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Tech, medical and security companies among Singapore's fastest growing firms: survey

FIRMS that set the pace these days tend to be in the technology sector but one of Singapore's fastest growing companies is in the far-from-glamorous field of recycling precious metals.

BR Metals started operations here in 2014 and from that point to 2017, recorded a compound annual growth rate of over 250 per cent.

Its remarkable expansion secured the top spot in a search last year by The Straits Times for national growth champions, that was aided by global research company Statista.

Companies had to meet certain criteria to be considered for the list, such as having generated revenue of at least S$150,000 in 2014 and at least S$1.5 million in 2017, excluding any investment or funds injection.

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The study came up with league table of 85 local firms that achieved high revenue growth between 2014 and 2017. Most are privately run small and medium enterprises (SMEs). (The list can be found at: https://www.straitstimes.com/85-fastest-growing-companies)

BR Metals managing director Frank Chen said: "The challenges we encountered along the way were not dissimilar to those faced by other SMEs.

"These included intensifying competition, supply issues, price wars and the labour crunch in Singapore. We tackled these challenges head-on with strategic planning, automation and market segmentation, along with the same gritty determination and never-say-die attitude like the other companies that have made the list."

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, noted: "In a fast changing economy, companies which are growing rapidly have a special cache as everyone wants a piece of the action.

"We wanted to identify these players, and showcase how they were moving ahead. We are happy to work with our partners, Statista, on this project, given their good track record on data analytics projects of this sort with other leading media brands internationally."

Dr Thomas Clark, associate partner and responsible for corporate development and international affairs at German-based Statista, said the main point of the study was to find out which companies were the accelerators of the economy.

He said: "This list is interesting because it highlights companies you won't find on the regular pages in the business section of a newspaper.

"They are usually too young and too small to be featured there. Yet they are often very interesting. So the list helps to find out how vibrant some of these 'growth champions' are and what business models they have."

Overall, the average compound annual growth of Singapore's fastest growing companies between 2014 and 2017 was 49 per cent.

While BR Metals rules the roost, tech companies are at the forefront of the rankings, which is not surprising for Singapore with its emphasis on digital innovation, Dr Clark said.

"Comparing it to other countries though, having technology at the front may not be that obvious. In Italy, for instance, many of the growth champions deal with food or luxury products.

"In that sense, the cliches you have of a given economy is reflected in these lists and turn out to be true to a certain extent."

He noted that high-tech security firms and medical service providers, such as dental companies, were also high on the list.

Nuffield Dental came in second with a compound annual growth rate of around 180 per cent with V-Key, which creates digital security technology for mobile applications, next on a rate of about 150 per cent.

V-Key co-founder and chief executive Joseph Gan said the company's technology has to be robust and ready for mass deployment."Our main challenges were ensuring our solutions were able to support and meet the expectations of our customers and ensuring the right commercial models that our customers expect were in place."

The company grew from a team of three in 2011 to around 100 today.

Healthcare provider OneCare Medical, which ranked seventh, started with a clinic in Boon Lay with three doctors and three clinic staff in 2013 but now employs 100 staff and around 20 doctors in 16 clinics. It registered a compound annual growth rate of 113 per cent.

Dr Eve Anwar, director of public relations at OneCare Medical, advises other firms to devote the time and energy to discovering the operation's sense of identity, and operating principles and ethics.

"Distil your company to a simple set of target outcomes, and look back to those targets at every crossroad in your business journey," they added.

Giantech Engineering, 57th on the list, started with one man operating out of a HDB flat in 2001 under a different name. It is now a recognised service agent for many types of specialised marine equipment and assists shipowners and fleet managers with their tanker needs.

Other companies grew alongside their adoption of new technologies.

Mr Tay Kim Yong and Mr Tan Sze Yong, the directors of fresh produce distributor A Yong, said they use automatic operations to process fruits and vegetables more efficiently while retaining traditional methods to handle processes that no machine available can tackle. The company ranked 10th.

A-Plus Automation (S), which ranked 18th, branched out into the online market in the last few years as well. The firm specialises in designing, manufacturing and installing automated systems for handling and sorting products.

Managing director Rodney Ham said: "Since entering into the e-commerce industry, it gives us great opportunity to expand our business throughout the South-east Asia region."

Dr Clark added: "These companies succeed by putting a little twist on traditional business models and serving customers in new ways."

THE STRAITS TIMES