Singapore as a Springboard: Interview with CEO of Enterprise Singapore, Mr Png Cheong Boon

ISSUE #66 – Enterprise Singapore is the newly-launched government agency championing enterprise development. Mr Png Cheong Boon, Chief Executive OfficeEnterprise Singapore (pictured below) shares with us more about the enterprise landscape in Singapore, and how companies can go global, from Singapore.


See also : Recap of our Breakfast Talk: A Conversation with Mr Png Cheong Boon, CEO of Enterprise Singapore! Wednesday, 11 July 2018, 8:15am


Could you tell us about the role of Enterprise Singapore since the merger?

Enterprise Singapore officially launched in April this year – is a result of the merger of two economic statutory boards, SPRING Singapore and IE Singapore. The formation of Enterprise Singapore combines both agencies’ expertise and networks, builds on what they have done, to provide better support for Singapore enterprises to grow and globalise, and be a source of valuable jobs for Singaporeans.

As the single enterprise development agency, Enterprise Singapore adopts an enterprise-centric approach to support the business needs of companies. We want to grow stronger Singapore enterprises by helping them to develop their capabilities – upgrade and enhance productivity, innovate and transform, and grow and globalise.

In order to do this, we look at the specific needs of different business groups at different stages of growth, provide simplified but comprehensive suite of programmes for each business segment, and work with a whole range of partners from public and private sectors, industry and market-specific to local and foreign ones. This is so that Singapore enterprises who are willing and committed to grow and transform, will find it easy to get help by working with us and/or with our partners.

As we embark on our mission to help our companies, we recognise that we cannot do it alone. To succeed, we must work closely with private and public sector partners and have their full support. This includes deepening our partnership with Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs), multi-national corporations (MNCs), private sector, industry partners and government agencies in pursuit of enabling enterprise growth.

Besides partnering local stakeholders, we also take on a global perspective in our work. For instance, we attract global commodities traders to establish their global or Asian home base in Singapore. Today, Singapore is a leading global trading hub with a complete ecosystem for the energy, agri-commodities and metals & minerals trading clusters. We are also home to many global enterprises, startups and investors that operate in Singapore’s robust pro-enterprise environment.

As the national standards and accreditation body, we continue to build trust in Singapore’s products and services through quality and standards. Renowned for our dedication to quality and innovation, Singapore companies make ideal business partners.

With our global network in over 35 locations spanning many developed and emerging markets, we connect businesses with relevant Singapore companies for their business expansion.



How is Singapore’s enterprise landscape like and how has it been evolving?

Singapore’s enterprise landscape comprises of some 200,000 companies.

  1. The majority, around 160,000, are micro enterprises, with annual revenue of less than S$1 million. Collectively, they employ about 540,000 employees (around 18% of the workforce, averaging 3-5 employees each) and contribute to 4% of our GDP;
  2. The next group, with revenues above S$1 mil up to S$10 mil, comprises 30,000 small enterprises. They employ about 830,000 employees (27% of our workforce) and contribute to almost 10% of our GDP;
  3. The third group comprises 8,000 medium enterprises with revenues between S$10 mil and S$100 mil, employing 840,000 employees (27% of our workforce) and contributing 20% to our GDP; and,
  4. Finally, we have the large enterprises. There are 2,000 of them (1% of all enterprises in Singapore), employ 900,000 employees (30% of our workforce) and contribute 65% of GDP.

It is important that we recognise that each group of enterprises are at different stages of growth, face different challenges and resource constraints, and have different capacities and capabilities. The enterprises also come from diverse industries, each with its own challenges and opportunities. Therefore, we cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach to support all of them. But neither can we customise it for individual enterprises and try to do everything for everyone. Hence, our enterprise-centric approach which looks at the business needs from different groups is central to what we do and how we intend to assist companies.

