Readers can expect to gain a solid understanding of what qualifies as an SME, as well as various grants available locally. In light of COVID-19, pandemic-specific grants will also be explored. Lastly, actionable steps on grant application and means to maximise the chances of a successful application will be discussed.
Table of Contents
What are SME grants?
An SME grant is a sum of money that has been allocated or given to a business to further their growth. Typically, SME grants are distributed by governments, corporations, foundations and even trusts.
Unlike regular business financing or funding, grants are not meant to be paid back. Not to be confused with a donation, a grant is distributed to an SME on a set of principles often pertaining to the profit or growth margin of said company. This means that if someone were to give your SME a grant, then they are probably invested in some aspect of your business and need to see it grow.
What is an SME?
SMEs refers to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. In Singapore, 99 per cent of all businesses are SMEs. As a whole, SMEs employ 65 per cent of Singapore’s workforce and take up almost half of the country’s GDP, playing a fundamental role and directly affecting the livelihoods of many locals.
Why are there grants specifically for SMEs?
Recognising SMEs’ crucial role in the economy, the Singapore government provides support through various grants. SMEs have different business needs from large Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) due to their smaller size, hence the specific grants were tailored to help Singapore SMEs grow.. For instance,
SMEs may need working capital to enable day to day business operations for the survival of their firm as well as to fund projects for business growth.
An SME may be considering an improvement to work processes to make their business more efficient through an automation of financial transactions. The SME may also be looking at opening a second branch to expand their consumer outreach, and requires funds to do market research as well as the subsequent office space rental and additional staff hires.
On top of that, grants are helpful to SMEs as securing bank loans to finance these activities can be difficult for SMEs because of their small size and lack of past track record. In fact, 40% of SMEs in Singapore have difficulty securing bank loans. This is especially so for SMEs with less than a year of operating record.
What qualifies as an SME in Singapore?
There are three main criterias to be considered an SME in Singapore:
1) Be registered and operate in Singapore;
2) Have a minimum of 30 per cent local shareholding; AND
3) Company’s Group annual sales turnover should be not more than S$100
Company’s Group employment size should be no more than 200 workers.
It is important to note that most SME grants favour locally owned companies. Foreign-owned companies will need to have at least a Singapore citizen or Permanent Resident (PR) sharing the ownership to be eligible to apply for SME grants.
It is also imperative to acknowledge that different SME grants may have a different definition about what constitutes an eligible applicant. As such, SMEs should take the three criterias listed above as a general guideline only.
How does the Singapore government help SMEs?
The Singapore government distributes SME grants to successful grant applicants to aid SMEs. The disbursal of SME grants are typically done through agencies. Enterprise Singapore , which was formed on 1 April 2018 after International Enterprise Singapore and SPRING came together, is the key Singapore agency championing enterprise growth. On top of running the SME Portal , it also offers SME other support functions such as consultation, firm setup and COVID-19 advisory.
With that in mind, there are a multitude of SME grants available for SMEs to apply for. The following grants are organised according to the needs sought by firms.
Grant for firms seeking overall aid:
■ Enterprise Development Grant (EDG)
Purpose: Firms who have plans to innovate or grow their businesses can tap on this grant so long as their project falls under the three pillars: Core Capabilities, Innovation and Productivity, and Market Access.
Grant amount: Up to 80 per cent of qualifying project costs, according to Enterprise Singapore as of 18 June 2020.
Details: Relating to core capabilities should help businesses prepare for growth and transformation. These projects should be beyond basic functions of sales and accounting. Innovation and productivity project grants support firms that are exploring new areas of growth or are looking at enhancing efficiency.
Examples of such projects include reviewing or redesigning workflow processes. Market access projects refer to firms seeking to expand their footprint overseas.
Grant for firms seeking IT improvements:
■ Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG):
Purpose: This grant encourages firms to adopt Information Technology (IT) solutions and equipment to enhance existing processes.
Grant amount: Up to 80 per cent of qualifying project costs, according to Enterprise Singapore as of 18 June 2020.
Grant objective: To improve productivity, SMEs can turn to adopting technology solutions. This grant covers sector-specific solutions including retail, food, logistics, precision engineering, wholesale, landscaping, and construction.
