Singapore companies should do more to exploit the many business opportunities abroad, challenging though it may be to venture into new markets.
Experts speaking to The Straits Times ahead of the upcoming Internationalisation Forum said that while there are many stumbling blocks to expanding overseas, the payoffs are worth it.
In fact, Georgetown University's professor of business administration Marc Busch, who is speaking at the forum, said local firms should think bigger. In his conversations with Singaporean managers, he hears a lot about their interest in having a presence in Indonesia, China or Vietnam, but nothing about the promise of the US, Canada or Chile, he said.
"Singapore has tremendous market access around the world. But the mindset of what it means to 'go global' hasn't kept up. Singapore's exporters need to think bigger about their brand, and where to take it," Dr Busch said.
That is in fact one of the aims of the June 23 forum - to get local companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to think about going global.
Forum organiser Human Capital Singapore works with the Government, local businesses and academic institutions to "empower local SMEs to transform their businesses into leaner, more productive and highly innovative international organisations that will thrive in the future digital economy", said its chairman Richard Magnus.
They want local SMEs to be "nimble yet international in outlook", he added, to seize new growth opportunities for Singapore.
And indeed there are plenty of growth opportunities to be found in this region and beyond, noted Mr Saud Siddique, chief executive of Tigris Infrastructure Partners, which provides private equity capital to SMEs undertaking water and wastewater-related projects in emerging Asia. "The infrastructure investment needs in emerging markets are valued at over US$1 trillion (S$1.38 trillion) annually. The sectors include water, power, ports, airports, roads and renewable energy," he said.
Given the expertise of Singaporean firms, and the reputation that Singapore enjoys globally for quality and good governance, local companies are well-positioned to compete against global, regional and local players to secure contracts in the infrastructure sector, he pointed out.
Mr Siddique noted that it can be challenging to venture into new markets, especially in developing economies which have "evolving regulatory frameworks which vary in terms of robustness".
His top tip is to take it slow: "Don't rush into a new market until you have done thorough homework on the opportunities and risks of doing business in that market. Get to understand well what you are getting into."
Finding a good local partner is key too, he added.
CapitaLand chief executive Lim Ming Yan said the learning curve is equally steep for bigger companies.
"The key to success will always be about having a good leader in the new market who can understand the parent company, the business as well as the local market," he said.
Companies must take a long- term view and be prepared to send some of their best talents overseas.