Png Cheong Boon (sixth from left) and the management team of Enterprise Singapore, with former Minister for Trade & Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran (middle) and Chairman of Enterprise Singapore Peter Ong (sixth from right) (April 2018)


What does Enterprise Singapore offer to a business looking to expand out from Singapore?

Our network of overseas centres in more than 30 cities connects companies to overseas contacts and networks for partnership opportunities and facilitates in-market projects. We also work with companies to develop capabilities for better competitiveness, adopt new technology, plug into new networks, and embark on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) to deepen market presence, among others.

Besides having our own overseas presence, we have also established an extensive network of global partners. These include nine Plug & Play partners in six countries and four Global Innovation Alliance locations, the latest was the Global Innovation Alliance Bangkok launched in April 2018.  There is also the Enterprise Singapore-Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Enterprise Centre in Shanghai, which helps Singapore businesses interested in venturing into China. In addition, the network of 22 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Economic Partnership Agreements that Singapore has signed with 33 trading partners globally, supplements all our international efforts.

Technology will play a significant role in helping companies tap overseas opportunities. We will be driving the digitalisation of our marketplaces and trade platforms, in order to connect them globally, as well as to attract global platform players to Singapore. The Trade Infrastructure Development Fund (TIDF) to be launched this year will support enterprises in developing B2B e-marketplaces and innovative trade and financing solutions.

All in all, as we encourage our companies to internationalise, we too need to enhance our global network. These include expanding into new markets, deepening our partner networks and global reach so that we can better help companies widen their market presence.


Are there new programmes to support businesses in going global that you can share with us?

It is important that we consistently review and streamline our assistance and approach so that we can be more effective and flexible in supporting enterprises in their growth.

One of our streamlining efforts involves combining two existing programmes – the Global Company Partnership (GCP) and the Capability Development Grant (CDG) into a single Enterprise Development Grant (by October this year). This grant enables companies to upgrade business capabilities, innovate and internationalise with one grant which helps to defray some costs in capability building and in overseas expansion, and it also aims to reduce administrative burden for applicants.

Companies keen to explore opportunities in overseas markets can also reach out the Trade Association and Chambers (TACs) which Enterprise Singapore works closely with. TACs organise overseas trade fairs and missions to help open doors to new markets for Singapore companies. SMEs can participate in trade fairs as they offer opportunities to obtain business leads, connect with potential business partners. Our International Marketing Activities Programme (iMAP) helps to offset some of the costs in participating in such overseas trade fairs.

For companies making their first steps overseas, the Market Readiness Assistance Grant helps them by supporting direct in-market expenses, such as market set up, feasibility projects and marketing campaigns. Our Plug & Play Network of nine partners provides pre-entry market advisory, business matching services and market set-up via co-working spaces in China, India and Southeast Asia markets. These various forms of assistances help companies to overcome initial knowledge gaps and challenges of entering a new market.


In your opinion, what qualities are the most important to cultivate for a company, whether start-up, SME, or large enterprise, to successfully go global?

For enterprises to succeed globally, I think there is no one fixed formula or set of qualities. However, based on my personal observation and interactions with many companies both locally and internationally, I found some common leadership traits of those who are successful.

First, having leaders with the right growth mind-set from the get-go. As the saying goes, “Without clear goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” Very often, successful global companies come with leaders who are visionary, clear about where the business heading and how to get there, and highly adaptable in pivoting through the steep turns and bends.

Second, having the right resources and talent to support the growth plan. No organisations in the world can succeed without deploying the right resources and talent at the right time and place. For this, it is important to recognise how financial and non-financial resources are critical for businesses of all sizes in going global.

Third, having the right partners who can and are willing to go the distance with you. Sometimes, pursuing growth can be daunting especially in unchartered, unknown territories. Having strong and good partners make this growth journey less overwhelming, as they can offer valuable insights as well as the right networks to help you overcome challenges and seize business opportunities.



Interview with Mr Png Cheong Boon, CEO, Enterprise Singapore

Published in FOCUS Magazine — Issue #2 2018 “Connecting to the Region”