15,300 companies had leveraged on the support of government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) in 2020, to embark on projects to raise productivity, innovate and internationalise their operations.

These enterprises mainly came from the lifestyle, trade and connectivity and modern services sectors.

The latest number is a 54% surge from that in 2019, ESG – an agency parked under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) revealed in its year-in-review press conference on 5 Feb.

This comes as "many enterprises recognised that the global environment has changed and they would need to operate differently, with better products and solutions, in order to compete in this new environment," said ESG chief executive officer Png Cheong Boon.

Interestingly, productivity improvements and capability upgrading projects were the most widespread with 14,800 enterprises undertaking these. This number is up 78% from 2019, ESG reports.

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As for innovation, 600 enterprises had embarked on such projects, compared to 550 in 2019. 

In 2020, innovation efforts included the development of new products and solutions to tap on the opportunities created during the pandemic, said Png, adding that one such example is the development of Covid-19 Fortitde test kits developed by local firm Mirxes in collaboration with A*STAR and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

This kit - which can detect the presence of the SARS-CoV2 which causes the coronavirus – has since been deployed in over 45 countries.

The take up in projects last year is expected to generate $18.4 billion in value-added to the Singapore economy as well as create 22,200 professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) jobs in the next three years, notes ESG.

Meanwhile, the agency had also worked with financial institutions in 2020 to disburse loans amounting to $18 billion for 21,000 enterprises.

Of these, 87% of the recipient companies were micro and small enterprises which mostly came from the wholesale trade, construction, manufacturing, professional services and retail sectors, ESG detailed.

SEE: Singapore retail trade drops 3.6% y-o-y in December on lower sales in cosmetics, toiletries & medical goods

Aside from this, the agency had helped 23,500 enterprises to upgrade, digitalise and achieve business continuity. It had also supported some 3,600 retailers and 19,000 food and beverage establishments to build capabilities and sell online, through e-commerce and delivery booster packages.

Unsurprisingly, ESG notes a slowdown in companies’ internationalisation efforts in 2020, as only 1,600 enterprises – down 38% from 2019 – had embarked on such activities.

Touching on the government support rendered in 2020, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the immediate focus, especially at the height of the pandemic, was to help enterprises stabilise operations and stay afloat.

However, he noted that more business leaders have come to realise that things will not return to pre-Covid-19 days.

"This is an important distinction as it determines the steps that our businesses will take going forward," he said.

"Those who realise that there is no return to the pre-Covid days will double down on their transformation efforts to ensure that they remain resilient and competitive in the new economy."

Looking ahead, Chan said that while the government has responded swiftly and decisively to support businesses and workers through the course of the pandemic, Singapore's resources are ultimately finite and must be used judiciously. "This means that while we will continue to support our businesses, we will not be able to do so indiscriminately," he stressed.

"The weight of our efforts going forward must increasingly be targeted and shift towards helping our enterprises seize new opportunities in new markets, through new products and services," he added.

"So it's not sufficient to play defensive by trying to preserve existing enterprises and current jobs only. It is even more important for us to create new opportunities for enterprises, to create new job opportunities for our workers, especially jobs that are essential to the new economy."

Both Chan and ESG’s Png highlight advanced manufacturing, agritech, edtech and the sustainability trend as sectors with new opportunities. As for geography, they are looking at China and Southeast Asia.

Aside from these opportunities, ESG is also looking to support enterprises’ efforts in building new capabilities, such as innovating to meet new needs and compete beyond pricing, said ESG chairman Peter Ong.