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Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit 

The article is published in the 2014 May/June issue of the SME Magazine.
If you’re looking for an environment with phenomenal infrastructure and a government creating pro-business incentives at every opportunity, doing business in Singapore can be a rewarding endeavour.

Singapore sees local entrepreneurship thriving in 2013, with an 8.61 percent increase from the prior year. This is according to the recent quarterly Singapore Business Formation Statistics Report released by Janus Corporate Solutions.

The statistics reveal that 14,500 new business entities were registered in Q4 2013. This consistent and continuing improvement in new business incorporations affirms Singapore’s robust and resilient economy despite international economic and political turmoil.

The number also reconfirms Singapore’s attraction as a business-friendly financial hub. The Government has been long praised for its pro-business regulations which have attracted many foreign and local entrepreneurs, and in turn have cultivated a thriving entrepreneurial spirit.

In addition, the proactive efforts by the Government to aid and support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have helped existing SMEs build sustainability. The increasing number of grants and schemes aimed at boosting productivity and innovation has also granted businesses access to a wealth of resources.

The Path to Quality Growth

As Singapore competes on the global stage, facing challenges from knowledge-driven and innovation powered economies, local enterprises must aim at quality growth – growth that is driven by higher skills and productivity.

This new phase of growth poses challenges for businesses, but it also means opportunity for the enterprising and innovative.

Singapore’s enterprises are however, not without help. The Government has introduced many measures designed to spur business productivity and innovation in this year’s Budget.

With many Singaporean companies just starting a transformation to productivity-driven and innovation-led growth, it’s encouraging to see support measures such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme (PIC) enhanced and extended for three years until 2018.

Of course, incentives such as the PIC are not a silver bullet to drive behaviour, but it is important that they are made available in the longer term to allow them to gain traction, and support the still nascent efforts of Singapore businesses to become more productive and innovative.

In a further bid to boost productivity, the Government has also introduced the PIC+ scheme. Aimed at helping small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with substantial investments for revamping their businesses, this is another welcome indication that this Budget is looking to up the ante when it comes to incentives for quality growth, both in terms of innovation and deeper capabilities.

Meanwhile, the extension of the research and development (R&D) tax incentive for a further 10 years to 2025 shows that the Government has responded to calls by businesses for longer-term support of their innovation efforts.

Government agencies, including SPRING and IE Singapore also offer a wide range of assistance schemes, to help SMEs to build capabilities for higher productivity, innovation, growth and internationalisation.

Empowering innovation in employees

In Singapore, entrepreneurship means creativity and innovation in the economy. This means adding an edge to a competitive economy.

The challenge with innovation is finding products and services that are easier to use, easier to maintain and more appealing to your customers.

Where then can you draw the creativity and drive to make this happen?

Often, the best source for innovation is the team within your business. The key is empowerment. By empowering people you enable them to achieve goals through their own ideas and efforts. The leader sets the destination, but the team chooses the route.

To empower your people, business leaders must have a vision and communicate their vision to ensure that everyone has clarity on what their role is and how success is measured.

Innovation is also driven by exposure to new ideas, people and work. The goal is to have everyone think of themselves as an entrepreneur who has the right to solve problems and seize opportunities – not to offload them to others.

This will allow your staff to feel empowered because their choices matter and your company will in turn benefit from their perspective.

I also believe that leaders have to be flexible and open to work in a manner that allows them to get the most out of their staff. In such an environment, empowerment and trust become critical and a strong leader recognises the role of individual and orchestrates team performance for collective good.

Visionary companies that walk the talk

While none of the areas identified above are new, the proof of the pudding comes from enterprises that walk the talk. Many of the top performing Enterprise 50 (E50) companies have made these fundamentals an integral part of their everyday operations.

Therefore, while uncertain economic climate can throw a gamut of challenges at them, they can remain resilient and possibly even thrive.

Topping the 2013 E50 Awards’ list is Soon Li Heng Civil Engineering. The company is a strong advocate of productivity measures. For example, it has reduced its reliance on labour by automation through the use of reverse sirens and cameras as well as rotating beacons.

Soon Li Heng is also very reliant on the skills of its workforce, due to the labour-intensive nature of the construction industry. The company takes the effort to engage staff through daily on-site briefings, so that its employees’ values are aligned with those of the company.

Success often goes to those high-performing visionary companies who facilitate the introduction of innovative methods to adapt rapidly to changing economic environments.

Staying resilient therefore involves effectively managing ones strengths and vulnerabilities even in the face of uncertain times.

This article is contributed by Mr Chiu Wu Hong, Head of Enterprise Incentive Advisory at KPMG in Singapore.