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: More firms went on overseas projects in 2021 despite pandemic: EnterpriseSG

SINGAPORE - Severe travel restrictions amid the pandemic failed to deter increasing numbers of ambitious local companies seeking government assistance to expand overseas.

Better business sentiment on the back of the recovering economy seemed to galvanise firms to try their hand and push into fresh fields, going by new figures from Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG).

It said on Friday (Feb 11) that it facilitated overseas projects for 340 companies last year, a 10 per cent jump from 2020.

The projects included introducing potential business partners and customers to help companies secure new overseas investments and deals.

These forays are expected to generate $4.6 billion of overseas sales.

Chairman Peter Ong said during EnterpriseSG's year-in-review on Friday: "While this was below the number of projects secured pre-Covid-19, it is still encouraging to see many pressing on.

"As countries loosen their Covid-19 restrictions, we should step up our engagement in tandem to match the offerings of our companies."

He added that the agency will boost its internationalisation drive given the opportunities the return to global growth provides for firms.

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong told the briefing: "The last two years have been challenging for our enterprises' internationalisation efforts, as travel restrictions made it very difficult for them to venture abroad. We need to urgently recover the lost ground."

Intensifying innovation will be key in this process, he said, adding: "Our success in internationalisation is determined by our firms' ability to commercialise new technology and create world-leading products and services."

The top destination markets for local firms were China and South-east Asia, particularly Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, but many companies also ventured further afield.

Take furniture lifestyle brand Castlery, which had expanded to 47 metropolitan areas in the United States by the end of 2021, from just seven in 2020.

The firm was part of the Scale-up SG programme and also received EnterpriseSG grants to increase productivity.

"The key challenges faced during the pandemic years were supply chain delays and surging logistics costs," said co-founder Declan Ee.

"We plan to focus on the US in the near term where we see potential for very strong growth over the next three to five years."

Smart access solutions company Igloocompany said its projects were put on hold as countries implemented lockdowns.

But digitalisation also became the new norm and demand for its services increased, said chief executive Anthony Chow.

The firm provides smart locks for consumers and remote access management solutions for businesses.

It set up an office in Texas, assisted by EnterpriseSG, and also used grants to boost operations in China.

"We found success in markets like the US, where sales grew two and a half times in 2021 compared with 2019," Mr Chow said.

"The enterprise-focused side of the business now has access to a global pipeline of over $100 million in project opportunities as we took the downtime to focus on product development, system, and process improvements and expansion into the US."

Servo Dynamics vice-president Daniel Lau said his firm, which provides industrial automation and control solutions, is always on the lookout for growing markets and has been operating in the Philippines, where demand is growing.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Lam Yi Young said confidence in overseas expansion has indeed grown in 2021.

The SBF assisted 32 companies on projects in Indonesia and Vietnam last year through its Singapore Enterprise Centres in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City.

It opened a third centre in Bangkok this year and ran a series of virtual engagements as part of a digital platform to help companies continue internationalisation efforts.

Mr Ang Yuit, vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said there should be an increase in the number of firms going digital or targeting particular markets.

"During the pandemic, there are still small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that feel they are ready to go overseas, or that in Singapore they might not have had the opportunity to expand," he said.

He added that many SMEs are tapping digital tools to launch themselves abroad and broaden their market reach.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.