Mr. Abu Bakar, President, Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good morning to all. On behalf of MTI and EnterpriseSG, I would like to thank the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) for curating, organising, and inviting me to this year’s SME Centre Conference.
2. Over the years, I have witnessed the remarkable growth of our SME Centres. The 11 SME Centres, supported by Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG) and our Trade Associations and Chambers or TACs, have played a crucial role in helping SMEs in their growth, transformation, and pursuit of fresh opportunities amid an ever-changing business environment.
a. The Business Advisors in these Centres work closely with our microenterprises, heartland shops, and SMEs, helping them identify and capture growth opportunities.
b. Just last year, the SME Centres assisted about 25,000 SMEs – by providing business advisory services, capability development programmes, and upgrading initiatives.
3. The SME Centre Conference is an important event for the business community to come together to learn, network, and collaborate. It is an opportune platform to catalyse conversations and new prospects among SME business leaders, industry experts and public and private sector representatives. I am sure you will glean useful insights from the conference.
4. The conference theme this year, “From Local to Global” shines the spotlight on the need for companies to nurture that seed of ambition – to grow their business to become not just a beloved Singapore brand, but one that can make its mark proudly on the global stage. The Government will support businesses at each step of their journey.
Companies must internationalise to strengthen their competitiveness
5. Given the constraints of our small domestic market, Singapore companies must expand their horizons and explore new markets overseas. Internationalisation is not merely an option; Singapore companies must grow and be able to compete on a global scale. The increasing uncertainty in the global landscape underscores the urgency for companies to bolster their resilience by diversifying and expanding into new markets.
6. Singapore companies are well-placed to seize the opportunities for growth and expansion in the region. With the growing middle-class demographic and consumer markets, I would like to think that this century will belong to Southeast Asia, which ispoised for rapid growth and offers diverse opportunities for companies, especially in emerging areas like the Digital and Green Economies.
7. In the Malay culture, there is a tradition of “merantau” - where those who have reached adulthood leave their homelands for a livelihood and seek out better opportunities. Similarly, I urge our SMEs to take that first step to venture out and explore new and promising horizons. Rest assured, we have your back at each step of the way.
SMEs can tap on self-help resources and services to internationalise
8. The internationalisation journey of every SME will be unique to the nature of its business, markets, and industry. Each enterprise will chart its progress differently. Those who are just starting to explore internationalisation can explore self-help resources and seek guidance from consultants to learn and prepare for their overseas expansion.
a. For example, SMEs can rely on EnterpriseSG’s market guides to understand more about the business landscape, opportunities and available schemes they can tap into to go abroad.
9. The GoBusiness portal is a good starting point for those who are looking to embark on their internationalisation journey. It provides a single point of access to a range of government schemes, e-services, and e-Advisors.
10. To strengthen companies’ readiness for overseas ventures, I am pleased to share that we have just launched GoBusiness IP Grow. This is a one-stop online marketplace for SMEs to access services relating to intangible assets (IA) and intellectual property (IP).
a. As companies venture overseas, they need to be equipped with the know-how and resources to safeguard their commercial interests, particularly if they are working with partners. This entails managing their IA and IP effectively, which would include their brand, technology, and also their founders’ know-how and expertise.
b. Unfortunately, the IP aspect is often overlooked during the company’s internationalisation process. Using this new platform, companies can access automated e-adviser tools to help them understand their IA and IP management needs based on their overseas expansion plans. They can also connect directly with service providers that can address their diverse needs.
c. For example, VertisPro, a startup in the Healthtech space wanting to expand overseas, used the virtual e-adviser tools in GoBusiness IP Grow to get recommendations on how they could protect their IP. Through the platform, they managed to shortlist three service providers to help them secure trademark protection.
11. The GoBusiness IP Grow platform is designed to address the needs of startups and SMEs like VertisPro. Check it out for yourselves at the IPOS booth outside later.
A network of local and global partners to help SMEs access new markets
12. SMEs that connect with suitable in-market partners increase their chances of success in their internationalisation strategy. To this end, the Government and our partners are committed to supporting our SMEs with advisory support and in-market assistance.
13. EnterpriseSG works closely with various TACs to support SMEs in this aspect. For example, they organise overseas trips for SMEs keen to venture abroad. These trips often connect SMEs with in-market partners and offer first-hand knowledge of market opportunities.
a. Last year, the joint efforts of different TACs and EnterpriseSG took over 760 companies to 70 business missions, and more than 1,700 companies to 90 international trade fairs.
14. To help companies expand globally, EnterpriseSG and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) introduced the GlobalConnect@SBF initiative in November 2019. To date, it has provided more than 8,000 advisories to Singapore companies and enabled about 270 successful overseas ventures. We are continuing to boost such efforts to meet the expansion needs of SMEs.
a. For example, we strengthened the partnership between IPOS, IPOS International, and SBF so that companies assisted by GlobalConnect@SBF can also benefit from the IP management advice.
b. EnterpriseSG and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) have also recently announced the launch of the GlobalConnect@SCCCI initiative to deepen their support for Singapore companies and to help them accelerate their market entry into China.
