"Easy finance and a transparent legal and arbitration centre, combined with large-scale supply capacity, and access to growing economies in the region, make Singapore uniquely competitive."

ESG was formed three years ago after the merger of Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING) and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore. What is ESG’s mandate today?

Enterprise Singapore (ESG), formed in 2018, builds on the strengths of IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore to drive and shape the future of Singapore companies of all sizes. ESG works closely with partners to help companies throughout their growth journey, supporting enterprises to innovate, change business models, strengthen their talent pool and deepen global networks. Since the formation of ESG, we have been able to support companies’ transformation efforts more holistically. The other area of our work is to develop trade connectivity and co-operation by helping companies deepen their economic ties with other countries, grow their export capacities, and strengthen Singapore’s position as a trading hub.

Could you walk us through some mechanisms that ESG uses to realize these goals?

Our approach is enterprise-centric: For instance, a company seeking to improve productivity might need to buy customized equipment and software. ESG could support part of the costs of the productivity improvement project through our grants. We also assist SMEs to expand their geographic footprint by leveraging our extensive overseas network, sharing our expertise of local rules and regulations, or enable connections with leading market players, suppliers, and distributors in their target markets.

As the national agency for trade, ESG works with international companies from around the world to support them in setting up trading operations in Singapore. Our support for these companies spans from introducing relevant legal, finance, or manpower services, to helping them tap into available talent through partnerships and internship programs with Institutes of Higher Learning.

ESG also creates platforms to facilitate innovation and partnerships. We encourage companies to innovate, to leverage on their ingenuity or through collaboration with partners. This way, our companies compete in the global market on the quality of their products and services.

We also have initiatives such as the open innovation challenges, where companies can come with problem statements and call for potential solution providers. For example, the Trade and Connectivity Challenge and the Energy Open Innovation Challenge are key platforms for startups to showcase solutions and encourage opportunities for cross-sector innovation and collaboration.

Beyond building capabilities and innovation, programmes such as the Startup SG Founder are in place to groom innovative entrepreneurs in Singapore. ESG wants to ensure entrepreneurs are given the right guidance and resources to develop viable innovative ideas into scalable business plans, boosting the pipeline of new innovative startups in Singapore.

Could you elaborate on the internationalization function that ESG serves, and how can Singaporean SMEs benefit from opportunities overseas?

Last year, despite Covid, ESG still managed to assist 1,600 SMEs on internationalisation projects. The two key markets are Southeast Asia, followed by China.

How has the pandemic impacted SMEs and what opportunities do you see for the future?

Today, besides the familiar digital tools that allow companies to continue work or work more efficiently, we also see more enterprises pivoting into new businesses made available through e-commerce platforms. I believe this digitalization process will continue in the new business environment, driving overseas growth.

Going forward, there is also a growing awareness and focus on sustainability. This reinforced concern creates seamless business opportunities.

How do you think Singapore can maintain its attractiveness as a petrochemical and chemical hub?

In the heart of Asia, Singapore remains crucially relevant for global trade, capturing a big share of the market in key products: for instance, two thirds of global LPG and one third of LNG. This scale creates a high level of “stickiness” for attracting foreign investors that can feed off each other. Jurong Island links the downstream with the upstream, reducing transportation costs significantly. Easy finance and a transparent legal and arbitration centre, combined with large-scale supply capacity, and access to growing economies in the region, make Singapore uniquely competitive. We are committed to maintaining these advantages, by staying open for trade, investment, and international talent.