Singapore Budget 2016: Robots and start-ups - 10 things to transform Singapore Inc

Lucy, a robot waitress, delivers food at Rong Heng Seafood restaurant at East Coast Seafood Centre on Feb 2, 2016.
Lucy, a robot waitress, delivers food at Rong Heng Seafood restaurant at East Coast Seafood Centre on Feb 2, 2016. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Beyond addressing the immediate concerns of businesses, a major part of the Budget addressed the "scaling up" of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a slew of measures under the Industry Transformation Programme that will help companies and industries automate, innovate, expand overseas and procure financing.

Schemes are now more targeted, but provide more help than before for those that qualify.

1. Support for automation

A new Automation Support Package will be introduced for a period of three years.

It will cover four areas:

- Grant support for the roll-out or scaling up of automation projects at up to 50 per cent of project cost, with a maximum grant of $1 million.

- Investment allowance of 100 per cent for automation equipment, in addition to the existing capital allowance.

- Improve access to equipment loans under Spring's Local Enterprise Finance Scheme by enhancing the Government's risk-share from 50 per cent to 70 per cent. This will also be expanded to cover equipment loads for non-SMEs at 50 per cent risk-share.

- IE Singapore and Spring will partner businesses where appropriate to access overseas markets


2. More robots at work

The National Robotics programme, announced last year (2015), will be enhanced.

More than $450 million has been set aside in the next three years for the development and adoption of robots. These robots will be used in sectors such as healthcare, construction, manufacturing and logistics.

3. Business grants portal

There is a wide range of government schemes to help firms but the "alphabet soup" can cause consternation for the very companies they are meant to help.

The new portal, to be launched by the last quarter of 2016, will bring together schemes from different agencies, and help companies identify which grants and schemes are relevant to them.

4. SG-Innovate

To promote start-ups, this new set-up will match budding entrepreneurs with mentors, introduce them to venture capital firms, help them to access talent in research institutes, and open up new markets.

5. New Jurong Innovation District

The new innovation district in Jurong West is envisioned as the industrial park of the future. It will bring together researchers, students, innovators and businesses to develop products and services of the future.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by around 2020.

6. Help workers 'adapt and grow'

The new Adapt and Grow initiative will help Singaporeans adapt to changing job demands and grow their skills. More details will be announced by the Ministry of Manpower at the Committee of Supply debate next month.

Separately, the Government will set up TechSkills Accelerator, a new skills development and job placement hub, to help workers in the information and communications technology sector learn new skills quickly.

7. Deepening innovation capabilities

Up to $4 billion under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan will be directed to industry-research collaboration.

The Government will provide a top-up of $1.5 billion to the National Research Fund in 2016 to support these initiatives.

8. Support for internationalisation

IE Singapore is expected to support 35,000 to 40,000 companies to expand to markets overseas this year, up from 34,000 in 2015.

The Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation scheme will be extended.

The scheme currently allows approved companies to deduct against their taxable income, twice the expenses incurred for activities like overseas business development trips, trade fairs and for salaries of Singaporeans posted overseas.

9. National trade platform

A step up from the TradeNet and TradeXchange systems, this one-stop trade information management system is meant for the logistics and trade finance sectors.

It enables electronic data sharing between companies as well as government regulators such as Customs.

10. Financing and tax incentives

A range of tax and financial incentives were expanded, including the SME Mezzanine Growth Fund and the Merger & Acquisition allowance.

The Mezzanine Growth Fund, an alternative financing option for SMEs, will grow from $100 million to $150 million.

The cap of the M&A allowance will double, from $20 million to $40 million per year of assessment.