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Where's the next Creative Tech?

Copyright 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
 All Rights Reserved

SINGAPORE's electronics industry cannot afford to miss another cycle of change and it needs new homegrown companies to take over the mantle from Creative Technology in terms of international brand recognition.

Companies have to transform from being just component suppliers into product manufacturers with international brands. All the ingredients needed for this - in terms of talent and innovation - are in place, says Minister of State for Trade & Industry Teo Ser Luck.

Speaking to The Business Times on Friday, Mr Teo explained that in order to build world-class companies and brands, Singaporean companies need to have foresight and understanding of how the electronics industry is going to change and, accordingly, understand where their competencies and constraints are.

He feels local companies, particularly SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) can learn from multinationals based here. "We are lucky in the sense that several of these multinationals have set up research bases here and some of them have collaborative projects with our institutions; we are learning from them and as we learn, we need to evolve."

We have to try to not just follow but also to lead, he added.

Mr Teo said that when he sees innovative projects done by local SMEs, he asks them if they are making the products to just supply to other companies or to sell to customers directly?

"To me, that makes a difference - because if they sell to customers, it's their own branding and they take ownership of the technology and innovation.

"Today, when we look at our SMEs, we see a large base of suppliers. So when we start to look for some great companies that we have in Singapore, we see that most of them are from the past . . . today, I'm trying to figure out a company that has a brand or product that people remember and has a lasting impression. I may not be able to quote the most recent but even if there's one, it's just not as widespread like Creative. It cannot be Creative all the time. So where's the next one?"

The minister does not believe that Singapore's small size and population is a constraint to building world-class companies which have instant brand recognition.

"There are some countries where the population may be just slightly bigger than Singapore and yet they have a very innovative approach towards how they build businesses and companies. They have global brands and products, and they are competitive. So I'm wondering why Singapore can't be the same since we spend so much money on the economy, in building businesses and creating innovation. We definitively could have some innovative products that we can own."

Mr Teo noted that when he tours tertiary institutions, he's fascinated by the projects undertaken by the students and the products they make. "I think some of them are just getting ready to be marketed and going to commercialisation. The question is: do we have enough expertise to market them?

"The point is that we have all these talents who are doing the research, and making products and services that are very exciting. But ultimately you see someone else branding it.

"And when you see someone else branding it, the question is: why can't we do the same? It could be because we have a small-sized market. Maybe that's our constraint but we've always encouraged our companies to say that the market is not just Singapore but the entire region."

The minister also noted that the current generation of students in tertiary institutions are equipped with greater knowledge than earlier generations and they have more access to information. Because of that, they learn a lot faster, and this makes them smarter.

"However, we have to ask whether they are hungry for success and have the survival instinct to succeed. In the past, we tended to work really hard because we were fighting for our space and survival, and we were really hungry for success.

"If our (current) students are really hungry for success and want to carve out a space of their own, I think we will have many success stories. This success we can call our own. They won't be just workers but entrepreneurs, business builders."

Earlier in the day, Mr Teo presided at an event at which three multinationals were recognised for their effort in driving technology innovation through collaboration with local SMEs.

Intel, National Instruments and NXP will each be working with local SMEs through dedicated headcount to oversee these projects supported by Spring Singapore's Partnerships for Capability Transformation (PACT) initiative.

National Instruments and NXP will each appoint one manager, and Intel two, to oversee the collaborative projects with SMEs, and receive support from Spring Singapore for these PACT managers. The projects will focus on emerging areas in electronics such as Machine-to-Machine (M2M) solutions, smart lighting, and Near Field Communication (NFC).

AMIT ROY CHOUDHURY

Last Updated on : 30 Jan 2015

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