EDB revamp to boost foreign investments, local enterprises

The Economic Development Board (EDB) has introduced changes in the way it works as it moves to bolster foreign investment and boost local enterprises.

Staff has been sorted into three streams so it can build deeper relationships with companies, better attract promising businesses and generate financing for local start-ups.

The changes "are focused on getting key projects in", said managing director Chng Kai Fong last month, in an interview that rounds up his first year since he was appointed to the role in October 2017.

In the past, the EDB organised itself by industry clusters and "anyone who has an investment interest, they talk to us, we will talk to them", Mr Chng noted. But it has added the streams late last year to better reach its objectives.

One of the new streams aims to "go a little bit deeper for a smaller group of companies that have substantial presence here".

"We want to go beyond discussing projects with them," he said.

Mr Chng noted that he meets heads of companies about twice a year to discuss plans for the next five years.

"With this five-year time frame, we understand their plans better, and they understand Singapore's value proposition better," he added.

"We exchange views... We have some credibility because we talk to so many companies and... as a result, we can partner different people with... Asean (companies)," he said.

The aim is to get the companies to plan and think about a longer-term investment in Singapore, Mr Chng added.

"Typically, when they come to EDB, they will say, 'oh, I want to build a factory here, what can I get out of this, or how can I get workers?'" he said.

Another stream aims to bring in promising tech companies that are looking to expand in South-east Asia.

Mr Chng said: "I'm trying to bring the next Google, Facebook, Alibaba, people (who) actually think of Asean as a market... I want to be able to facilitate their entry in so that they set up their first presence (here)."

He wants companies to think of Singapore first when they are deciding where to go to expand in Asean, Asia or when they "think about creating new services (and) products in Asean".

"We are trying to go out there and do a lot more marketing."

The third stream, which Mr Chng says is the most challenging, works with businesses on corporate ventures, with the EDB chipping in to help absorb risk.

It is separate from the Board's investment arm, EDBI.

Corporate ventures are investments companies make in start-ups. It is the missing piece in the vibrant venture capital and start-up market here, he said, adding that the start-ups selected must have a link to Singapore.

Corporations have spent more on research and development and innovation than institutes of higher learning or start-ups, he said. "That's where the power is."

The stream is challenging because corporate ventures are not quite developed here, Mr Chng said.

But ultimately, the hope is that the stream creates an environment for corporate ventures, he said.

"If we are successful in this... then (we) can help companies really create new products and new services."