S'pore firms go global, manage risks with overseas partnerships

ESG's overseas centres help match local businesses with suitable partners

Above: Singapore firm Patec's N95 mask production line. Last year, it worked with a Jordanian government-linked company to set up a mask manufacturing plant. Left: A rider in Indonesia swopping out his electric motorcycle battery, provided by Singapo
Above: Singapore firm Patec's N95 mask production line. Last year, it worked with a Jordanian government-linked company to set up a mask manufacturing plant. Left: A rider in Indonesia swopping out his electric motorcycle battery, provided by Singapore firm Oyika, which has been working with convenience store chains in Indonesia, where its battery swop stations are placed.PHOTOS: PATEC, OYIKA
Above: Singapore firm Patec's N95 mask production line. Last year, it worked with a Jordanian government-linked company to set up a mask manufacturing plant. Left: A rider in Indonesia swopping out his electric motorcycle battery, provided by Singapo
Above: Singapore firm Patec's N95 mask production line. Last year, it worked with a Jordanian government-linked company to set up a mask manufacturing plant. Left: A rider in Indonesia swopping out his electric motorcycle battery, provided by Singapore firm Oyika, which has been working with convenience store chains in Indonesia, where its battery swop stations are placed.PHOTOS: PATEC, OYIKA

Oyika is on a mission.

The local electric vehicle (EV) battery start-up wants to make EVs more accessible in South-east Asia and to that end, has been linking with local partners to enter foreign markets.

The firm's technical and product development teams are in Singapore, but it has been working with convenience store chains in Indonesia and Cambodia, where its battery swop stations are placed.

This allows Oyika to tap the wide reach of these convenience stores, said the start-up's chief executive Lee Jinsi.

He added that the company expects to roll out its EV battery solutions in Malaysia by the end of the year, following a recent investment from Malaysia-listed energy infrastructure and tech firm Yinson Holdings.

Linking with partners abroad allows more Singapore firms to expand and can help manage the risks of entering a new foreign market, said a spokesman for government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG).

"A joint venture is one way to bring together mutual strengths, such as one company's strong product offering with another's familiarity operating in a challenging market, while sharing the investment risk," the spokesman added, noting that ESG's overseas centres help to match Singapore firms with suitable partners in foreign markets.

For example, ESG's transport and logistics cluster and its centre in Frankfurt organised a learning journey on alternate fuel technologies for over 60 Singapore participants earlier this year.

Architectural practice Swan & Maclaren, which has focused on securing projects overseas in recent years, has also adopted the joint venture strategy in various projects in the region and has offices in China, Thailand and Vietnam.

The firm looks to venture deeper into South Asia, said group director Lim Chai Boon, adding that it is eyeing a partnership in Bangladesh.

Explaining why the company has gone the partnership route, he said: "We need to have localised support because we can't do everything from Singapore. We need to offer our services but with a local flavour, with the local way of doing things."

Medical technology firm Aevice Health, which develops wearables for remote respiratory monitoring, is also looking to expand abroad through a strategic partnership.

It will work with one of its investors, Japanese pharmaceutical wholesaler Toho Holdings, to develop its technology and expand the use of its wearable solutions in Japan. Toho Holdings operates over 700 pharmacies in the country.

"With a strong partner like Toho Holdings, we will be able to leverage their extensive network and channels to distribute our products across Japan," said a spokesman for Aevice Health.

The ESG spokesman also highlighted that trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will spur more innovation in Asean.

"Partners are more willing to co-innovate when intellectual property rights and data protection are guaranteed and safeguarded in our trade treaties," he added.

Among the key benefits of the RCEP agreement are enhanced standards of intellectual property protection and enforcement, as well as greater flow of foreign investments.

ESG has also worked with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to generate partnerships between Singapore companies and firms in IsDB member countries, including Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.

It launched two projects with IsDB last year and is exploring five others this year.

Singapore-based engineering solutions firm Patec was involved in one successful collaboration last year, and worked with a Jordanian government-linked company to establish an N95 mask manufacturing plant and improve capabilities in personal protective equipment manufacturing.

Patec commercial manager Benjamin Chia said the project involves the procurement of materials and equipment, as well as logistics management.

The success of this project would potentially open more doors for the company in the Middle East, he added, in a region that is hard for foreign companies to access.

Mr Didier Belot, corporate solutions head for South-east Asia at Swiss Re, said regulatory requirements are one of the main challenges when firms expand abroad. For example, in many South-east Asia countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, insurance coverage has to be provided by locally licensed insurers.

"This means that a Singapore company looking to expand to Vietnam... cannot rely on the policy they have in Singapore for insurance coverage in Vietnam."

One way to safeguard against risks when expanding overseas, especially during a pandemic, is to scrutinise contractual agreements, Mr Belot said.

"By ensuring that the agreements have leeway on project completion timelines, this can provide companies in the manufacturing or property sectors the flexibility needed to complete their projects, rather than abandoning them mid-way and risking penalties."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore firms go global, manage risks with overseas partnerships'. Subscribe