Nurturing Singapore's gems of enterprise

Singapore's entrepreneurs who win domestically and internationally create a virtuous cycle of success for all.

IT IS always heart-warming to travel overseas and see a familiar local brand - I have had kaya toast from Ya Kun in Yangon, chilli crab at Jumbo in Shanghai and sushi from Ichiban Boshi in Kuala Lumpur, just to name a few.

One thing in common about these restaurant chains, apart from the fact that they are homegrown, household names, is that they are all recipients of the Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards.

Over a thousand local companies in diverse industries have received accolades since the awards were established more than 20 years ago, and hundreds have spread their wings, with many listing locally and overseas.

There are numerous Singaporean companies with products and services, like last year's E50 Award winner and newly-listed MindChamps, which have helped spread the Singapore name globally in sectors ranging from education and hospitality, to technology and real estate.

SMALL COMPANIES, BIG IDEAS

In a world that is fixated with "FAANGs" (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) and "BATs" (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent Holdings), we need to remember that SMEs and entrepreneurs play a major role in most economies around the world.

In Singapore, they are the backbone of the country's economy, accounting for about half of our GDP growth and two-thirds of employment.

Size does not always matter. In fact, we often forget that big companies did not attain their successes overnight, and started out as small businesses born out of passion, a problem, a need or a unique idea.

While there has been a large amount of attention on unicorn companies, unicorns will likely only form a small percentage of the total number of high-growth companies looking to raise capital.

Every exchange desires the next unicorn to list on its platform, but the reality is that the majority of companies that go public will not be unicorns. Judging from recent volatility, unicorns also face their own challenges of keeping up with high valuations and investor expectations.

So perhaps what matters to entrepreneurs is not increasing size for the sake of it, but increasing scale in a meaningful and sustainable way.

With SMEs key to Singapore's productivity and economic fabric, the government has put in place a plethora of broad-based and targeted programmes to help smaller companies overcome challenges and seize opportunities.

One of the biggest needs of a growing SME is funding. SME financing has evolved significantly in recent years, with a lot more options than before.

IPOs are just one of several routes for companies to attract investors and raise capital.

We are proud of the many companies which have tapped our capital markets to fuel their ambitions. There are many successful case studies, and some of the recent examples include:

  • MindChamps PreSchool, which is the largest operator and franchisor of premium-range preschool centres in Singapore, is using its IPO funds to further strengthen its global presence, including expansion into China, acquisition of several preschool centres in Australia and opening of 20 centres in Malaysia.
  • mm2 Asia, a fast-growing media and entertainment company that is making waves in Asia, listed on SGX Catalist in 2014 with a market capitalisation of about S$50 million. After making several strategic investments, it has since moved to the Mainboard and presently boasts a market cap of more than S$400 million. In less than four years, it has spun off two subsidiaries, UnUsUaL Group and VividThree Holdings, which are now listed on Catalist.

Funding is not always the main reason that companies seek a public listing in Singapore, an AAA-rated global financial hub.

Other benefits such as building an international profile, expanding the investor base and strengthening governance far outweigh the dollars and cents.

Beyond public equity financing, we are also working with private capital platforms including CapBridge which will be operating 1exchange, one of the first regulated private securities exchanges in Singapore.

CREATING VALUE

As a market infrastructure operator in Singapore, SGX facilitates the exchange of capital and ideas, to create value for people, businesses and economies.

We cannot be all things to all people, but we can certainly do our best to support the growth journeys of companies; big and small, in any industry, and at all stages of their business life cycle.

How can everyone work together to create a vibrant marketplace that embraces companies of all sizes, that marries the traditional and the new, that sees opportunities instead of focusing on what is missing, that builds rather than tears down?

Entrepreneurs are dreamers and calculated risk-takers, with fires in their bellies. We can all take a leaf from them.

There are still many things that we, together with the ecosystem, can do to support Asia's entrepreneurs - many of whom are hidden gems waiting to be discovered, polished and appreciated. Helping Singapore's entrepreneurs win domestically and internationally will create a virtuous cycle of success for all.

  • The writer is head of equities and fixed income, SGX