MORE local companies are tapping a Spring Singapore lifeline to help them restructure and upgrade.
Between June and October, 1,100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) received $5,000 grants under the Innovation and Capability Voucher Scheme - a sharp spike from the 1,000 given out over three years between March 2009 and May 2012.
Nine in 10 of the recent grants went to small businesses with an annual turnover of below $10 million.
Spring Singapore chief executive Png Cheong Boon said improvements to the scheme were a key reason for the spike.
Singaporean SMEs can now use the grant for hiring consultants to help them review their human resources, finance and productivity. Previously, it covered only reviews of how the companies were using technology.
"The scheme is now more comprehensive, covering broad areas that boost a firm's capabilities," said Mr Png.
It is also easier to apply for, with companies doing it online instead of filling in physical forms. Spring promises that applications can be processed in two working days.
Hardware shop Power-J Trading was one business that tapped the scheme this year. The family-run firm has two outlets, in Yishun and Geylang, and was looking to expand.
Its sales manager Victor Chow chanced upon the scheme online. He contacted Mr John Ong, who is on Spring's list of 150 consultants. After interviewing its staff and observing its operations, the consultant recommended sending employees for training to boost their skills, and computerising some operations.
"The review helped me better understand our weaknesses so that I can work out improvements," said Mr Chow, 35.
The company is now looking to open a new branch in the western part of Singapore and doing some of its sales online.
The strong demand for the grant raises the possibility that the budget for the scheme may run out prematurely. Spring has earmarked $32 million to help 1,600 SMEs each year, over four years. But already 1,100 firms have used it in five months.
Mr Png is not worried, however. "If the budget runs out, we will find more money." He added that the scheme would be reviewed at the end of next year.
Mr Chow said that while he found the grant useful, many SMEs may not know that they can get help to restructure and upgrade. "It will be good if there is more publicity to (reach) them," he suggested.
Mr Png agreed, saying the statutory board was stepping up its outreach to SMEs by working with groups such as the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.
He said Spring was also working on consolidating the other grant and subsidy schemes that help SMEs. The details will be ready early next year.