Article: SPRING forward

Growing up is all about adapting to change. Johnny Teo of SPRING Singapore works hard to encourage local companies to adopt innovation that will help enhance their key capabilities, and take on international giants one day.

By John Yip

We are in the business of enterprise development,” says Johnny Teo, a Manager at SPRING Singapore. “Our key focus is on the local small- & medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These include the entrepreneurial start-ups, all the way to local companies that have achieved internationalisation.”

These are lofty goals, and Johnny readily admits that they are not very easy to achieve. SMEs typically have their hands full with the day-to-day concerns of keeping their businesses afloat, let alone having the luxury of planning their long-term business strategies.

So, as part of the Enterprise Capabilities Group of SPRING Singapore (SPRING for short), Johnny has a lot of work cut out for him. He is brimming with enthusiasm for his job, and happily shares a great deal of information about what SPRING does for local SMEs.

You wouldn’t realise that he is only 27-years-old, and that he has only been working for SPRING for two years.

Adapting to change
Johnny was from Victoria Junior College, and was awarded a scholarship to study chemical engineering at Imperial College in the UK.

He enjoyed his experience studying overseas as it was his chance to learn how to be independent and to live on his own. He recalls that he was mentally prepared for the culture shock, but that did not prepare him for the weather shock! “Yes, it got very cold during winter,” chuckles Johnny.

Johnny took up the scholarship when the organisation was still known as the Productivity & Standards Board (PSB). Today, Johnny is a part of the Technology Infrastructure & Policy department, where he encourages local SMEs to adapt to technological change.

Recognising that what he had learnt in school focused on the “hard” skills, Johnny soon realised that he needed the “soft” skills of persuasion. “Very often, we have to convince SMEs to adopt new technologies that will take the company to the next plateau.”

Developing key capabilities
“For companies to grow, we need to develop their key competencies and capabilities. Technology is a critical area for improvement that we have identified, and this is where my division comes in,” Johnny explains.

SPRING launched the Technology Innovation Programme (TIP) for SMEs earlier this year. Besides looking into the development of technology infrastructure for industries, Johnny also plays a catalytic role in encouraging companies to embark on technology innovation projects by arranging experts from polytechnics, universities and other technology institutions to be seconded to the companies.

Johnny also studies the feedback gathered from the companies, and uses it to fine-tune policies to facilitate technological development within SMEs.

All this seems like a far cry from chemical engineering indeed, but Johnny has come to make an important realisation. “I have learnt that what we studied in school is not always applied at work,” he says. “The more important things I have learnt are actually the intangible skills, such as critical thinking and problem analysis.”

The world awaits
And there is so much more to learn. One of his recent challenges involves facilitating technology innovation in the local food manufacturing industry that is made up of over 600 food manufacturers.

“There is a need to encourage them to make use of the Centre of Innovation (COI) for Food that we have set up in partnership with Singapore Polytechnic,” he says. “For example, they can go to the COI to seek expertise in the areas of food product and process development.”

Johnny has also travelled to Finland and US to study best practices in catalysing technology innovation in SMEs, and hopes to apply the lessons learnt to Singapore.

This close interaction with businesses is part of what most motivates him about his work. So it is no surprise that Johnny has this advice to students who are thinking of joining SPRING: “You must like working with SMEs, and you must be interested in making a difference. Most of all, you must be willing to take the big challenge of nurturing a SME into an MNC.”

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