The ravages of the pandemic did not stop thousands of firms from tapping government help to start projects aimed at raising productivity, improving their business technology and going international.
Their efforts are expected to generate $18.4 billion in value added to the Singapore economy and create 22,200 professional, managerial, executive and technical jobs over the next three years, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said in its annual review yesterday.
The 15,300 companies that enlisted ESG help last year were largely from the retail, wholesale trade, manufacturing, food and professional services sectors.
This is 54 per cent more than in 2019.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing commended ESG for supporting firms through the pandemic and noted that more business leaders realise that things will not return to pre-Covid-19 days.
“This is an important distinction as it determines the steps that our businesses will take going forward,” he said.
“(Those) who realise that there is no return to the pre-Covid days will double down on their transformation efforts to ensure that they remain resilient and competitive in a changed economy.”
ESG chief executive Png Cheong Boon said many firms also recognise that the global environment has changed and they need to operate differently to compete in this new climate.
“With movement restrictions, work from home became a default. Businesses needed to find new ways and leverage digital technologies and tools to operate and operate remotely, especially during the circuit breaker,” he noted.
“ESG built on the SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) digitalisation efforts started two years ago, and accelerated it through various ways.”
Around 14,800 firms embarked on projects to improve productivity and upgrade their capabilities last year, 78 per cent more than in 2019.
These projects addressed areas such as automation, process and workflow redesign, digitalisation, and branding and marketing.
About 600 firms also took on innovation projects last year.
For instance, Mighty Jaxx, which sells technology-enabled collectibles such as figurines, used a virtual experience store last year to showcase products globally since physical trade fairs were cancelled.
It tapped ESG support to boost its branding and marketing to reach more multinational companies.
The firm already works with global brands like Sesame Street, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros.
Founder Jackson Aw said: “Our end goal is to eventually use collectibles as a stepping stone to merge the physical and digital worlds together to power future culture.”
The firm aims to expand in Los Angeles and China, and hire 100 more staff here.
Given Covid-19 curbs on travel, the number of firms that embarked on overseas expansion fell by 38 per cent last year to 1,600.
ESG noted that China and South-east Asia remained the top markets of interest.
Besides SMEs, start-ups also continued to innovate.
About 2,100 start-ups benefited from programmes like Startup SG, which supports entrepreneurs.
They also received assistance such as mentorship, incubation and collaboration opportunities, as well as funding support.
Businesses also received help with financing to tide over the pandemic.
ESG worked with financial institutions to approve $18 billion worth of loans for 21,000 enterprises, with 87 per cent of them being micro and small enterprises.
The agency also helped 23,500 enterprises to upgrade, digitalise and achieve business continuity amid the pandemic.
Around 3,600 retailers and 19,000 food and beverage establishments also received support to build digital capabilities and sell products and services online by utilising e-commerce and food delivery booster packages.