Details: In light of COVID-19, this grant has been expanded to include the scope of generic solutions to aid firms in implementing COVID-19 business continuity measures (BCM). Qualifying BCM areas include online collaboration tools, virtual meeting and telephony tools, queue management systems and temperature screening solutions. Readily adoptable solutions are also conveniently listed on Tech Depot.
Grant for firms that collaborate:
■ PACT Programme:
Purpose: Firms seeking collaborations between companies that go beyond regular business relations can tap on this programme.
Grant amount: Capped at 70 per cent, according to Enterprise Singapore as of 18 June 2020.
Details: Co-innovation, shared resources or supplier-partner development are some examples of these mutually beneficial collaborations. In this programme, one enterprise will undertake the role of a leader (also known as a “Lead Enterprise”) in driving projects to benefit the group of companies collectively.
Grant for firms seeking to develop talent:
■ Workforce Singapore Grants (WSG):
Various grants fall under WSG to help firms upgrade their workforce for competitiveness. Examples include the P-max, Career Support Programme, and Career Trial.
a) P-Max Grant:
Purpose: This Place-and-Train Programme helps SMEs better recruit, train, manage and retain newly-hired Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs). Not only does it encourage the adoption of progressive human resource practices within SMEs, it also aids in placing job-seeking PMETs into suitable SME jobs.
Grant amount: Up to 90 per cent of course fees can be subsidised, with one-time Assistance Grants available, according to WSG as of 18 June 2020.
b) Career Support Programme:
Purpose: This salary support programme is offered by Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Employment and Employability Institute (NTUC’s e2i) to encourage SMEs to hire eligible PMETs.
Grant amount: Up to $42, 000 salary support, according to WSG as of 18 June 2020
c) Career Trial:
Purpose: SMEs can assess a jobseeker’s job fit through a short-term trial prior to offering permanent employment. SMEs will need to provide a customised trial for each Career Trial position. The trial duration for full time positions start from 16 hours and are capped at 480 hours while part time positions should be between to 16 to 240 hours (capped at 80hrs/month)
Grant amount: Firms may receive salary support of up to 30 percent of monthly salary for up to 6 months, according to WSG as of 18 June 2020.
■ Workfare Training Support (WTS) Scheme for Employers:
Purpose: The scheme encourages SMEs to sponsor lower wage employees for training to upgrade their work skills and improve business performance. A list of WTS-eligible courses are also listed on Skills Connect Portal.
Grant amount: Up to 95 per cent course fee subsidy and absentee payroll funding for eligible courses, according to WSG as of 18 June 2020.
Details: The WTS scheme also supports Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) courses, which are listed in the CET Centres website. Part-time ITE Skills Certificate, Part-time NITEC and Part-time Higher NITEC courses offered by the Institute of Technical Education ( ITE ) are also available. A variety of Diploma programmes are also offered by the five local Polytechnics.
■ Skillsfuture Enterprise Credit (SFEC):
Purpose: SMEs are encouraged to transform their enterprise and workforce through SFEC-supportable programmes in the areas of enterprise transformation or workforce transformation.
Grant amount: One-off $10, 000 credit to cover up to 90 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses on qualifying costs. $3, 000 of the credit should be used for workforce transformation programmes, and up to $7, 000 for enterprise transformation, according to Enterprise Singapore as of 18 June 2020.
Details: There are many SFEC-supportable programmes, including Skills Framework-aligned courses that is in support of the Industry Transformation Maps, Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) Grant and the Business Improvement Fund (BIF) by Singapore Tourism Board.
Grant for firms seeking grants in their own sector
Some sectorial government agencies in Singapore run their own grant programmes in their respective industries. Some examples of these agencies include Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB)
■ Grants provided by IMDA:
Source (Capability development Process for GoCloud)
Purpose: IMDA aims to make the process of going digital simple for SMEs through the provision of various grants and programmes.
