SMEs get exposure to foreign markets via IE's workshops

A worker checks a wooden panel on top of a construction site in Yangon, Myanmar, on June 16.
A worker checks a wooden panel on top of a construction site in Yangon, Myanmar, on June 16.PHOTO: EPA

Trade agency IE Singapore will be organising more workshops held in foreign markets to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here gain hands-on experience and connect with potential business partners.

The agency is bumping up the number of these "in-market" workshops in response to feedback from SME bosses that this on-the- ground experience enables them to gain better insights.

Mrs Tan Li Lin, IE Singapore group director for customer services, said: "Unfamiliarity with overseas markets is a top concern among SMEs which go overseas. They have less resources and networks to help them navigate and understand local conditions."

This year, IE Singapore will conduct more than 15 in-market workshops in places popular among Singapore companies such as China, India, Myanmar and the United States - 60 per cent more than last year.

The workshops will be industry- focused, such as an upcoming construction and housing workshop in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and a healthcare one in Indonesia.

GROUNDWORK

Unfamiliarity with overseas markets is a top concern among SMEs which go overseas. They have less resources and networks to help them navigate and understand local conditions.

MRS TAN LI LIN, IE Singapore group director for customer services.

Such workshops, normally lasting three to five days, provide SMEs with first-hand experience of market and political conditions of the country through classroom training and site visits.

Other sessions include interacting with and learning from fellow Singapore businesses already in the market, and networking opportunities with potential local business partners.

An April workshop in the Philippines helped lay the foundation for two SMEs to set up shop there.

Mr Soh Yee How, managing director of Xpressflower.com, said: "IE Singapore placed us in direct contact with the two large shopping mall operators, reducing our legwork compared to if we had gone overseas on our own."

The online florist has decided on a storefront in Manila to build a "physical presence" in the Philippines, where floral choices have been limited to locally-grown flowers, he said. It is set to be up in August.

Mr Ian Choo, director of sales and marketing at French Food Factory, said: "The classroom sessions covered statistics on taxation and location analyses while the site visits allowed me to meet up with the landlords." The company, known for its Saybons chain of restaurants, is in talks with two potential franchise partners it met through the workshop.

The workshops have attracted more than 450 participants from over 280 companies since 2013.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'SMEs get exposure to foreign markets via IE's workshops'. Print Edition | Subscribe