15. At the same time, it is useful for SMEs to be able to explore new markets for growth before establishing a physical presence. We are dedicated to fostering strong private-public partnerships to help our SMEs access larger consumer markets and grow their operations.
a. For example, EnterpriseSG recently partnered with SBF and Amazon Global Selling to launch a new B2C Cross-border Brand Launchpad programme to help SMEs develop cross-border e-commerce capabilities and access consumer opportunities in the US.
EnterpriseSG, IMDA and Alibaba.com have also recently developed a pilot Go Global programme. SMEs will now have better access to B2B trade opportunities. They are able to build their brand visibility to reach customers all over the world, with the help of specialised digital marketing tools and dedicated advisory services.
16. The Government and our partners are here to support SMEs on their internationalisation journey. I encourage all of you here today to envision how your company can harness all these initiatives to expand your networks and conquer markets overseas.
The Government will continue to provide funding support to SMEs in their overseas ambitions
17. As you embark on the internationalisation journey, the Government is cognisant of the challenges and risks that SMEs will face. We are committed to supporting our SMEs in their overseas ambitions and have launched a robust range of support schemes and measures to help you.
18. SMEs can tap into support such as the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) grant and Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation (DTDi) to defray the costs of internationalisation. We have expanded the scope of these initiatives to better serve our SMEs’ needs.
a. Earlier this year, we broadened the MRA grant to include a new Trade Compliance advisory. Through this, SMEs like you can receive funding to seek guidance from pre-approved trade consultants on how to navigate potential trade barriers like sanctions or export controls.
b. To encourage more SMEs to explore new business models and internationalise through online channels, the DTDi scheme has been enhanced to include support for e-commerce-related activities.
19. In addition, SMEs can also tap on our Enterprise Financing Scheme (EFS) to access financing support for their overseas ventures.
a. At Budget 2023, we announced that enhancements to the EFS have been extended to 31 March 2024. These enhancements include the 70% Government risk-share for Trade Loans and enhanced maximum quantum for trade and working capital loans.
b. The scheme has been helpful for companies. For example, Eigen Energy, which provides renewable energy solutions, tapped on the EFS-Trade Loan to finance the import of solar panels and related components. This allowed them to build up their competitive, first-mover advantage and Eigen Energy is now exploring new green opportunities and partnerships across Southeast Asia.
20. From 2019 to 2022, the Government provided over $30 billion in grant support to SMEs in Singapore through a range of grant, tax, and financing tools developed to support SMEs.
a. This includes the additional support rolled out to businesses under the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help businesses navigate unprecedented near-term challenges, such as retaining their manpower, keeping afloat during the pandemic, and futureproofing themselves. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, many of these schemes have been tapered down.
b. Nonetheless, the Government remains committed to supporting the recovery and growth of our SMEs. SMEs make up 99% of our companies and employ over 70% of our workforce and play a pivotal role in our economy.
21. At the start of my speech, I spoke briefly about the important role of the 11 SME Centres in our business community. Some SMEs here today have received valuable support from the SME Centres to prepare for internationalisation. You will get a chance to hear more from different industry leaders and companies later, and I would like to take this opportunity to share the journey of two SMEs with you.
22. Legacy Seafood is a local tze char restaurant which has established a strong presence in Singapore with its signature Chilli Crab and cereal prawns.
a. In 2021, Legacy Seafood embarked on product R&D to develop bottled sauces and scale their business overseas. It also tapped on support from the Business Advisor at the SME Centre@SMCCI to revamp its branding and marketing strategy and build stronger brand equity in Singapore and abroad.
b. These efforts to transform a business and explore new growth opportunities take time, and Legacy Seafood has made good progress. Soon we will see their signature sauces in Taiwan, and perhaps Indonesia too.
23. Another notable example is Lek Lim Nonya Cake Trading, a 55-year-old business that specialises in the traditional production and distribution of nonya kueh.
a. With support from the SME Centre@Singapore Manufacturing Federation, the company developed a robot cutting arm to increase its production efficiency and quality. It also started looking for overseas expansion opportunities. Last year, it participated in its very first trade show, and today, it has successfully completed its first overseas export to Australia.
b. You can visit their booth at the SME Exhibition outside, to learn more about their internationalisation journey.
24. As the saying goes, 千里之行，始于足下, which means “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” If your business has yet to venture overseas, I encourage you to approach any of our SME Centres to get started on your internationalisation journey. We’ve got your back as you take that first step out of Singapore and fly the Singapore flag proudly on the global stage!
25. Thank you.