Promising young companies offer hope amid crisis


IN a year marked by uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, young companies with potential to thrive despite the Covid-19 crisis are providing a much-needed dose of optimism for the future.

Six such companies were selected from a field of 15 finalists for recognition at the Emerging Enterprise Awards 2020 on Wednesday.

Fruits Vending (a smart vending machine manufacturer and operator), ImmunoScape (a biotech startup specialising in immunotherapy) and SkyLab Networks (a data logistic solutions provider) won the Emerging Enterprise Award, for demonstrating an enterprising mindset and displaying potential for significant and sustainable growth.

Each winner received prizes worth about S$385,000, including consultancy services, business debit card credits, a staycation package and a S$250,000 interest-free term loan from OCBC.

The awards - jointly organised by The Business Times (BT) and OCBC - are in their 13th year.

They celebrate startups and young enterprises for their business innovation, resilience and excellence.

Qualifying companies must be under 10 years old and have an annual sales turnover of up to S$20 million, among other criteria.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing was the guest of honour at the awards event, which was held virtually for the first time.

In his speech, Mr Chan noted the difficult circumstances that Singapore is in amid the pandemic, and the need to use public resources to help businesses and workers adapt rather than maintain the status quo.

The Emerging Enterprise finalists demonstrate Singapore's "can-do" spirit and ability to respond nimbly to challenges, he noted.

"In their spirit of enterprise, always searching out new opportunities, even amidst the pandemic, to develop new business ideas and models, build new capabilities, and leverage innovation and new digital tools," he said. "When thrown lemons, we make lemonade."

The government will create the most conducive environment it can for business growth, but Mr Chan also urged businesses to work together to keep Singapore competitive.

"Whatever we can do, others can emulate and even try to do better. Hence, be it government or businesses, we must continue to work closely together to stay ahead of the competition," Mr Chan added.

Robot developer Weston Robot received the Best Innovation Award, presented to businesses that seek creative solutions to persistent problems, innovate to carve out new markets for themselves or embrace technology to transform their businesses.

It received prizes worth about S$210,000, comprising an information and communication technology solutions package, consulting and legal advisory services and a S$150,000 interest-free term loan from OCBC.

Food and packaging waste-focused social enterprise TreeDots Enterprise won the Most Promising Startup Award, which recognises emerging enterprises with a strong startup spirit and which have developed a unique and commercially viable idea with potential to be sustained in the long run.

Food recycling firm Lam Tak received the Sustainability Award, which was introduced in the 2019 edition of the awards. It recognises emerging enterprises that serve the underserved and create greater good for the community, environment and society.

All the winners will receive support in capability development from Enterprise Singapore (ESG).

Wong Wei Kong, editor of BT, noted that the Emerging Enterprise Awards was started in 2008 during the Global Financial Crisis, making it no stranger to crises like the one that has overshadowed 2020.

"It is encouraging to see that even in the current pandemic situation, there are still promising, innovative enterprises marking out growth paths for themselves," he said.

Linus Goh, head of global commercial banking at OCBC, said that while it is difficult to tell if the worst is over, he sees "green shoots in various industries and regions", such as in the area of sustainability development.

"A sustainability strategy is necessary to 'future-proof' businesses and address changing stakeholder expectations, but at the same time also opens up new opportunities to gain competitive advantages, which many are beginning to capitalise on," added Mr Goh.

The awards are supported by RSM, MasterCard, Singtel, ACORN, Rajah & Tann Legal Basix, Wavemaker and ESG.