SMEs must be nimble to adapt to change, says Iswaran

Singapore enterprises must adopt differentiated strategies for growth in order to beat the competition, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.

He told the audience at the Emerging Enterprise Award event last Friday that firms must first be prepared to develop new capabilities and harness innovation to capitalise on emerging trends in their sectors. These can include mastering new digital platforms or employing non-traditional business models that allow them to better adapt to the changing environment.

In addition, companies must be geared to internationalise earlier rather than later in their development, said Mr Iswaran.

"Across Asia today, we are seeing rapid urbanisation, a rising middle class with its attendant demands, which offer significant opportunities for enterprises that venture abroad," he noted, adding that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups have to plan for international growth from the get-go in order to seize these opportunities for growth.

Mr Iswaran said the success stories of Singapore's emerging enterprises take on added significance as the country enters a new phase of economic development, amid significant changes in the global environment.

"To seize these new opportunities, we want our enterprises to be able to respond nimbly to political and economic shifts, shorter technology cycles, and changes in consumer demand patterns and business models," he said. "They need to develop an enterprising mindset, a strong culture of innovation, build deep capabilities and aim to scale up and internationalise.

"Having a strong core of such enterprises will anchor Singapore's future growth, generate the kinds of jobs that we want Singaporeans to have and create value for our economy, while ensuring that we remain competitive within the context of the global economy."

The event at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, jointly organised by The Business Times and OCBC Bank, saw local companies Ace Water, Greenology and Secretlab emerge as the top three winners.

Ace Water provides services and technology to treat wastewater; Greenology provides landscaping and urban farming products and technology; and Secretlab designs and manufactures ergonomic computer chairs. Each received a slew of prizes, including a $200,000 interest-free business overdraft facility from OCBC Bank and support from Spring Singapore in capability development.

Other winners included Bttrigtical, a provider of analytical instruments to measure water content in oil for manufacturing, logistics and e-commerce industries, for Best Innovation; and Homage, a provider of on-demand, home-based care to senior citizens, for Most Promising Start-up.

The awards aim to acknowledge promising start-ups and SMEs that have been outstanding in their respective fields, and to provide them with resources to build on their capabilities for further growth.

Mr Wong Wei Kong, editor of The Business Times, said all the winners of the awards "have excelled in their respective industries with entrepreneurial spirit, ingenuity and perseverance in the face of competition and disruption".

Mr Tan Chor Sen, OCBC's executive vice-president of global commercial banking, agreed, adding that "businesses have to understand that in this day and age, they either disrupt, or get disrupted".

"This year's Emerging Enterprise Awards winners recognise this... and have come up with innovative solutions and business models that benefit customers and make their companies truly unique," he said.

"But this is just the tip of the iceberg - with Singapore's strong infrastructure and increased connectivity between markets, they have the potential to go even further."