More companies received funding support from enterprise development agency Spring Singapore last year to invest in restructuring and automation, according to data out yesterday.
While efforts to aid firms in cutting costs and manpower will continue this year, the agency said it aims to focus on helping firms become more innovative and grow new sources of revenue, especially since the economic outlook is becoming tougher.
It gave out grants to more than 20,000 companies for 22,000 projects last year. This was more than twice the number of firms it supported in 2014.
When fully realised, these projects are expected to create 19,500 new jobs - of which about 70 per cent will be skilled positions - and contribute $6.9 billion in value-add to the economy. Almost all of these companies were enterprises with $10 million or less in annual revenue.
Spring chief executive Poon Hong Yuen said more companies used the agency's Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme last year, accounting for the large increase in the number of firms receiving funding support.
About 19,500 firms used the scheme last year, up from 7,000 in 2014. The scheme hands out vouchers of $5,000, which small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can use to offset the cost of new equipment or of engaging professional services to boost their productivity.
Mr Poon said SMEs are facing more challenging economic conditions this year amid the global growth slowdown, but the difficult environment should be an "added impetus" for firms to restructure.
"The more challenging environment is actually an opportunity for companies to tool up and prepare for future growth. Many SMEs are doing that; they're not just staying still and trying to weather the storm," he added.
Spring and its partners also supported more than 300 start-ups last year, up from 160 in 2014.
Spring Seeds Capital, the agency's investment arm, co-invested $13 million in 17 early-stage companies last year, catalysing private investment of $36 million. It also facilitated 21 project collaborations between large and small firms, involving 16 large companies and 200 SMEs.
Mr Daniel Ang, the chief executive of Hesed & Emet Holdings, said the company's work with Spring has paid off. The firm is the parent company behind catering brands Elsie's Kitchen, Continental Delight and JavaLink.
Mr Ang said the company wanted to be able to manage bulk catering contracts more efficiently and with less manpower.
The firm has been identified as one which might be called upon to provide its services during national emergencies, which means it has to be able to produce many meals within a short period of time.
One of the investments Mr Ang made was in an automated rice-cooking machine that cost about $500,000. It can produce 3,000 portions of cooked rice every hour.
"Before we installed this machine, almost all the production was manual. It was very laborious and also compromised workers' safety, because they get tired," he said. Just one worker is needed to operate the machine, compared with three when the process was done manually.
The company took on a number of large contracts last year, including the 28th South-east Asia Games and the National Day Parade. In the same year, sales went up 45 per cent and are expected to rise 20 per cent this year.
"Only with such facilities and resources can we produce food in such volumes and be more productive, and in turn increase our revenue," said Mr Ang.