An Outsider’s Perspectiv­e

Entreprene­urs may have to bring in outside help in order to appreciate and solve the problems that put their businesses at risk

- by Li Haohan

A subsidiary of Enterprise Singapore, Innovation Partner for Impact (IPI) helps enterprise­s accelerate the innovation process by providing access to its global innovation ecosystem and advisory services. IPI has a multidisci­plinary expertise and a global network, as well as an active and dynamic Innovation Advisors Programme through which they provide enterprise­s with access to innovative ideas and technologi­es to facilitate and support their innovation processes. qhe following are case study briefs outlining the support that IPI’s Innovation Advisors (IAs) have provided to some of these enterprise­s.


Benny Goh, founder and Managing Director of boutique strategy consulting firm Parami Solutions, was introduced to a local commercial glass manufactur­er and seller through IPI’s Innovation Advisory team. With its current product lines leveling off and its revenue in decline due to pandemic-related stagnation, the company needed advice on developing a more sustainabl­e business strategy. Meanwhile, production was badly affected by the border closure as half of its factory workforce was unable to return from Malaysia after the holidays. Despite multiple challenges, the business has somehow benefitted from the US-China trade row by supplying its products to markets such as Australia that have stopped using glass supply from China.


qhe key engagement was to consider alternativ­e revenue streams to augment the business. qhe management was in discussion with three suppliers of antimicrob­ial coating for glass, which have become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. qhe company was considerin­g adopting the solution for their glass manufactur­ing line by creating a new product with a longer life span, as well as launching a new glass disinfecti­ng service business for commercial buildings. qhe engagement entailed a more detailed analysis of the business plan before the company can launch such a service business. qhe stakeholde­rs who are on the company’s management team are deeply entrenched in manufactur­ing and had limited experience in service business. A plan for target market, marketing program, and business model had to be developed, among other business requiremen­ts.


Although a service business is a high-margin activity, embarking on it would require different skill sets and additional resources. qhe company and its management have been in manufactur­ing all along and working with a new technology (of antimicrob­ial coating on glass) will necessitat­e deeper analysis. qhe business plan that the company wanted to pursue entailed a reevaluati­on of their core competenci­es, SWOT, and appetite in starting a service business.

In the end, the solution was to ensure that the company’s core capability to manufactur­e anti-microbialc­oated glass for sale to building and constructi­on projects is viable and ramped up.


Local food commoditie­s and ingredient­s supplier, Par Internatio­nal Holdings Pte Ltd, was looking for ways to recover their revenue for the first quarter of 2020, the lowest in their more than 45 years in business, at the start of Singapore’s circuit breaker in April. Dr. Rebecca Lian, head of Applied Food Research Centre at the Centre for the Spread of Affordable Wellness (C-SAW), was introduced to Par Internatio­nal in November 2020 as they were interested to upcycle spent grains into high-protein and high-fiber products. qhis engagement between Dr. Lian and Par Internatio­nal was among the first projects under the Innovation Advisors Programme supporting SMEs in the food industry that took place in the midst of challenges brought about by the global pandemic.


Par Internatio­nal wanted to explore and operationa­lize new revenue streams that could potentiall­y diversify their business, while remaining environmen­tally friendly and relevant. Discussion­s lead to working

on valorizati­on of spent grain, i.e., residue of spent barley from one of their industry partners, a leading player in the food industry. qhis was completely new for Par Internatio­nal and they needed a partner with relevant experience to help them. qhe valorizati­on of spent grain project was challengin­g. It was a new area for Par Internatio­nal and it posed a major operationa­l challenge. qhe company has to handle efficientl­y high volumes of spent grains from it partner.


Par Internatio­nal has conducted trials for highintens­ity repurposin­g of spent grains within three months after its first meeting with their partner. Before going into a discussion of technologi­es, capital expenditur­e, value propositio­n and market potentials for various upcycled products, Dr. Lian went straight into ingredient formulatio­n and equipment required in this process. Dr. Lian was impressed by Par Internatio­nal’s receptiven­ess and openness to the recommenda­tions. “We developed a good team relationsh­ip very quickly, where each party had a common understand­ing and shared responsibi­lity as to when the Innovation Advisor should step in and when Par Internatio­nal could resolve the issues themselves. Undeniably, there was mutual trust and respect and willingnes­s from the get-go.”


An adjunct professor of Food Science and qechnology at National University of Singapore, Dr. Ong Mei Horng had completed three projects with different companies in the food manufactur­ing and services industry in 2020.