Grant amount: Varies
Details: SMEs can tap on subsidised Digital Project Management Services from a ready pool of skilled digital project managers to help with implementing digital solutions correctly and and in a timely fashion. SMEs seeking more advanced digital needs such as data analytics and cybersecurity can look at the SME Digital Tech Hub, which was established by IMDA and operated by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME). Other help such as GoCloud and GoSecure are also available.
■ Grants provided by MAS:
Purpose: The MAS Financial Sector Technology and Innovation (FSTI) Digital Acceleration Grant (DAG) scheme supports smaller financial institutions and fintech firms in the adoption of digital solutions to improve productivity, strengthen operational resilience, manage risks better, and serve customers better.
Grant amount: 80 per cent co-funding of qualifying expenses for applications submitted by 31 Dec 2021. 70 per cent co-funding will apply thereafter, according to MAS accurate as of 18 June 2020.
Details: The categories of solutions supported include cloud services, communication and collaboration tools, office productivity tools, security-related solution, compliance tools, and customer relationship and engagement tools to list a few.
■ Grants provided by HPB:
Purpose: HPB has a variety of grants that help F&B partners work towards providing healthy and good quality food to build a healthy nation.
Grant amount: Varies
Details: Examples of helpful initiatives include the Healthier Dining Grant Schemes, Healthier Dining Innovation, Healthier Ingredient Schemes, Health Ambassador Grant and The Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund.
■ Grants provided by STB
Purpose: With border restrictions and the global travel slowdown, the tourism sector in Singapore has been struggling. STB has injected $22 million to help tourism businesses prepare for recovery.
Grand amount: Varies
Details: Of the $22 million, $20 million is dedicated to the Marketing Partnership Programme, which covers up to 70 per cent of qualifying marketing costs for attractions, inbound travel agents, and the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector in its second phase.
The remaining $2 million is pumped into the Stories Content Fund to create compelling Singapore stories and support content creators by providing 90 per cent of qualifying costs for digital video content production, marketing and distribution, capped at $150,000 per project.
Additionally, the Business Improvement Fund (BIF) encourages technology innovation and adoption, and the redesign of business models and processes in the tourism sector to improve productivity and competitiveness. All in all, SMEs should do extensive research and due diligence to find out
more about available SME grant opportunities.
● Are there grants to help SMEs tide over the pandemic period?
More than 8,500 business entities in Singapore have closed down in April 2020 due to COVID-19. Amid pandemic uncertainties, business optimism among SMEs are also at a historic low. With the 2020 GDP forecast being cut to -5.8% to 1.5% due to the outbreak, there is an increased need to help SMEs tide over this crucial period.
To support SMEs during the circuit breaker, the Singapore government has rolled out budgets such as the Unity Budget, Resilience Budget, Solidarity and Fortitude Budget to help firms address the three Cs- cash flow, cost and credit.
An example of these enhanced financial support include the Digital Resilience Bonus which encourages businesses to improve competitiveness and productivity through digitalisation, and adapt to safe management practices. As a pilot, the Bonus will target businesses most affected by safe distancing requirements such as F&B and Retail sectors.
Eligible businesses will receive up to $10, 000 if they adopt baseline digital solutions, which include e-invoicing and PayNow Corporate, digitalising business processes, crafting online channels and implementing analytic solutions and data mining.
$125 million has been pumped into the financial and FinTech sectors to cope with difficulties brought about by the pandemic. Support for manpower costs, operational costs, and access to business opportunities are available.
For instance the salary support program specifically for recent graduates, SG United Traineeships Programme gives out 80 per cent co-funding of training allowance for recent graduates from ITE, Polytechnics and Universities. SMEs can tap on 21,000 traineeship opportunities in preparation of the economic recovery.
■ Corporate Income Tax:
a) Rebate: The tax rebate for 2020 has been increased to 25 per cent, capped at $15,000 per company. The rebate will be computed on the tax payable after deducting the tax set-offs.
b) Deferment: Corporate income tax payments that are due in April, May and June 2020 will be granted an automatic 3 month deferment. These payments will be deferred to July, August and September 2020.
■ Property tax rebate:
Non-residential properties are eligible for property tax rebate for 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020. Commercial properties that were directly adversely affected by the pandemic such as hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants can receive 100 per cent rebate. Other non-residential properties such as offices and industrial properties can receive a 30 per cent rebate.
