event, which has become a significant and highly anticipated milestone in the annual SME calendar.

     

    INNOVATION TO DIFFERENTIATE OFFERINGS AND ACHIEVE SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

     

  3. Before coming here, I looked into the list of finalists for tonight’s awards. While they come from diverse sectors, from cooperative farming to rodent risk management, all of these businesses have strong fundamentals in innovation. They took an age-old problem or business idea, and transformed it into novel solutions by harnessing the power of innovation.

     

  4. Innovation is in fact the means to an end – strong and sustainable business growth. In a global environment where competition is rife across borders and headwinds are strong, one way to achieve this is to differentiate your offerings; to carve out a niche for yourself so that you add value and provide a unique value proposition.

     

  5. I read an article from Financial Times recently, it is about a 23-year old young lady from California named Haley Pavone. One night, when she went dancing with her friends, she decided to remove her heels for comfort but got her barefoot stepped on by another dancer. That triggered an idea in her mind to invent heels that can turn into flats.You unscrew the heels on the shoes and the soles flatten out because they are made from a flexible material similar to those used in trainers. Her company is called Pashion Footwear and currently has patents pending in 30 countries.I cannot speak with first-hand experience as I do not wear heels myself, but Haley’s innovation took off because she tackled a literal pain point that many customers face when they are wearing heels.
  6. I am heartened to find that many of you have reached a similar conclusion. Not about wearing heels, but about the importance of innovation to achieve business success.In the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SCCCI) 2018 Business Survey, more than a third of the surveyed companies considered innovation an important strategy to manage their business challenges. Almost 95% of the surveyed companies were SMEs. The Emerging Enterprise Award rightly recognises the value of innovation, with a special category for “best innovation”.

     

  7. Many of the Award finalists have developed interesting and innovative offerings. I will not be able to describe them all, but would like to touch on two examples.

     

    1. By now, we should all be familiar with the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) campaign against diabetes. I hope that some of the iconic ads like “Kungfu Fighter, Hidden Sugar” have caught your attention. Responding to this call to action, Alchemy Foodtech came up with 5ibrePlusTM (pronounced as “Fibre Plus”), a foodtech solution that lowers the Glycaemic Index (GI) of refined carbohydrates without significantly changing the taste, texture and colour of the food. This offers an alternative approach to blood sugar management. By developing a novel product that can help address health concerns, Alchemy Foodtech has successfully carved out a niche for themselves.During the recent F1 race, I invited Alan and Verleen from Alchemy Foodtech to feature their products at the Temasek Suite.The guests who tried their bread made with 5ibrePlus said it tasted like delicious normal bread.That was the best compliment for Alan, Verleen and their team.

       

    2. While Third Wave Power (TWP) is in a different industry, it has similarly developed a commercially viable solution that can also improve the welfare of its users. Its portable renewable power solutions are not only used in field work and emergency back-up situations, but have also brought power to under-electrified households. Earlier, they just shared with me that they have just reached more than 1 million users. To make sure that its solar solutions are accessible for low-income users, TWP worked with micro-financing institutions to provide consumers with micro-credit to pay for the solar products in instalments. They are really thinking about the welfare of their customers and that is indeed the way to have more customers.

     

     

    ENABLING INNOVATION AND SUPPORTING GROWTH

  8. Many of you have good ideas and the gumption to translate them into action. The Government will continue to foster a pro-business environment where innovation can flourish and entrepreneurs can focus on growing their business.

    Streamlining regulations and processes

  9. We have been streamlining regulations and processes to minimise compliance costs. 
    1. Earlier this week, I shared that the Government will be launching the GoBusiness Licensing portal. One of the key features of the portal is the Food Services Guided Journey, which will make it simpler, faster and better for businesses owners to set up a new F&B establishments. For example, business owners previously had to fill up to 845 data fields across 14 forms administered by different government agencies. With the new portal, aspiring F&B business owners will only need to fill in one application form, and no more than 90 data fields. Another example of how businesses can benefit from the portal is the reduction of fees by more than $500, mainly from the removal of unnecessary steps in the application process.This initiative is an effort by the government to help business owners save time and reduce compliance cost, so that companies can focus on their core business. As I shared with the media earlier this week, we are not going to stop here because this to me that this is an approach that we can similarly apply to other sectors and other areas of rules and regulations.

       

    2. The Government is also open to suggestions on ways to remove regulatory hurdles and minimise regulatory costs. When I met the three young founders of Binjai Brew last year, they shared that the licensing fees for microbreweries contributed to high entry barriers for budding entrepreneurs. My colleagues and I followed up on their feedback. We worked with the Singapore Customs to introduce a new pro-rated licensing framework for the microbrewery industry. Previously what happened was that businesses would have to apply for an annual licence fee of $8,400 before starting. The feedback we received was, what if they fail? What if they do not need such a long licence period? The previous arrangement was that the annual licence fee paid was not refundable. We discussed with Customs and came up with a new approach. Microbrewery companies could apply for a 3-month licence instead, at a pro-rated fee of $2,100. This not only lowers the barriers to entry for new companies, but also reduces the cost of failure. Should a business exit before the 3-month licence is up, Customs will refund the balance licence fee on a pro-rated basis. So again, not everybody is into brewing beer but I hope that we can also look at whether there are other ways of applying the same rationale with the purpose of lowering the cost of entry and lowering the cost of failure.

