One-stop centre brings business guidance services closer to Little India merchants

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran officiated the opening of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry SME centre in Little India on Sept 29, 2018. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - For 10 years, Ms Banumathi M. Pasupathy has been running Jothi's Traditional Charm, a little beauty salon in Buffalo Road, but she has dreams of offering courses to draw more locals into the industry.

The opening of a centre in Little India to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) with business advice has her excited. She has approached the SME Centre with her business idea and is hoping, with their guidance, to secure a grant.

The centre provides advice on topics such as financing, human resource management and business development.

Jointly set up by the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) and Enterprise Singapore, it was officially opened by Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran on Saturday (Sept 29).

SICCI chairman T. Chandroo said the SME Centre hopes to help about 1,000 businesses in Little India keep up with evolving technological trends, and stay viable.

The trade group said in engaging businesses there, it learnt many want to use technology to improve how they work, but are often unsure how to start.

The SME Centre, which occupies 511 sq ft of space in the Little India Arcade, will also hold at least one event for businesses every month, which could range from workshops on digital technology to talks on various government schemes and grants.

The trade body has made other moves to help businesses in the area.

In July, it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association to collaborate and improve the business operations of Little India merchants.

It will also be working closely with other agencies like the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Workforce Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board to help businesses generate growth.

Mr Iswaran told reporters on Saturday that the SME Centre's efforts in Little India are a continuation of IMDA's ongoing plans to help businesses in traditional precincts like Kampong Glam go digital.

IMDA also intends to take such efforts to Chinatown and some heartland areas.

"If you go to Chinatown and Little India, there are many shops engaged in traditional businesses. But even in the traditional businesses, we can introduce digital technology, change their business value proposition and enhance their competitiveness."

Mr Iswaran said SME Centres can offer customised solutions to help businesses reorganise their processes, instead of just giving off-the-shelf options that may not allow them to derive the full benefits of transformation.

SME Centres were first launched in 2013. With the opening of the Little India centre, there are now 11 across Singapore.

Ms Banumathi said the presence of the centre in the heart of Little India can give businesses in the area easy access to information about available grants.

"Sometimes, cheats will come into the shops and say that we need to pay a processing fee in order to apply for a government grant, but I found out through the centre that it is not true," she added.

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