New online initiative to guide SMEs towards suitable support schemes

 Minister Of State Low Yen Ling
Minister Of State Low Yen Ling

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be getting more help to access government support, with a new online adviser to point them to schemes most suitable for them.

Such help is especially important as companies try to transform themselves and digitalise, a process made more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic.

The online adviser initiative, which will be launched next Tuesday, was announced by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling yesterday at a virtual conference organised by the SME Centres.

There are 11 centres that provide business advice to firms and help them upgrade their capabilities.

Ms Low said: "One common feedback we have received from SMEs is the difficulty (they face in) navigating the suite of available government schemes.

"They find it hard to find the schemes they can qualify for and to know which ones are best suited for their needs."

The new online adviser will suggest a selection of schemes that can help companies, based on the answers they give to a few short questions on their business.

This complements the efforts of business advisers at SME Centres and also provides round-the-clock help for firms.

It is part of the Government's larger GoBusiness platform.

As of last month, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) had received more than 18,000 applications from SMEs for the Productivity Solutions Grant, as they seek to digitalise their business processes and expand their customer base.

At least 10,000 of these applications were for Covid-19 business continuity measures.

NEW REVENUE STREAM

Going digital has created a new revenue stream for the SME, and this is likely to continue growing even after the pandemic.

 MINISTER OF STATE LOW YEN LING, on Merlin Goldsmith's move to e-commerce.

The grant defrays up to 80 per cent of the cost of funding digital solutions to make firms more efficient and competitive.

The Government is also helping enterprises by taking on 90 per cent of the risk on loans supported by ESG - an initiative that will continue until March next year.

From March to June this year, more than 10,600 enterprises took up about $9.4 billion in loans, which is seven times the credit extended through ESG's loan programmes last year.

More than 80 per cent of these loans were given to micro and small enterprises with less than $10 million in annual revenue.

"Covid-19 has accelerated the growth and opportunities in e-commerce in new ways... E-commerce capabilities are more critical than ever," Ms Low said.

"With safe distancing, consumers are shifting towards online shopping and this trend is likely to persist even after Covid-19."

One example of a business heading online is jewellery retailer Merlin Goldsmith, which has expanded from a traditional shop in Little India to having a booming e-commerce presence.

When shops had to close during the circuit breaker period, it shifted to selling online. It has boosted its online sales by 50 per cent in the past few months through social media and by growing a loyal customer base.

Ms Low said: "This experience has not only validated the decision to invest in staff training, but also overturned the owners' previous assumption that customers would not be willing to buy luxury goods online.

"Going digital has created a new revenue stream for the SME, and this is likely to continue growing even after the pandemic."

Sue-Ann Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2020, with the headline 'New online initiative to guide SMEs towards suitable support schemes'. Print Edition | Subscribe