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Spring helping SMEs to seize growth opportunities

Last year, it supported over 100,000 firms with advice and help, and loan financing: CEO

[SINGAPORE] Spring Singapore will continue to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here by helping them to take advantage of growth opportunities and making its help schemes more accessible, said Tan Kai Hoe, the enterprise development agency's chief executive.

Last year, Spring reached out to more than 100,000 SMEs by supporting them in various projects, providing advice and help, as well as loan financing, said Mr Tan.

One of Spring's achievements was helping SMEs see through projects that aimed to boost productivity and capabilities. All told, the agency supported 3,400 SMEs through 3,270 projects, an increase from the 3,000 SMEs it supported a year ago via 2,991 projects. The firms and projects supported in 2013 will generate $6.16 billion in value-add and create 21,000 jobs when fully implemented, according to Mr Tan.

Four in five SMEs Spring supported last year were firms with a revenue of $10 million and below. Many of these companies sought help in human capital development, technology innovation and raising productivity.

Speaking at Spring's annual year-in-review briefing yesterday, Mr Tan noted that companies have become more aware of the Republic's productivity drive, and SMEs are beginning to take measures to raise their efficiency levels.

He added: "Those that have tapped government programmes from the various agencies, including the tax incentives like the PIC (productivity and innovation credit scheme) and so on probably account for, annually, about 50,000 (companies) or so. And at that rate, I think you are covering pretty much the whole landscape within two to three years.

"So we are beginning to see some action. It's going to take some time to see some results, and I think we are seeing some results in some areas ... we hope to see concrete results hopefully in the next couple of years.,"

Eng Soon Dry Bean Curd Manufacturing is one firm that has been trying to raise its efficiency levels. The small company, which has revenue of $4.43 million and 41 staff, began automating its packaging process by buying a machine with the help of Spring. The latter funded some 60 per cent of the cost. Previously, the packing of some of its products was done by hand.

Its director, Tan Han Leong, said in Mandarin: "If we don't automate, we will become obsolete. So that was why we did it."

The company now needs just three workers to man its packing operations for each 12-hour shift, compared with six before - a 50 per cent improvement. It is now able to redeploy workers to other areas which may require more staff. The risk of product contamination has also fallen compared to previously.

"My plan now is to buy more machines to automate our operations further," he said.

Spring's Mr Tan said his agency "will continue to support our SMEs in their restructuring efforts".

"But really, we want to step up our efforts to position SMEs to take advantage of growth opportunities. And we will also continue to engage our partners and increase and enhance the accessibility of our assistance to SMEs," he added.

In April, SMEs can look forward to the launch of the Spring Grant Portal, which aims to make the application for grants easier and faster through an online process.

Bigger firms are also starting to work with their SME suppliers to raise efficiency levels under initiatives such as the Collaborative Industry Project (CIP), under which the government funds groups of companies to improve productivity.

Retailer CK Tang worked with five of its SME suppliers to implement a business-to-business system that integrates data exchange processes between the suppliers and itself. The system was implemented late last year, and its SME suppliers are expected to see a 20 per cent reduction in manual labour and a 10 per cent increase in sales - something that CK Tang believes it will see in time to come, said its vice president of information technology, Sam Wai Keong.

Yesterday, Spring said that 20,000 SMEs were assisted by the SME Centres last year, a 25 per cent increase from the number of SMEs the Enterprise Development Centres (EDCs) reached out to in 2012.

SME Centres were introduced last April, replacing the EDCs. The scope of the SME Centres is also wider; they act as one-stop destinations to advise SMEs on the schemes that they can tap, even if they are administered by different agencies. Previously, EDCs provided help and advice only on Spring schemes.

Said Mr Tan: "We have supported different types of SMEs and different types of projects, from the simplest to the most complex. And we will continue to do so."