Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Innovation and Capability Voucher: SME help scheme gets another $10m, its scope broadened

By Rachel Scully, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2014

AN ADDITIONAL $10 million has been set aside to expand a grant that helps small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) improve their operations.

The measure will bring total funding for the Innovation and Capability Voucher to $42 million, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and SPRING Singapore yesterday.

The scope of the scheme will also be broadened.

Previously, firms could use it to pay for consultancy services only in the areas of innovation, productivity, human resources development and financial management.

An SME can use up to two vouchers, valued at $5,000 apiece, in each of the four areas.

But from March 1, firms will also be able to use some of the vouchers to pay for implementing solutions within these categories.

The changes were prompted by feedback from company bosses who said that they "may not necessarily require consultancy services to diagnose a problem or propose solutions", said the MTI and SPRING.

The cap of eight vouchers per firm and two vouchers per category of consultancy services remains the same but SMEs can now redirect two of those eight vouchers to implementing solutions.

These include buying equipment and hardware as well as design and renovation.

The vouchers are aimed especially at smaller SMEs, which may not be able to qualify for other government-sponsored schemes to raise productivity.

"Expanding the scope of the (scheme) will help SMEs, especially heartland businesses, further their productivity improvements," said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.

Mr Teo was speaking after a walkabout at Alexandra Village yesterday.

Heartland businesses tend to fall in the category of micro- SMEs - enterprises with less than $1 million in annual turnover.

Some may hire fewer than three people, which would mean they do not qualify for other schemes such as the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit.

The Innovation and Capability Voucher scheme is available to all Singapore SMEs, defined as companies with group annual sales of not more than $100 million or up to 200 employees.

They must also be located and registered in Singapore and be at least 30 per cent owned by locals.

Sole proprietorships can also qualify for the voucher scheme as long as they are registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

About 3,000 of the intended 6,400 vouchers have been issued since the four-year scheme started in June 2012.

The additional funding brings the total number of vouchers to 8,400.

Separately, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, launched a merchants group for businesses in the Queenstown area. He hopes the initiative can help address the needs of businesses and link SMEs with the government bodies and agencies administering schemes and grants.

* Scheme to spur productivity 'a big success' after tweaks
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2014

TWEAKS to broaden a scheme offering a leg-up to help firms become more productive have proved a resounding success.

Interest in Spring Singapore's $5,000 Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) has soared tenfold after the enhancements were made to it in March.

Before that, monthly applications for the ICV averaged about 120, but that number is now closer to 1,300, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck revealed yesterday.

He said outreach efforts such as by SME Centres have helped increase awareness and applications. It is the Government's hope that when small and medium-sized enterprises apply, it really helps their businesses "to expand, become more productive, or more innovative".

Mr Teo was speaking at a grassroots event for SMEs at the Ang Mo Kio Community Centre, also home to an SME Centre run by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In March, the ICV was expanded to include more productivity-enhancing aspects such as renovation and technology. Previously, the voucher could be used only for consultancy services.

Mr Teo acknowledged that there are still improvements to be made to the scheme, noting a longer waiting time for applications due to greater demand. "Sometimes the approval process will take a bit longer, and we're trying to increase resources. But this is a happy problem to have as there is more awareness and (there are more) applications."

While SMEs appreciate the Government's aid, some traditional businesses have been complaining about the forms they have to fill in, said Mr Peter Lai, president of the Ang Mo Kio Constituency Merchants Association.

"Some are not familiar with the forms and with filling them in, and the applications get bounced back because of some mistake... so they are hoping for improvements in that area."

SMEs needing help can approach business advisers at the 12 SME Centres and their satellite branches islandwide. The Government is planning to add three more centres by the end of this year, with possibly more to come next year, said Mr Teo.

He also noted reports of abuse of the ICV, including misleading websites claiming to help implement the scheme. The Government is "monitoring the situation" and has tightened controls.

A Spring Singapore spokesman said a police report has been lodged in relation to the misleading websites. Earlier this month, the agency had issued a public warning on such websites.

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