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Business Advice

One-stop shops for SMEs

How companies can make use of Centres of Innovation
The Straits Times - March 22, 2012
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One-stop shops for SMEs

WHILE the Government has been encouraging firms to use technology and innovate to grow and differentiate themselves from the competition, bosses often complain that they lack the cash for such endeavours.

This is especially so among many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

They usually run a tight ship when it comes to finance and can rarely afford the burden of adopting or creating new technology.

This is where Spring hopes to help. Deputy chief executive Tan Kai Hoe notes: 'We want to encourage companies to leverage technology to improve their products, processes or services, so as to anchor their long-term competitiveness and to find new avenues of growth.'

He adds: 'The COIs (Centres of Innovation) are an important part of this strategy - they are our key partners to help companies innovate and upgrade their capabilities through technology.'

Spring has set up these COIs at selected research institutes and polytechnics to increase access to technology expertise.

These centres, funded under the Technology Innovation Programme (TIP), are one-stop shops providing laboratory facilities, technology consultancy, training courses and assistance for SMEs to test and develop their technology projects.

They help SMEs bridge their innovation gaps by focusing on downstream, nearer-to-market projects that can be easily commercialised.

Spring has spent about $40 million on these centres in the past five years, meeting the costs of setting up COIs to provide a dedicated pool of manpower and technology infrastructure.

There is more to come. Mr Tan says a further $80 million has been set aside over the next five years to build new COIs.

Spring also plans to expand the current scope of these centres to provide higher value-added assistance such as commercialising an SME's intellectual property rights.

So far, the COIs, excluding the one for supply chain management which was just set up, have supported close to 700 projects and organised seminars and training courses for more than 3,500 SMEs.

COIs are just one of Spring's technology innovation initiatives. They also include schemes where experts can be seconded to an SME, with Spring funding the salaries for up to two years.

And SMEs unfamiliar with technology innovation can apply for an easy-to-use $5,000 voucher under the innovation voucher scheme to get them started.

They can use the vouchers at 21 approved knowledge institutions, including COIs, A*Star research institutes and polytechnics.

To encourage firms to upgrade their capabilities, Spring will expand the voucher scheme to cover projects on productivity, HR development and financial management. It will also be known as the innovation and capability voucher from June 1.

While the vouchers can help pay for feasibility studies at the COIs, SMEs will have to finance their technology projects there or apply for Spring funding via the TIP.

There are six COIs, each specialising in a different industry. Future centres will focus on key sectors such as information and communications technology and advanced materials.

Here's a look at what the six COIs can do.

  • Environmental and Water Technology Centre at Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Its capabilities can be applied to solve problems related to water treatment, air pollution control, clean energy technology, energy management and solid waste management in any industry.

This is because air, water and solid wastes are generated as part of the manufacturing of products or provision of services in almost all industries.

Centre director Tam Li Phin says that over the past five years, the centre has helped the traditional environmental and water technology industry as well as a wide spectrum of sectors including construction, chemical, aquaculture, furniture, packaging and even food.

Mrs Tam adds that the centre will focus on higher impact projects through applied research and development.

It will leverage on collaborations, not only with industry but also with global firms like tech giant Siemens and research institutions such as the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

And it will continue to work with the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) on the translation of patents to market.

Mrs Tam also says the centre will reach out to the industry through CEO forums and other platforms, and push its patented products and technology to the market through multi-pronged approaches.

It will also partner companies to develop their ideas into innovations through research-based projects and help companies re-position themselves up the technology ladder. These companies include MattenPlant, Apollo Aquarium, Falcon Incorporation, Flagship EcoSystems and GEnergy Group.

  • Precision Engineering Centre of Innovation at SIMTech

It offers consultancy support, organises technical match-making sessions for local precision engineering SMEs and multi-national corporations.

It also offers state-of-the-art technical equipment and facilities.

The centre can initiate collaborative projects between companies here to develop their capabilities so they can break into new markets.

Centre director John Yong noted that traditionally, most precision engineering firms here have been in the electronics sector but the focus now is to help them 'break into the other high-growth sectors such as aerospace, oil and gas and energy'.


  • The Centre of Innovation for Supply Chain Management at Republic Polytechnic

Centre director Dennis Quek wants to help SMEs improve their productivity by streamlining work flow and weeding out non-value-added processes, for instance.

  • Marine and Offshore Technology Centre of Excellence at Ngee Ann Polytechnic


This centre helps SMEs develop new products and solve problems through technology innovation.

  • Food Innovation Resource Centre at Singapore Polytechnic

It works with enterprises to expand their businesses by harnessing technologies to create value-added products, so they can compete more effectively in the global market, says centre director Loong Mann Na.

  • Centre of Innovation for Electronics at Nanyang Polytechnic

This centre supports companies in developing and exploiting innovations in products, systems, services and processes for growth.

This is a special series brought to you by Spring Singapore

Help available at six Centres of Innovation

RESOURCES are available at the Centres of Innovation to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) enhance their technology innovation capabilities.

These centres are set up by Spring in partnership with selected polytechnics and research institutes.

Each Centre of Innovation specialises in a different industry.

Together, the six Centres of Innovation cover electronics, supply chain management, environment and water, food, marine and offshore, and precision engineering industries.

Centre of Innovation for Electronics @ Nanyang Polytechnic

  • Tel: 6550-0978
  • E-mail: John_FUNG@nyp.gov.sg

Centre of Innovation for Supply Chain Management @ Republic Polytechnic

  • Tel: 9232-0228
  • E-mail: coi-scm@rp.edu.sg

Food Innovation & Resource Centre @ Singapore Polytechnic

  • Tel: 6870-4619/6879-0634
  • E-mail: firc@sp.edu.sg

Technology Centre @ Ngee Ann Polytechnic

  • Tel: 6460-8168
  • E-mail: csn2@np.edu.sg

Marine & Offshore Technology Centre of Excellence @ Ngee Ann Polytechnic

  • Tel: 6460-6405
  • E-mail: tkp@np.edu.sg

Precision Engineering Centre of Innovation @ SIMTech

  • Tel: 6793-8360
  • E-mail: ahcheong@ SIMTech.a-star.edu.sg

 

 

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