    Supporting Innovation

  10. Where new opportunities arise, our businesses should be poised to seize them. The Government is working to create room for our companies to innovate more freely – whether by increasing the ease of starting a new business, ensuring regulatory agility so that new ideas can be implemented or giving SMEs opportunities to demonstrate their capabilities and establish their track record. 
    1. First, we are actively creating opportunities for local talent to test out new ideas. Earlier this year, we officially opened Design Orchard, which features a retail and incubation space. It is prime space, which we had to fight for. On level 1, the retail space offers our up-and-coming designers space to build their presence amongst international players in neighbouring malls. In fact, the retail space is run by a former Emerging Enterprise Award finalist, Naiise. On the upper levels, the Cocoon Space is an incubation space run by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) featuring co-working facilities, and resources such as professional sewing equipment. My colleagues at Enterprise Singapore (ESG) have also supported the launch of an incubator programme called The Bridge Fashion Incubator, which will support aspiring designers in launching or scaling their fashion business. Through the efforts at Design Orchard, we aim to lower the barriers for our local designers to enter the fashion industry and to give them more opportunities to showcase their talent and products.

       

    2. Second, we try to be more flexible with regulations so that companies find it easier to implement innovative ideas. Some of the examples I mentioned earlier were done through the Pro-Enterprise Panel. The Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) has been working hard to push for this regulatory flexibility across Government. This is important because when it comes to rules and regulations, only Government has the prerogative to change them. Businesses can give feedback and voice concerns but the ultimate decision on whether the rule should be changed and how it should be changed rests with government. That is why it is important that we work in close partnership with companies to hear your feedback to know your pain points so that we can do better, and so that we can advocate for these changes internally through the Pro-Enterprise Panel and through the Ministry of Trade and Industry. For example, the PEP supported the Shipping Container Hotel under the First Mover Framework by working with JTC Corporation to find a suitable site to testbed the hotel concept at LaunchPad @ OneNorth. This provides a novel experience for visitors in a unique environment and location. With the support of other agencies including the Singapore Tourism Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority and Energy Market Authority, we were able to facilitate the regulatory clearance process for recyclable shipping containers to be utilised as hotel rooms. I am happy to share that the Shipping Container Hotel will be opened for business by November this year. I encourage entrepreneurs with good innovative business ideas to step forward and contact the PEP if you need assistance.

     

    1. Third, by driving lead demand, the Government helps companies to develop their innovation capabilities and to establish a track record. I keep stressing track record because I think that that is crucial for startups and SMEs. You may have good product and services but people will ask “what projects have you done?” and if you cannot have a track record, the more traditional procurement will not purchase from you. So we are trying to break out of this chicken and egg problem by giving our companies with good products and services the opportunity to build a track record. So we plan to do this through our Government agencies because that is something I think we can do when we do procurement.

      For example, JTC worked with Lean Station, a local R&D and technology-driven consulting start-up, to develop Lean PlanDo, a cloud-based application for the planning, management and execution of construction projects. The app was test-bedded at two JTC developments: LaunchPad @ Jurong Innovation District, and Fusionopolis One @ one-north. Lead PlanDo was also adopted by JTC’s contractor for the trendspace development as a third test-bed. Following the success of the first few pilots, Lean PlanDo will be implemented at 14 ongoing JTC projects and around 20 other upcoming projects. This is an example of how our government agencies have supported SMEs in developing, validating and scaling their new products.  

    PRIVATE SECTOR COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIP TO UNLOCK NEW PROSPECTS

  11. The spirit of collaboration is crucial for the growth of the wider business community.I am sure that most of our finalists today will agree with the value of collaboration, since a third of them were once located at JTC’s LaunchPad @ OneNorth. The concept of the LaunchPad is simple - to enable the growth of a vibrant community of startups and partners, where there would be opportunities for partnerships and the cross-fertilisation of ideas.

     

  12. Past Emerging Enterprise Award winners have leveraged partnerships to great success. For example: 
    1. With ESG’s support, gaming chair company Secretlab partnered Riot Games to be the official chair partner for Riot Games’ League of Legends e-sports tournaments held across US, Europe and China. A chair is a very traditional product. It has been around or s long time, but they applied innovation and they turned a chair into not just a chair, but a Secretlab chair. This exposure helped Secretlab accelerate its market expansion in these overseas markets and I am sure they will grow even more.
  13. In 2018, we enhanced the PACT scheme to encourage companies to jointly pursue co-innovation and new business opportunities. PACT now supports partnerships between firms of all sizes, including between SMEs and startups, and to more types of collaborative projects. Beyond B2B partnerships, we also strongly support our Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) in spearheading initiatives to help transform our enterprises and industries, such as through the Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) programme.

     

  14. Working together to grow your businesses will not only create opportunities for knowledge transfer and capability building. Co-innovation amongst business partners has the added benefit of bringing together a larger range of skillsets and strengths, and helps to lower individual risk. And importantly, you can scale-up more quickly because rather than building everything in-house, by partnering someone who already has those capabilities you are better able to combine your strengths and scale up.

     

  15. We have to think about how to enlarge the pie so that there is more to share. The real competition is not among ourselves in Singapore but with the larger and better-equipped companies elsewhere in the world. So all the more I think we need to work together as a community and help one another, complement our strengths so that we can all run faster and go further.

    CONCLUSION

  16. Tonight’s award ceremony is an excellent example of how the private sector has come together to encourage and uplift our young and promising enterprises. More than giving well-deserved recognition, it is also about gathering our community of entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, experiences and best practices. I hope it will spark off some partnerships and collaborations.

     

  17. I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to all Award finalists. The organiser told me that they have more than 500 entries this year, so to make it all this way is a real achievement. Each of you have been inspirational in your inventiveness and tenacity, your passion and many other positive qualities. I am very encouraged by the great things that you have already achieved, and I look forward to your continued success and to you scaling even greater heights and in the process of doing so, lift up our whole ecosystem and provide opportunities and inspiration for future generations of entrepreneurs.

     

  18. Thank you.

 

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