Budget 2018

Woo start-ups that can become unicorns, urges SME Committee

Incentivise private firms to invest in promising set-ups, it says in Budget wish list

Attracting and developing start-ups that have the potential to be unicorns - or start-ups valued at over US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) - is a strategy that could drive Singapore's growth, said a committee led by the Singapore Business Federation that is urging the authorities to consider this.

The SME Committee (SMEC) made this recommendation in a Budget 2018 wish list of 18 it has submitted to the Government.

To position Singapore as a hub for unicorns and investors, there can be incentives to attract promising start-ups to set up base or relocate here, said the SMEC.

Private companies could be spurred to invest in potential unicorns through grants and tax incentives, and the provision of tax deductions and rebates for private companies whose investments have failed.

To benefit Singapore, the schemes should incorporate criteria such as a minimum equity stake in the potential unicorn company - 30 per cent for example, suggested the SMEC.

Other criteria include requiring the start-up to house its headquarters, research and development, intellectual property (IP) holding and other key functions in Singapore.

Another is the "creation of good jobs" for the Singapore economy and Singaporeans.

The SMEC also called on the Government to provide "broad-based" support to give SMEs a lift in their transformation efforts.

SMEC chairman Lawrence Leow said: "The evolving business landscape has spawned the emergence of potential unicorns with disruptive and transformative capabilities across several industries globally."

For Budget 2018, the SMEC is calling on the Government to help incentivise private companies to invest in unicorns, he said.

"This would enable the private sector to play a more active role in becoming co-drivers for the growth and development of the economy," he noted.

Another recommendation made by the committee is to promote partnerships between large companies and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

This could be through tax or other incentives given specifically for projects that have substantial SME involvement, to promote partnerships and collaborations between large companies and SMEs on overseas ventures.

Also, a past recommendation identified by the SMEC as still relevant, and is included in the wish list, is the expansion of the Intellectual Property Financing Scheme to include IP acquisition financing for IP assets and the acquisition of IP-owning companies.

The SMEC also called on the Government to provide "broad-based" support to give SMEs a lift in their transformation efforts.

This would be through easier access to government schemes, specifically by enhancing the Business Grants and SME portals to help them better understand the process and requirements of getting support.

Another recommendation is the establishment of a voluntary Supplier Payment Code in Singapore, as well as better awareness of government procurement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Woo start-ups that can become unicorns, urges SME Committee'. Subscribe