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Italy-Singapore business ties get a boost

THE Italian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (ICCS) is promoting Italy-Singapore business ties by supporting and nurturing a strong Italian business community locally and by boosting reciprocal knowledge among both countries. "Hence, we focus on fostering relationships among Italian businesses, and between them and the local Singapore business environment, ensuring that proper communication is effectively circulated," says the chamber's president Federico Donato. "Our effort is to make sure that Italian companies leverage on the infrastructure and opportunities provided by Singapore as Asean's financial and logistics hub, while Singaporeans consider Italy as an investment destination. We try to achieve such results by organising informative events and business delegations to increase the profile of Italy in Singapore and by investing in partnerships with local institutions such as EDB, SMF and SCCCI, among others."

The biggest challenge of running a successful trade association is to combine the two facets of a coin that are sometimes very difficult to merge: institutional and business. There are three main challenges in trying to succeed in this exercise: human resources, business model and stakeholder management. "It is difficult to find and train staff with the concurrent abilities of being business-oriented yet understanding that they are working for an institution and under the umbrella of the Italian government. The chamber has five full-time staff and three rotating interns. I think we have been good and lucky with our staff by always investing in people and favouring a good blend and balance of Italians and Singaporeans in our office," says Mr Donato.

Secondly, to define a business model that has both economic viability and yet is able to answer government calls on multiple aspects makes it sometimes difficult to strike an acceptable balance. Economic viability obviously calls for the necessary skill of being driven by numbers and service quality, while being an institution requires certain rules and an agenda that can't be driven by economics alone, he adds. Lastly, the Chamber has the duty of satisfying a set of very diverse stakeholders: members, clients and the Italian government. Its balance sheet is composed in essence of these three players. The breakdown of S$1.3 million annual revenue is: 20 per cent membership, 18 per cent events, 50 per cent business promotion, and 12 per cent government contribution,based on the activity completed and the ranking of the chamber within the Ministry of Economic Development.

There are many areas that the chamber is promoting which could be promising for both countries going forward. "In order to remain relevant, the chamber must guarantee financial soundness at all times, yet not forgetting to keep evolving its business model. Therefore, on one side, we keep investing in Italian traditional and core industries including but not limited to F&B, design and luxury goods; on the other, we started to promote activities in more innovative industries including cybersecurity, biotech and e-commerce," says Mr Donato. Two years ago, in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy, ICCS launched the first edition of the Italian innovation days in Singapore, designed to become a showcase of Italian startups looking to explore South-east Asia, seeking to expand their market outreach or to secure financing. Last year, the chamber promoted the first Italian pavilion at the Interpol World Fair in Singapore, lending its institutional credibility to Italian firms within the cybersecurity space for defence and civil use.

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The main mission of the Chamber is fostering trade, investments and economic cooperation between Italy and Singapore. It organises more than 100 events every year. Activities revolve around three key areas: small fairs such as the Italian Food and Beverage in Singapore; business delegations to major trade exhibitions in Italy such as HOMI for interior design, Cosmoprof in cosmetics or BIT in tourism; and a tailor-made B2B platform for small groups of Italian companies that come to Singapore. The Italian Chamber recently signed an MOU with the Economic Development Board (EDB). "The agreement is about performing joint pitches to Italian corporates, benefiting from each other's knowledge of business interests presented by selected Italian counterparts, and EDB will also be welcome to leverage our office in Italy, where no Singapore institution is present in any form," says its president. An exciting initiative of the chamber is its annual business awards through which leading and innovative Italian and Singaporean companies are recognised for their achievements.

ICCS Business Awards' 9th edition was celebrated last month. It is a key event for the chamber because it is about acknowledging and recognising Italian companies that embarked on ambitious journeys in Singapore and Singapore businesses that accomplished something meaningful in Italy. There are four categories: Best Singaporean Investor in Italy, Best Italian MNC in Singapore, Best Italian MNC in Singapore - Innovation; and Best Italian SME in Singapore. The string of winners over the past nine years has been remarkable. They include big names on both sides such as ST Microelectronics, Pirelli, Menarini and Segafredo Zanetti; and PSA, CDL, Temasek and Como Group, which are among the Singapore winners. The prominent feature of the awards is how much R&D and know-how still remains a key to success for many Italian companies. An award-winner this year is Pirelli, a global leader in tyre production and a pioneer in motorsport racing. Another winner, Elettronica, is a family-owned firm that competes on a global level to supply both defence and civil industry with cutting-edge technology in cybersecurity and radio transmissions.

Yet another winner, VIC, is an Italian SME that invented a revolutionary technology to improve the reliability of the whole quality control process within the logistics industry.

"Nowadays, we tend to believe that innovation means Silicon Valley: while it is intuitive that a large part of technology today is invented and produced there, our business award winners reaffirm that manufacturing requires continuous efforts and investments in creativity to improve existing know-how and secure superior performances," says Mr Donato.