○ Employee Support
Jobs Support Scheme (JSS):
The JSS provides wage support to employers by offsetting and protecting local workers’ employment, helping enterprises retain them (Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents).
The government will co-fund between 25 % to 75 % of the salary, depending on the sector that the SME is in, of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee in a ten-month period through cash subsidies. This cash grant will be automatically computed based on mandatory CPF contribution data.
SMEs will receive three main JSS payouts in Apr, Jul and Oct 2020, with an additional special payout in May 2020. Wage support for the months of April and May 2020 will be topped-up to 75 per cent for all firms, regardless of sector.
SMEs whose firms are not under the List of Permitted Services and are unable to resume operations will continue to receive 75 per cent wage support. This will continue throughout the period for which operations are disallowed, or until August 2020, whichever is earlier.
■ Foreign Worker Levy Waiver and Rebate:
In April and May 2020, foreign worker levy will be waived and rebates of $750 per worker will be paid out to eligible SMEs. With the levy payment deferment measure, SMEs have up to 5 months to pay their levies incurred every month. This applies to all levies incurred in 2020. There is no need to apply for the deferment.
■ Wage Credit Scheme (WCS):
The government co-funding ratios for wage increases in 2019 and 2020 has been raised to 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. The qualifying gross wage ceiling will also be raised to $5,000 for both years. The comparison between the current and enhanced WCS is summarised in a quick guide as well.
■ Government fees and charges:
There will be no increases in government fees and charges from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. Examples of such fees include business licence fees, business permits, company registration fees, and more.
■ Specialised cleaning programme:
SMEs that have experienced a confirmed COVID-19 case on their premises can defray a part of their disinfection costs under the Specialised Cleaning Programme. 50 per cent of eligible third-party professional cleaning and disinfection costs can be claimed, capped at $3,000 per company.
How do SMEs apply for grants in Singapore?
SMEs will be pleased to know that the entire application process can be completed online, most often through the Business Grants Portal. The portal is a one-stop platform for both the submission and tracking of applications for government grants. To login, simply use the company’s CorpPass.
How can SMEs improve the chances of a successful application?
SMEs can improve their chances of getting a successful and swift SME grant by ensuring that all information submitted is factual. This can be done by doing due diligence in the form of fact checking, confirming that all relevant supporting documents are attached, and ensuring that the SME fits the criteria of the grant. Early submission helps as well.
Most importantly, the SME should not be shy to clarify any queries about the grant with the grant owner directly. Contacting grant owners through e-mails or phone calls can help to prevent erroneous submissions. SMEs can even seek targeted advice from these grant owners in the process.
My company is more of a startup, are there grants for me?
(If you are not a start up, please skip this section and move on to the last section
of the article.)
○ Enterprise Singapore Grants (ESG)
The ESG provides a series of Startup SG grants that are geared towards founders, investors and startups. These examples include the Startup SG Founder, Startup SG Tech, Startup SG Equity, and Startup SG Loan).
○ ACE Startups grant
This grant aids startups at every stage of their business growth to maximise their potential for success. There are programmes such as BACECAMP, StartupSG Founder Grant, Youth Entrepreneurship and Global Ready Talent Programme available.
● What should SMEs do after reading this article?
There is a tendency for SMEs to be overly engrossed in a single grant, and miss out on all the other grant opportunities available. SMEs can consider examining the entire SME grant landscape as a whole and possibly shortlist the relevant grants first, before delving deeper into studying the firm’s eligibility for each grant.
While waiting for the government grant to be disbursed, SMEs facing problems in managing business needs can explore other forms of financing options such as P2P lending to tide over. Funding Societies’s micro loan product allows an all online application and fast disbursal with approval within 24 hours.
The product is suitable for SMEs who need quick funding for cash flow turnaround. Firms seeking to cover one off costs, pay refurbishment or inventory purchases, pursue business expansions or look into urgent projects and opportunities can explore FS Micro loans as a possible funding platform.
Disclaimer: All third party trademarks product and company names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them. The above article is published on 15th July’20 and accurate as of date of publish.
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