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Accelerating entrepreneurship in the age of disruption

In the current environment, an unstinting focus on purpose- and talent-centered growth may well be the most powerful competitive differentiator.

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"Technology is seen as both a problem and a solution. In a technologically disrupted environment, size and scale matter no more than resilience and agility - for better or worse, depending on whether you are the disruptor or the disrupted," says Mr Loh.

THE EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ awards programme, now in its 16th year, was launched in Singapore in 2002 to honour entrepreneurs who have created and sustained successful business ventures, as well as to coincide with the government's focus on fostering entrepreneurship.

Singapore has been relentless in driving entrepreneurship for over two decades now. This is not surprising, given the socio-economic impact of entrepreneurs in bettering lives, creating jobs and driving the economy.

According to a recent EY Growth Barometer survey, almost one in five Singapore companies in the middle market, compared to just 6 per cent of their global peers, plan to grow their revenues by more than 26 per cent this year. These ambitions are highly encouraging, even as uncertainty and disruption continue to define the new normal in business today.

The bullishness among the country's middle market is underpinned by careful control of costs, entrepreneurial innovation and early adoption of new technology.

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Take PBA International, for example. The CEO, Derrick Yap, winner of this year's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year - Diversified Engineering award, shares that his company is always mindful of fast-changing technology and customer preferences. "We build our core team to invest in and research in fundamental technology, while simultaneously exploring upcoming technology." In fact, the survey found that local companies, more so than their global counterparts, viewed technology as having a greater impact on them.

Technology is seen as both a problem and a solution. In a technologically disrupted environment, size and scale matter no more than resilience and agility - for better or worse, depending on whether you are the disruptor or the disrupted. "Technology gives small companies the chance to disrupt the market, scale within a short time and challenge big global corporations in the same space, which was almost impossible to do in the past," notes Lennon Tan, group chairman of JK Tech Group, also EY Entrepreneur Of The Year for Financial Services Technology Enablement. Yet, technology often offers only part of the solution. The right mindset to challenge the status quo is just as critical.

"Entrepreneurs and companies have to constantly think and rethink everything they do," say Chia Yoong Hui and Sia Teck Chong, both co-founders of Ascenz Pte Ltd, and winners of this year's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award for Maritime Technology Solutions. To that end, they have to be always ready for any radical shift in the business, and review processes and structures as well as the way they interact with customers.

"Disruption means opportunities; there are no breakthroughs without disruptions," adds Shi Xu, CEO of Nanofilm Technologies International Pte Ltd, who clinched the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year - Advanced Manufacturing award. According to Dr Shi, Nanofilm believes in encouraging its people to look into new methodologies, options, innovations and creations that can benefit customers, stakeholders and even the industry at large. Their focus is to form a working community for their people and customers to interact and collaborate to create new solutions.

His views underline collaboration as one of the key drivers of innovation in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Connecting like-minded entrepreneurs is a powerful way to enable collaboration to flourish. The annual World Entrepreneur Of The Year award is one such platform that profiles our local entrepreneurs among the world's best business leaders; and at the EY Strategic Growth Forums held across the world, we bring together communities of entrepreneurs, investors, corporates and policymakers to ignite ideas and opportunities. Apart from supporting collaboration, we also hope to help address some of the other common barriers such as insufficient capital, limited resources and knowledge gaps, through complimentary platforms that drive a common agenda.

For one, the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ Asia-Pacific programme benefits high-potential women entrepreneurs through executive leadership training to help them scale their business. Through the EY Accelerating Entrepreneur Asia-Pacific programme, we provide mentorship to promising technology startups to help them grow and solve their business challenges.

Based on our experience working with entrepreneurs, there are seven major growth drivers that can make a high-impact difference. Building customer loyalty, harnessing the power of digital technologies, aligning operating models to business strategy, using sound financial management strategies, seeking successful partnerships and acquisitions, performing active risk management, and nurturing an inclusive culture are all vital elements to sustainable long-term growth.

The significance of fostering an inclusive culture is perhaps best exemplified by family businesses that have endured generational leadership changes. As Mohan Vaswani, chairman of the conglomerate Tolaram Group, who received this year's EY-Standard Chartered Family Business Award of Excellence says, investing in good people and aligning the organisation to its core values are critical for success. Indeed, in the current age of disruption where technology is available to most if not all, an unstinting focus on purpose- and talent-centered growth may well be the most powerful competitive differentiator.

  • The writer is EY Asean and Singapore managing partner, Ernst & Young LLP.
    The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms