Small companies are finding new ways to woo job candidates amid competition from bigger businesses offering a bevy of benefits like brand-name recognition and maybe even a Starbucks store in the lobby.

Some have tied up with government agencies and education institutions to offer scholarships and internship opportunities, said Eric Ong, head of emerging business at OCBC Bank. He noticed this trend among past finalists of the Emerging Enterprise (EE) Awards, which target small businesses with annual sales of up to $15 million and not more than 10 years old.

"Job-seekers prefer to work for reputable names. For SMEs who don't have the brand presence, this makes it difficult for them to attract talent." Mr Ong said. This has pushed small companies to think out of the box, not just by coming up with innovative products or services, but also creative ways to land their dream hire, he added.

For instance, this year's winner, G-Energy Global, an energy consultant, partnered the Building & Construction Authority to hand out scholarships and book prizes to students. The first batch of its scholarship holders has begun working at the company. Infracomms, an EE finalist this year, also donated $6,000 to set up a scholarship fund for students at the Singapore Polytechnic Business School and offers internships to allow students exploring the option of infrastructure engineering.

Mr Ong said participating in the awards does give companies more visibility and credibility, making attracting talent easier. For instance, specialised equipment engineering firm Hope Technik has seen more job-seekers knocking on its doors since it took home the Best Innovation Award last year, Mr Ong said.

As increasing cost challenges, manpower constraints and, for some, limited growth in the local market continue to weigh on small businesses, more of them are venturing beyond Singapore to seek cheaper land and labour that is more readily available.

About 40 per cent of past EE winners have established a presence overseas, Mr Ong said. Some of them have gone to places as far afield as Africa and Brazil, and as near as Malaysia and Indonesia. One such company is Biomax Technology, which has a presence in more than 10 markets globally since it was founded in 2009. The company specialises in converting organic waste into odourless, nutrient-rich organic fertilisers within 24 hours, and is among the three winners this year.

The annual EE Awards is organised by OCBC and The Business Times. The number of applications received this year grew more than seven-fold since its inception in 2008.