Thursday 13 February 2014

More SMEs tapping SPRING's schemes

Agency helped 3,440 companies launch 3,270 projects last year
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2014

AS COMPANIES became increasingly aware they could not simply conduct business as usual amid a restructuring economy, more turned to SPRING Singapore for help last year to up their game.

Overall, these companies embarked on 3,270 projects, 10 per cent more than in the year before.

About 80 per cent of the companies that benefited from SPRING's aid last year were micro and small enterprises, each with an annual turnover of less than $10 million.

By tapping on SPRING's schemes, these companies received help with a wide variety of projects, from raising productivity to commercialising their business ideas and accessing overseas markets.

SPRING also approved more than 4,300 loans worth $1.25 billion last year, slightly down from 2012, when 4,500 loans worth $1.3 billion were given out.

Overall, however, SPRING's efforts generated higher value-add and helped to create more jobs last year than the year before.

It churned out $6.16 billion in economic value-add, up from $5.9 billion in 2012, and created 21,000 jobs, up from 19,000 in the year before, SPRING said at its annual year-in-review briefing yesterday.

SPRING chief executive Tan Kai Hoe said the economic outlook and feedback from companies indicate that this year could be an easier one for businesses.

Still, SPRING will not let up on its efforts to help even more SMEs restructure, he added.

"I think SMEs are now aware of productivity... We are beginning to see some action, but it will take some time to see results. We hope to see concrete results in the next couple of years," he said.

Some of the projects SPRING supported last year were rather straightforward affairs.

Eng Soon Dry Bean Curd Manufacturing, for example, received funding support from the Capability Development Grant to help it buy a machine that automated its packaging process.

Now, the company needs just three workers at a time to oversee this process, down from six previously. Output has also risen 30 per cent, and the risk of product contamination has decreased.

"Most of the employees who had been doing this job were foreigners. With the tightening of foreign worker rules, we felt that in the long run, it would be better if we invested in a machine now, instead of continuing to rely on manpower," said production manager Tan Jun Long.

SPRING also helped in more complex projects, some involving multiple companies at a time.

Among them was one that benefited from the Collaborative Industry Project scheme. It was helmed by department store operator C.K. Tang, which tied up with five of its suppliers, all SMEs, to implement an IT system to raise productivity for all six partners.

This system enables a smooth exchange of sales data between C.K. Tang and the suppliers, and the SMEs can easily monitor how well their products are selling at Tangs department stores, and thus manage their inventory and replenish stocks quickly.

Since the system's implementation in September, the five SMEs have enjoyed up to a 10 per cent rise in sales and 20 per cent reduction in manual labour as sales and inventory data is now processed digitally rather than on paper.

With the twin challenges of rising costs and labour shortages pressing on them, a lot more SMEs also turned to self-help guides. SPRING's online toolkits, which are simple guides on how to improve things such as financial management, productivity and customer service, were downloaded 29,000 times last year, up 76 per cent from 2012.

This year, SPRING will focus on stepping up its efforts to position SMEs for growth and streamlining its existing schemes to ensure that they can cater to as many SMEs as possible, said Mr Tan.

"We are hoping to make sure that our schemes are flexible enough to be able to support all the SMEs. At the margins, where we find small gaps that we may not have covered, we will look at some of those."

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