Dr Lei Hsien Hsien, Chief Executive Officer, American Chamber of Commerce
Mr Lam Yi Young, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Business Federation
Mr Rafik Mansour, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Singapore.
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to the launch of AmCham’s SME ACCelerate Programme.
a. The past year has been particularly challenging for many of us as we battle against COVID-19. The pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to the business landscape and has spared no one, including our micro and small enterprises.
b. Having said that, I think you would agree with me, despite the challenges and disruptions, many enterprises have adapted and turned the crisis into opportunities. To that end, in my MTI capacity, and including representing my colleagues from the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG), I would like to commend the SMEs’ efforts and assure them of the Government’s firm and wholehearted support for our SMEs’ transformation journey.
Contribution of SMEs to Singapore’s Economy
2. SMEs form an important backbone of our economy. They provide jobs for close to 72% of our workforce (in 2020) and make up 99% of all enterprises in Singapore.
3. It is indeed timely for AmCham to launch the SME ACCelerate programme which enables and empowers SMEs for long-term growth despite today’s disruptions. I spoke to Dr Lei earlier and I know this took a period that is double the typical pregnancy time. Typical pregnancy is about nine months and they had this idea about 18 months ago.
4. This programme establishes a significant gateway for AmCham MNCs and SME members to partner and support the growth of SMEs through partnerships, operational support, as well as training and development. Collaborations between MNCs and SMEs are even more vital in today’s context, when we cannot travel as freely as we want, for businesses to pivot, adapt and also seek out new partnership and market as they reposition themselves for recovery in the new normal. We hope companies will tap on this new avenue to sharpen their competitive edge by scaling up with technology and expanding their networks, especially in areas like digitalisation and internationalisation into the U.S market.
5. We look forward to how this programme will connect and accelerate the growth potential of our SMEs beyond current markets and channels. By helping SMEs digitalise now, it really sets them on the path to thrive in the future. It also advances our SMEs’ progress by providing mental wellness for SME employees and more women in business.
6. Several enterprises have benefited from AmCham’s extensive network and dedicated support for SMEs.
a. For instance, AcuiZen (Eh-Qui-Zin) a tech start-up that helps organisations digitalise workflows and upskill employees was able to interact with prospective clients from larger organisations through AmCham’s events. This enabled AcuiZen to better understand the needs of larger corporations and form meaningful partnerships with them.
b. Another company, Teaspec, a purveyor of fine Chinese tea as Pu’er, was also able to establish partnerships with leading MNCs such as Mastercard to showcase their comprehensive private collections of fine Pu’er tea and gain greater brand awareness among Mastercard users and larger corporations.
c. In addition, in a tough pandemic year, SMEs like Circus Social, an AI-powered social listening and analytics platform, have significantly benefited from opportunities through AmCham’s extensive network and exclusive programmes. I understand that Circus Social’s co-founder, Prerna Pant, had the opportunity to host one day of regional AmCham’s Asia Pacific summit conducted virtually earlier in March. Prerna was also involved and participated in AmCham’s dialogue with Minister Chan Chun Sing. Thank you to AmCham for providing the platform to really give a boost to all our SMEs to allow them to gain access to these partnerships with the MNCs and some of the business leaders.
7. I am therefore confident that the SME ACCelerate programme, with its focus on mental well-being, women-led businesses, digitalization, and connecting and supporting SMEs in their learning will further empower SMEs during this time of adjustment.
8. Being part of our country’s ongoing ‘Conversations on Women Development’, I am delighted that the programme aims to reach out to women-led businesses through capacity building and training workshops. To build a more inclusive and dynamic business environment in Singapore it is pivotal that we create more opportunities for women-owned businesses.
Way Forward for all businesses- To be agile and dynamic
9. As we look towards the new normal, it is critical that businesses stay agile and dynamic.
10. I urge businesses to continue leveraging on technology and ramping up their digital efforts. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, digitalisation is really an important catalyst for enterprise growth and transformation. It not only allows companies to streamline processes and innovate, but also allows them to scale up to higher value activities and reach new markets beyond Singapore, especially given the travel restrictions now. What the last 12 months have shown us is that by going digital, it actually allows a lot of SMEs to put their company in the digital-front and grow their customer base beyond the physical footfall.
11. In addition, we must continue to invest in reskilling and upskilling our workers. This is so that employees can grow in tandem with the business transformation journey and help enterprises capture growth opportunities.
Support and Resources for SMEs
12. While change can be unsettling, especially amidst a volatile pandemic, in MTI, we want to assure SMEs that they are not alone. The Singapore Government is deeply committed to supporting businesses to go ‘FAR’- F, A, R. Let me explain.
13. Firstly, “F” is for funds to go further. SMEs can tap on a wide range of financial schemes to pivot, adapt and grow. Programmes such as the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) can certainly be used to accelerate their transformation and expansion.
a. The Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) provides financial support to businesses that are looking to adopt technology, while the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) can be used to boost core capabilities, enhance innovation and productivity, and gain greater market access overseas.
14. Next, the ‘A’ in ‘FAR’ provides advice and assistance SMEs need to navigate their business and transformation journey.
a. Together with GovTech and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), MTI has developed the GoBusiness online platform to connect businesses to various Government e-services and resources. It links enterprises to over 300 government e-services, as well as access to COVID-19 related support, and applications for loans and grants. We will be happy to work hand in hand with AmCham to proliferate and share these services.
b. Business owners can also seek personalised help and recommendations from experts or e-Advisors at dedicated SME Centres.
15. To help our SMEs go far, we are mindful of how regulations impact businesses. The ‘R’ in FAR stands for regulations or how we seek to cut red tape and streamline rules to reduce regulatory burden on businesses.
16. To do so, we have a dedicated Pro-Enterprise Panel (PEP) that works closely with public agencies, and the Ministries, including those outside of MTI, to provide timely, effective and practical solutions that address regulatory concerns businesses may face. For instance, the First Mover Framework gives a leg up to entrepreneurs with innovative ideas that require the use of public assets. The New Idea Scheme helps agencies and businesses facilitate novel business ideas through regulatory sandboxes.
17. I encourage all our SMEs to tap on these resources to help them go FAR and successfully into the future.
18. The last one and the half year has been a challenging roller coaster ride for all of us. As we position ourselves for a recovery, let us continue to be agile and work together to seize every opportunity to emerge stronger from this crisis.
19. SME ACCelerate is an excellent step in this direction. I am confident that it will play a positive role in our business landscape by helping our SMEs to unlock new opportunities for growth not just locally, but in the US market as well. Happy Fourth of July!
20. Thank you very much.