SMEs 'can tap expertise of private equity firms'

Networks can help them to scale up, expand into overseas markets, says Heng Swee Keat

Mr Ng, Rigel Technology group's chief executive, (left) giving Mr Heng (centre) a tour of the company's new $35 million headquarters in Changi Business Park. PHOTO: RIGEL

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should tap the networks of private equity firms to scale up and break into overseas markets, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He also urged SMEs to make full use of the many schemes offered by government agencies to support innovation and growth.

"Make the best use of the expertise of our private equity players, who can connect you with markets and with partners, and to access technology and know-how," said Mr Heng, who was speaking at the opening of home-grown bathroom products maker Rigel Technology's new headquarters.

Rigel, which designs and makes smart toilets and taps, has been a portfolio company of Heliconia Capital Management, Temasek's SME-focused private equity fund, since 2014.

After setting up several regional offices in the past three years and outgrowing its old space in Kaki Bukit, Rigel moved into its new $35 million global headquarters at Changi Business Park last October.

Some of the innovations on display in its new showroom include the "rain shower", a ceiling-mounted shower head that can light up a bathroom in bright blue, green or red LED using hydropower from the running water.

Rigel also makes sensor-activated faucets with aerated water flows to reduce splash and waste.

At the opening ceremony, Rigel signed memorandums of understanding with three firms from Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, for deals worth more than $9 million.

Just a third of Rigel's market presence is overseas. Group chief executive Christopher Ng intends for that to become two-thirds in the years to come, as Rigel follows its customers such as CapitaLand, Keppel, JTC and Ascendas into projects in Vietnam, Myanmar and China.

The partnership with Heliconia has helped too. "When they came on board as our partner, it gave a boost to our image and we were a lot more convincing when we pitched for projects to international customers," Mr Ng said.

Heliconia has an undisclosed minority stake in Rigel. Heliconia chief executive Derek Lau said: "To us, the amount of shares in the company is not critical; we just want to have a skin in the game. Unlike a buyout fund, we're not seeking control. That's not our model. Ours is expansion capital, really a collaboration and partnership. It's building trust that's more important."

Rigel employs 350 people globally, with 100 staff based in Singapore, including 13 engineers who work out of the new research and development incubation room and test manufacturing room in Changi.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline SMEs 'can tap expertise of private equity firms'. Subscribe