Implementation is key for setup of Enterprise Singapore

The merger of IE Singapore and Spring Singapore is welcomed by industry observers who say a single entity will help boost the SME ecosystem


THE success of the merger of IE Singapore and Spring Singapore hinges on its effective implementation, say observers, while welcoming the newly formed government agency, Enterprise Singapore, as a hoped-for, single authority on startups and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in Singapore.

Markus Gnirck, chief of Singapore-based fintech firm tryb, told The Business Times that the combined agency is a positive move, as it will provide support for Singapore companies "from startup to scale-up", and encourage them to be internationally focused from the outset.

Jeffrey Paine, managing partner of venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures, said: "It is a good thing to be aligned and having only one entity to provide the all-around service to startups and SMEs. But details make the machine hum. It waits to be seen if both agencies can gel together."

Streamlined programmes, a centralised team to manage grant disbursements, and a reduced length of time for review and paperwork are among goals that the merged entity should aim for, Mr Paine added. "It is about quick feedback and time taken to get things done."

At present, both agencies run their own, separate funding initiatives that seek to nurture local firms and help them scale up and expand globally. Spring, for instance, offers Spring Seeds Capital, Startup SG Equity and the Capability Development Grant - while IE Singapore offers the Market Readiness Assistance Grant and Global Company Partnership Grant.

Isaac Ho, chief of private investment group Venturecraft, said: "Currently, there are too many agencies and schemes, which is confusing to local companies as well as foreign companies entering Singapore."

Venturecraft - which helps its portfolio of global companies expand into Asia through Singapore - has worked with both Spring and IE Singapore. It is an appointed investor under Spring's StartupSG Equity scheme, and it launched in 2015 a medtech incubator in Hangzhou with the support of IE Singapore.

Mr Ho said: "In my encounters with foreign companies from the US and China that plan to set up shop in Singapore, a common complaint is having to repeat their business model to various government agencies and to navigate the different schemes offered by different agencies."

He added that these companies also get called on by several different Singapore government agencies in their home countries, with each agency having a different agenda.

"This adds to the confusion. Thus, a consolidated agency with a more streamlined, comprehensive suite of programmes is welcome."

Leslie Loh, founder of Lithan, a training-services provider for SMEs and startups, agreed that local enterprises prefer the efficiency of dealing with one agency to the hassle of maintaining relationships with many.

Mr Loh, who is also an entrepreneur and angel investor, said: "The merger makes a lot of sense for the startup ecosystem as Singapore startups are born global. It was inefficient that startups needed to approach two agencies at the same time."

However, the fact that there will be no staff layoffs, and that Spring and IE Singapore will continue in their separate office locations (because of existing leases) suggests that the new agency "may not be very efficient or moving as fast as they want", Mr Paine said.

According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Enterprise Singapore will have about 900 employees. An MTI spokesman 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. Officers will be equipped to take on these new roles."

Mr Loh noted that the internationalisation model has changed significantly since IE Singapore originated as a Singapore Trade Development Board. He told BT: "IE Singapore was previously structured to support more mature and traditional businesses. There will be a need for current staff from both agencies to acquire new skills."