Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe, much like their counterparts here, make up the vast majority of companies in their homeland and are the biggest source of jobs.
And like their Singaporean counterparts, many also find it daunting to venture into distant parts of the world with foreign laws and cultures.
To help break down these barriers, the European Union has launched the EU Business Avenues in South-east Asia programme, which aims to bring up to 1,000 innovative European SMEs on business missions to this region over the next five years.
Dr Michael Pulch, the EU ambassador and head of the EU Delegation to Singapore, told a launch ceremony yesterday that European companies will sound out business opportunities and identify potential partners while on these missions.
The programme, patterned after similar ones the EU has implemented in Japan and South Korea, will use Singapore as a hub. Each business mission will start with a visit here before moving on to at least one other South-east Asian market.
99% Of all businesses in the EU are SMEs
70% Of all employment in the EU are represented by SMEs
3% Of SMEs in the EU are exporting
"In the EU, SMEs represent 99 per cent of all businesses and almost 70 per cent of total employment," Dr Pulch noted.
"Despite these impressive figures, we have learnt that EU SMEs find several challenges when it comes to internationalisation and exporting. Only 600,000 out of 20 million SMEs are exporting."
The first mission will take place next month, when a group of 31 European companies from the environment and water technologies sector will showcase their goods and services at the Singapore International Water Week. They will then visit Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Future missions will focus on sectors such as renewable energy, food and beverage, and healthcare and medical technologies.
The companies joining the first mission have been carefully selected and coached, and the same process will apply for future trips, said Mr Tristan Hockley, the programme's liaison officer of coaching networks.
"It's really important that these SMEs that we bring are ready for international expansion. They're serious about this market, they've got tried-and-tested products that we think will work in this market."
Mr Kwok Wai Choong, the deputy director of cluster development in the industry development and promotion office of the National Environment Agency, said Singapore would be particularly interested in technologies that would tackle its environmental challenges in innovative ways.
"We are looking at new ways of doing things, because our environmental challenges are complex, ever-changing and we also have a lack of resources," he added. "So we are looking for new things that will take us forward, such as waste-to-energy or waste-treatment systems, that can be implemented on a small scale."
The EU Delegation to Singapore also released its latest edition of the EU-Singapore Trade and Investment Report yesterday.
It shows that trade in goods between the two markets rose by 7.7 per cent last year from 2014 while bilateral trade in services increased 15.4 per cent.