SPRING Singapore and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore have both done good work, but homegrown enterprises will be better supported in this dynamic economic environment through the merger of these two agencies, which can then build on their respective strengths under one banner.
Being nimbler is now the name of the game.
Trade and Industry Minister (Industry) S Iswaran said on Tuesday that Singapore is in a new phase of economic development in which tighter domestic constraints have made external demand an even more important driver of growth.
To tap the very opportunities which growth markets outside Singapore offer, local companies "must be able to respond nimbly to political and economic shifts, shorter technology cycles and business model disruptions".
Speaking at the opening of the new office of the Singapore Business Federation, he said: "They must have extensive networks, superior capabilities, innovative products and strong brands to compete in the globalised digital economy."
Enterprise Singapore, the agency resulting from the merger, has been tasked to help homegrown businesses get there. To be set up by the second quarter of next year, it will integrate the industry knowledge of SPRING and the local and foreign networks of IE to "comprehensively support our enterprises in their efforts to innovate and internationalise".
Mr Iswaran, who was joint guest of honour with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the event, added: "As emphasised by the CFE (Committee on Future Economy), the capacity to innovate, harness technologies, scale up and internationalise are deeply intertwined for all companies, regardless of size or stage of development."
It would seem that, to stay in business, Singapore firms have had little choice but to go international.
But their first order of business has been to build up their capabilities, and for help in this area, they have been turning to SPRING; to venture overseas, they have leaned on IE.
Mr Iswaran said: "Both agencies are doing good work and their efforts have had a material impact."
In the first six months of this year, SPRING helped to build capabilities in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through projects that are tipped to create S$4 billion in value-added.
IE, on its part, has offices in more than 35 cities; over the same period, it helped more than 24,000 enterprises with their overseas expansion plans.
But, as Mr Iswaran pointed out, the merger of these two agencies to form Enterprise Singapore will enable Singapore firms to respond faster to the changes in the external environment. They will be able to benefit from more effective, more seamless support and grow stronger.
The SBF, which has more than 24,000 member firms, agreed with the "more comprehensive and co-ordinated approach" to help the local enterprises.
It pointed out that the merger in fact dovetails with what the SBF has been pushing for.
In its submissions when asked for recommendations for the Budget 2015 and 2016, the federation had called for "a single SME authority to champion SME development and drive the SME agenda across the whole-of-government".
Then in a position paper released early last year, the SBF suggested appointing a minister "to provide political leadership for a whole-of-government approach to development of local enterprises".
SBF chairman S. S. Teo said the merger is timely because it is happening just as the SBF is repositioning itself as a growth platform for the business community to come together "to not only help itself, but also work with our government to co-create solutions to enhance our country's economic value and prosperity".
Lawrence Leow, chairman of the SBF-led SME Committee, said Enterprise Singapore will provide better support to local firms and "ensure more tightly co-ordinated enterprise development efforts".
He is also glad that it is taking an inclusive approach to grooming local firms and helping them venture abroad.
Mr Iswaran said through Enterprise Singapore, local startups will not only benefit from the capability development backing which SPRING is providing, they can also plug into IE's international networks, especially in fast-growing regional markets.
"In the digital age, where speed and scale are critical, this will put our startups in a better position to succeed," he said.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry's Second Permanent Secretary Png Cheong Boon will be concurrently appointed as Chief Executive Officer (Designate) of Enterprise Singapore.
A spokesman for the Ministry for Trade and Industry said: "This is not a downsizing exercise, and we do not expect any retrenchments. Instead, there will be new roles, expanded job scopes and more opportunities for staff."
The combined entity will have about 900 employees. SPRING now has about 500 employees, and IE, 450.