SMEs get help to navigate government support schemes for going online amid Covid-19 push

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

SINGAPORE - 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 adviser, which will be launched next Tuesday (Aug 11), was announced by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling on Thursday (Aug 6) at a virtual conference organised by SME Centre. The centre is a network of one-stop facilities that provide business advisory to firms and help them upgrade their capabilities.

Ms Low said: "One common feedback we have received from SMEs is their difficulty navigating the suite of available government schemes. They find it hard to find the schemes they can qualify for and 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 also complements the efforts of business advisers at SME Centres and provides round-the-clock help for firms. It is part of the Government's larger GoBusiness platform that will be integrated into the portal.

As of July this year, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) has 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.

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, in an initiative that will last till March next year.

From March to June this year, more than 10,600 enterprises have taken 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.

Ms Low said: "Covid-19 has accelerated the growth and opportunities in e-commerce in new ways... E-commerce capabilities are more critical than ever. 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 online sales, which swelled by 50 per cent in the last few months through social media and by growing a loyal customer base.

Merlin Goldsmith's packages of online orders for jewellery during the circuit breaker period. PHOTO: MERLIN GOLDSMITH

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."

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