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Bright sparks light the way


THE trade conflict has captured headlines this year as global superpowers tussle over perceptions of unfair practices and distrust, with protectionism and anti-globalisation sentiments on the rise. This has led to increased uncertainty in trade, affecting business confidence around the world and potentially taking a toll on future economic growth.

Amid the doom and gloom, there are some forward-looking companies in Singapore that are lighting the way. The winners of this year's Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards demonstrate that they have what it takes to transform and grow in today's disruptive and volatile business climate. With an innovative mindset and a sound strategy in place, these bright sparks have shown that there are still pockets of opportunity out there for businesses to capitalise on.

This year's theme, "Accelerating Growth, Innovating for Tomorrow", is an apt description of how enterprising firms are taking aim at the future even as they maintain a firm grip on present issues. A prime example of such a company is Expand Construction, which jumped from third place last year to become the top winner of the E50 Awards 2018.

It is a testament that the business is on the right track, especially since the construction industry as a whole is still going through tough times.

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Von Lee Yong Miang, founder and executive chairman of Expand Construction, says that the business is constantly building up its capability and capacity in order to break new ground.

Aside from its traditional expertise in building projects, it is now zooming in on civil infrastructure works as another engine of growth.

And while construction is usually quite a localised business, Expand is also looking abroad to widen its horizons by investing in the development of a hotel overseas. Unlike before, where Expand played the role of a building contractor, the company now acts more like a developer.

Venturing abroad is a direction that more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are looking to move towards, as the Singapore market is too small to sustain greater growth.

One firm that has a global footprint is first-time entrant Explomo Technical Services, a Singapore-based company that provides land remediation services, civil defence shelter services and defence-related material disposal.

Since 1988, the company has been helping a slew of clients from Taiwan to Kuwait to Iran.

Explomo's CEO Anthony Lye saw a need for such services overseas and seized the opportunity. Niche businesses such as Explomo go where the need takes them, he says. After many years in the business, the company's reputation speaks for itself.

Explomo often gets invited to tender for projects and its solid reputation has helped it land jobs internationally.

With its strong presence overseas, Explomo is the 2018 winner of the E50 Special Recognition Award – Internationalisation.

This is the third year since the accolade was launched to reward excellence in a company's overseas and expansion strategy.

One new award this year is the Special Recognition Award – Enterprise Transformation to recognise businesses which have managed to transform themselves to be innovative and future-ready.

The inaugural winner is new entrant Elmich, which specialises in urban landscaping, waterproofing and drainage solutions.

While business transformation seems daunting to many SMEs, Elmich's founder and executive chairman Alan Lee says that it is about a series of gradual steps to steer the firm in the right direction, rather than a single, huge process.

Some steps it took to transform itself include the decision to focus on the overseas market as well as to prioritise research and development.

These are just some of the firms which are stepping up to innovate, grow and venture abroad. In the next few pages, winners of the E50 Awards share their stories and what they plan to do going forward.

The E50 Awards is jointly organised by The Business Times and KPMG in Singapore. OCBC returns as sponsor for the 13th year, and supporters for the awards include Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Business Federation, and the Singapore Exchange.

Supplement editor: Vivien Shiao Sub-editors: Naveen Verghese, Chantal Sajan Cover design: Gareth Chung Advertising sales: Janet Wee 9619 0208; Don Lam 9848 2313