2019 Budget: Leading SMEs in Singapore towards biz success and expansion

In the first edition of Xero Community, organised by accounting software company Xero, small and medium businesses in Singapore got together to decode the 2019 Budget. The Xero Community is a quarterly series of events to provide a platform for local SMEs to learn, connect and take away key insights related to business expansion and growth.

The panel of experts consisted of Chew Mok Lee, Assistant CEO of Enterprise Singapore; Keyis Ng, CEO and Co-founder of Cafebond.com; Natasha Toh, Co-founder and Director of The Fun Empire; and Kevin Fitzgerald, Regional Director of Xero Asia.

The hour-long discussion focused on four main themes: fostering business success and expansion, technology transformation for SMEs, helping SMEs access working capital, and upskilling the workforce; giving startups information on the new initiatives announced by the government that would help them plan their expansion at home and in overseas markets.

Tessa Khoo, Marketing Director, Asia Pacific, Xero moderated the panel discussion. Khoo started off by mentioning that the recent budget did not announce any big bang initiatives. While there were a couple of new initiatives, the government had taken a series of small steps to build up successful past initiatives towards the long term goal of increasing competitiveness of local businesses. The overall objective being to help businesses scale up, receive financing and become sustainable. She mentioned the two initiatives that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced as part of the Budget. Scale Up Singapore and the Innovation Agents Programme.

Fostering business success and expansion

Chew Mok Leeof Enterprise Singapore shed further light on the initiatives that the government had undertaken to help the SME community in Singapore. She touched upon the programmes that supported small companies wishing to expand to newer markets. “Enterprise Singapore has 37 overseas offices. In China, for instance, there are 9 offices. We offer support at every step of the way. From market readiness assessment to hiring and training and internationalization financing schemes that help fund expansion in new markets,” added Lee.

Scale-up Singapore is a programme that partners both the private and public sectors to help startups and smaller companies scale up. The programme will pave the way for work with high growth, local firms to identify and build new capabilities to innovate, and expand into international markets. The Innovation Agents programme is a two-year pilot for enterprises to obtain advice on innovation opportunities from experienced industry professionals who have both technology expertise and business experience, henceforth known as Innovation Agents. To support enterprises in their innovation efforts and accelerate their growth, Enterprise Singapore will identify individuals with deep expertise in technology, strong track record in growing businesses, and access to global industry networks.

Natasha Toh explained that her company had plans to expand overseas this year in markets such as Indonesia and Hong Kong and the government’s initiatives were timely. Fun Empire is a team building and events companyin Singapore.“This kind of expertise and experience provided by the government is very helpful and it is useful to know about all the initiatives. We did tap into the Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) Grant to help with trade mark registration overseas. A great help for companies such as ours to look beyond Singapore.”

Keyis Ng agreed. His company, Cafebond.com is a  specialty coffee beans e-commerce marketplace. Cafebond is part of DBS Bank’s start-up support programme DBS Hotspot 2016, with China venture capital firm Quest Ventures as its investor. Explains Ng, “We used the MRA Grant when we expanded to Malaysia. The government initiatives are a great help for startups like ours. Then there are the little, intangible things that expand our connections. Like a connection we got recently from a company in Mexico through Enterprise Singapore’s Mexico office. These help in the long term for us.”’

Kevin Fitzgerald of Xero summed up that the initiatives provided by the government were world-class. “There is an opportunity for innovation and we as a platform connect a lot of different people. There are SMEs, startups, MNCs on one hand and then there are our technology partners, IT partners, accountants, bookkeepers. We have a helpful community and we need to come together to help people connect with each other.”