Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry highlights the role of SME in innovation

On 15 May, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing delivered the opening address at the SME Technology and Innovation Day 2018. Jointly organised by A*STAR and Enterprise Singapore, the event brings together a full spectrum of technology-related initiatives from the industry and partner agencies. SMEs can find out more about the range of technology solutions made available to streamline processes, achieve cost effectiveness, business sustainability and growth.

In his remarks, Minister Chan said we now live in “an era where the effects of technological disruption are ubiquitous, touching all aspects of our lives – from the way we work, live and interact with one another”.

“Technological disruption can be scary and yet exciting. As a country, Singapore must be prepared to take advantage of these shifts,” he said. He also stated that fortunately, Singapore is at a position of strength today, given its strategic positioning within ASEAN, longstanding investments in research and development (R&D), its skilled workforce and pro-business environment put Singapore in a strong position to continually attract talent, ideas, capital, and create good jobs.

According to Minister, in the next phase of its development, Singapore must position itself as “a global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise” in order to maintain a vibrant and competitive economy.

On how Singapore can be a global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise, Minister Chan highlighted the importance of innovation as business models, markets and mindsets.

First of all, given the fact that Singapore is at the heart of the dynamic and fast-growing ASEAN market, businesses in Singapore must design products and services for the ASEAN market and the world, and not just for the domestic market, in order to seize business opportunities in the region.

Second, for Singapore companies to compete successfully in ASEAN, they must make innovation their core competitive advantage. Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020), the Singapore Government is investing up to S$19 billion to support public sector R&D from 2016 to 2020. This will ensure that Singapore has the technological capabilities to capture opportunities from digitalisation to other emerging technologies.

Third, to remain relevant as a Global Asia Node within ASEAN, Singapore “must strive to be the location of choice for startups and SMEs to incubate, pilot and scale up new business models and technologies”.

“This requires flexible and receptive mindsets that are pro-enterprise and supportive of innovation. One key area where Singapore can differentiate ourselves from our competitors is our regulatory agility, where regulators, economic agencies and industry players can work together to experiment with new business models, products and solutions,” Minister Chan said.

“For example, to ensure that our regulations support innovation in the food manufacturing sector, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) works closely with the industry to facilitate timely regulatory approval for new food products and technology – from upstream creation to downstream commercialisation. AVA also works with Enterprise Singapore as a partner of FoodInnovate, a new multi-agency initiative which equips companies with the knowledge and resources to pursue innovation,” he added.

Singapore Government supports SMEs to innovate and adopt technology

According to Minister Chan, SMEs have an important role to play in Singapore’s ambitions to be a Global Asia Node of technology, innovation and enterprise. He also noted that many of the city-state’s SMEs are stepping up their investments in innovation and technology.

According to the 2016 National R&D Survey of Singapore, Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD) by SMEs grew by a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4% over the period 2006 to 2016.

As part of Government’s efforts to sustain the growth and competitiveness of enterprises, the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) which address 23 sectors representing 80% of the country’s GDP are being rolled out.

“Innovation and internationalisation are key components of the ITMs,” Minister Chan highlighted.

At MTI’s Committee of Supply (COS) debate this year, the Ministry shared that Enterprise Singapore will continue to work closely with key partners to broaden the reach and impact of the ITMs to bring greater benefits to SMEs. This includes further enhancement of the Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) programme to better support trade associations and chambers (TACs) in helping SMEs innovate, build capabilities and internationalise.

On the technology front, the Ministry will support the broad base of SMEs in technology adoption, for example, through the Tech Depot. This provides a centralised listing of readily adoptable technological solutions, developed and pre-qualified by A*STAR, Enterprise Singapore and IMDA, on the SME Portal.

“I am happy to note that to date, more than 1,300 enterprises have adopted over 50 solutions in areas such as customer management and data analytics. These businesses are already seeing benefits, with an average of 25% productivity improvement following implementation of the solutions,” said the Minister.

To expand the pool of ready-to-go solutions for SMEs, the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) was rolled out in April this year as part of the Budget 2018 announcements. These solutions are aligned to the ITMs and are pre-scoped by the sector lead agencies.

For SMEs which require access to advanced manufacturing equipment, A*STAR has introduced Tech Access, to provide SMEs with access to A*STAR’s installed base of advanced manufacturing equipment, ranging from inspection tools to robotised 3D scanners and high-pressure cold sprays for additive manufacturing.

According to Minister Chan, for SMEs which are thinking of accessing intellectual property (IP) from Singapore and around the world, they can also work with the Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI). IPI, a subsidiary of Enterprise Singapore, that offers a global network of technology partners from public and private sectors, to help SMEs match with relevant IP for product research and development.

“Most importantly, for SMEs to sustain their competitive edge over the longer term, they must also build up in-house R&D capabilities and be able to attract R&D talent,” he emphasised.

To support such efforts, A*STAR seconds its research scientists and engineers to the industry through its Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading (T-Up) scheme. Since 2003, more than 700 A*STAR research scientists and engineers have been seconded to SMEs to work on over 600 projects to translate research and innovation into enterprise and commercialisation.

“In order for Singapore to remain a vibrant economy with opportunities for our businesses and good jobs for our people, we all have an important role to play. The government, the research institutions, our SMEs, our local enterprises, our workers must work closely with one another so that we can continue to stay ahead of the competition,” he concluded.

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