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Nurturing innovation and value creation

Interview - November 8, 2018

Enterprise Singapore is a government agency which champions enterprise development in Singapore. Working with startups, SMEs and multinational companies, it helps build capabilities, innovate and internationalize while supporting the growth of Singapore as a hub for global trading and startups. Png Cheong Boom sat down with The Worldfolio to discuss Singapore’s transformation towards a center for co-creation.



How important is Singapore’s transformation towards a value creation economy?

If you look at the Singapore economy, it has quite a healthy mix of start-ups, small and medium enterprises as well as the large local companies and the multinational companies. All senses point that for an economy to be vibrant and for each of these players to stay competitive, you need to maintain that kind of balance. You need every single segment to be competitive because each of this company doesn't operate in isolation. They partner each other. They buy from one another. If they are suppliers and their partners are not that competitive, they won't be able to be that competitive. In today's context, you'll find that it's not just about buying from one another, it becomes a finished product or component, it is also working with each other on innovation.

Many companies adopt an open innovation concept because they recognize that ideas, good capabilities and new innovation can reside anywhere, and most companies will embrace that. Therefore, from the Singapore standpoint, if you want to maintain an economy that is competitive, it must play host to competitive enterprises. It must remain attractive for multinationals and large companies to operate here.


What role do SMEs and startups play in this transformation?

In Singapore, many of these players are start-ups. Many of these players are SMEs. That's why in the Committee for Future Economy (CFE) report, a major focus is how do we transform companies of different shapes and sizes. The multinationals you don't have to worry about; they are naturally transforming. The large companies are already operating in a global context. The smaller companies are where we want to see how can we help them to stay competitive by continuously upgrading their capabilities, by going digital, by embracing technology, and continuously transforming their business model to stay competitive.

Doing things better and being more productive will get you somewhere, but it's also about how you continuing to create new value propositions and staying ahead of your competitors. That means having to do things differently, or thinking about new things, different ways of doing things, developing new products, new solutions that can address the needs of your customers. Sometimes, in many cases, it's just changing the whole playing field altogether. Innovation is critical. When we see companies around the world, the last companies are also pioneers in innovation. They embrace innovation. We are trying to get many of our SMEs to embrace innovation as well. One of the most innovative segments of the economy are the startups. By nature, they come in and try to do things differently. Their founders want to do things differently.


What is the approach to MNCs?

We look at it like this: who is the best creator of jobs? The multinational company. We are quite pragmatic and we are not that dogmatic in the sense that it's just about growing Singapore companies. It's never about that. It's about creating jobs for Singaporeans and whichever entity that can create jobs, we go for it. That's why initially, it's always about multinationals coming in.


What kind of opportunities does ASEAN represent for Singaporean companies? And to what extent is ASEAN diversity a challenge or an opportunity?

Many of the ASEAN consumers and businesses look at Singapore as the so-called the gold standard. That recognition allows Singaporean products to command a premium. Therefore, if you work with a Singapore company, you know that there's no hidden cost. There's no other non-business or non-financial factors that influence it.


Another important responsibility of Enterprise Singapore is quality and standards. How does this responsibility fit within your overall mission?

I think we are one of the rare countries, maybe the only one, where the national standards body and the national conformity assessment authority are not only part of the government, but also part of the enterprise development agency which is promotional in nature.

For our companies to do business in a particular market, we must reach a certain level of standard that is acceptable in that market. As a national standard body, our interest would be to make sure that as many companies as possible adhere to the international standard. That will then facilitate more trade, facilitate more partnership, and so forth. In that context, the fact that the whole standards and quality responsibility lies within Enterprise Singapore actually makes a lot of sense.