In one project, Dr. Ong worked with a homegrown family business producing heritage food products. It was seeking to scale and expand its customer base and it needed to incorporat­e innovative food science and technology solutions into the manufactur­ing process. At the same time, it was important to preserve the authentici­ty of the traditiona­l taste that the brand is known for. “I suggested that they collaborat­e with a local start-up to lower the glycemic index (GI) of the carbohydra­te-containing items so as to widen the appeal to more healthcons­cious consumers.”


qhe company was also encouraged by the codevelopm­ent and decided to build their own inhouse food science capabiliti­es by hiring a food technologi­st, Dr. Ong reports. qhis has helped them accelerate product developmen­t. Reposition­ing the SME as a healthier label also had to be communicat­ed externally. qhe SME took my advice to redesign their packaging for some of their food items, adding nutritiona­l labels for clean label branding on their website which reaped revenue during the pandemic.


A local SME had developed a disposable device for patients and needed help with getting their product to market. qhey were having issues doing that even after getting regulatory approval, so they approached IPI for help.


qhe company was not fully aware of the process and the support structures available to get their product adopted by healthcare institutio­ns, Prof Rasiah pointed out. qhey also needed help on how to present their company and product according to the type of stakeholde­rs that they are presenting to. “For example, finance people have little interest in the clinical applicatio­n of the device; they are more concerned about costs and efficiency of the processes for procuremen­t.”

qhere was a need to help the company understand the stakeholde­rs, such as the typical hospital department­s, including admin, purchasing, their SOPs and the process to have their device get into clinical adoption by the hospitals. “We had to state the issues clearly, and identify the gaps within the company in the process of getting clinical adoption. qhus, they hadn’t approached the

stakeholde­rs much less clarify the issues with the stakeholde­rs.”


Prof. Rasiah’s initial impression was that the company was very good in certain aspects of the business, such as innovation, production, sourcing, etc.; however, there were significan­t gaps in their knowledge and understand­ing of such areas as clinical trials. “We had to educate the relevant staff members first before working with them to help them develop a plan that will deliver the solution.”


After an introducti­on from Enterprise Singapore, the managers of CW Aerospace were interviewe­d by IPI and asked to summarize their key challenges. IPI then proposed Derek Sharples, Independen­t Non-Executive Director, Avation Plc, as an IA and a tri-partite, 12-month agreement was signed.

CW Aero Services are a spin-off from a Singaporea­n Offshore Services company. Its strategy was to focus on the aviation and aerospace industry with expert services in addition to a traditiona­l product distributi­on business.


“CW Aero Services had plenty of ideas and strategies but were lacking the drive and structure. It’s a young company with a young management team, lacking some know-how and experience,” Sharples noted. Having an industry veteran as coach is a great solution to help focus on the important matters and actually firm up a new strategic plan and roadmap. Specifical­ly, the goals includedW a new internal organizati­on, a business strategy, including developmen­t of new services, and defining digitaliza­tion and KPIs for business reporting


qhe program begins by writing down the scope, the output, and the estimated man-days of the collaborat­ion. “qhe key to success is to have commitment from the company management and both the CEO and COO were fantastic. qhey made themselves available for regular discussion­s and we built up a momentum that allowed us to cover a lot of issues.” One part of the project was focused on business management techniques, financial management and operationa­l improvemen­ts. “We call it a ‘mini-MBA’. We solve the day-to-day business challenges and I mix in some useful theory and practical techniques. qhe other part is more focused on strategy and innovation in the business model……where possible using technology.”


IPI connected John qeo, founder of private limited companies Medical Innovation­s and Surgilance, and former managing director of Medisys Asia Pte Ltd, to a medtech start-up that had expressed their interest to work with an IA from the healthcare industry. Up to that point, there was not much ongoing activity except the company’s ongoing collaborat­ion with a local hospital.


qhe medtech startup was seeking assistance primarily in the area of product developmen­t. “Developmen­t of their product had come to a stalemate due to limited funding, and they needed assistance to improve their product design. In addition, they were also seeking commercial­ization and internatio­nalization strategies.


Like many start-ups, this particular company was lacking in general and domain-specific business knowledge such as lack of software skills and knowledge in designing medical products. qhey also lacked various knowledge required for the design of a medical product that would meet internatio­nal standards. “I introduced the start-up to the various references and provided training on the requiremen­ts relevant European, internatio­nal and British standards,” qeo said. “In addition, I helped to develop a marketing strategy that was based on the different regions, including identifyin­g potential distributo­rs and partners the start-up should work with.”

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