One common question asked by start-ups is where to find grants or get invested. In this post, I hope to share as much as I can to help budding entrepreneurs like you out there! One of the advantages of starting-up in a country like Singapore is certainly the relative abundance of business grants disbursed by different government agencies as well as investments to help fund start-ups across various industries.
Do note that each grant has its set of qualifying criteria, industries of focus and disbursement method. I will be covering the salient points below. Generally, grants only cover a percentage of the finance needed in the initial stage. The business owner will have to top up the remaining capital. Most grants for start-ups are designed to encourage investment in innovation, research and development, and social causes. Popular grants that are made available to start-ups in Singapore include:
ACE Start-ups Scheme:
ACE Start-ups Scheme is a financial assistance scheme where ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship) will match S$7 to every S$3 raised by an entrepreneur for up to S$50,000. In other words, the entrepreneur will need to raise about S$21k if he or she wishes to receive a grant of S$50,000. For selected ventures, ACE will match S$3 to every S$7 raised by the entrepreneur for an additional S$50,000. For these ventures, the total grant is capped at S$100,000. (But I have yet come across a successful start-up which have qualified for it.)
This is my favourite. Basically, you just need to show that the business plan is innovative, differentiated and scalable. Further, it is especially advantageous for entrepreneurs who are students or alumni of tertiary institutions in Singapore and are below the age of 26 as there is a greenlane arrangement where they can fast track their application process.
One upside is that ACE does not take equity in exchange for the financial grant and the grant is given in disbursements of 2-3 tranches . The downside, however, is that only first-time entrepreneurs can qualify and meet business milestones like acquire x number of customers or users in the early stage of your business. For more details, please click here.
- i.Jam Micro Funding Scheme: The IDM (Interactive Digital Media) Jump-start And Mentor (i.JAM) scheme that is administered by the Media Development Authority’s inter-agency, Interactive Digital Media Programme Office appoints incubators such as NUS Enterprise to identify, nurture, and administer funding to technically competent start-ups. More specifically, the incubators will advise start-ups on the uniqueness of their ideas, aggregate start-ups with similar ideas, offer networks, and provide guidance on securing additional funding. Successful start-ups will receive a grant up-to a maximum of S$50,000 of the project’s qualifying costs. Most of the time, Incubators (except SiTF) will take equity stakes (~5%) in the company in proportion to their investment. The grant will be disbursed to the start-up on a reimbursement basis. Do note that the fund will end mid 2016. (So hurry apply now!) To find out more, please click here.
Technology Enterprise Commercialization Scheme (TECS):
- For startups in the interactive digital media (IDM) or Infocomm Tech (ICT) space, they can apply for the TECS grants, that are jointly administered by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and SPRING Singapore to spur the formation of new technology start-ups in Singapore by addressing their early-stage funding needs towards the commercialization of proprietary technology ideas. The following grants are offered under the TECS:
- POC: For applicants who wish to develop proprietary ideas at conceptualization stage: Up-to 100% of qualifying costs for each project up to maximum of S$250,000.
- POV: For applicants who wish to carry out further research and development on a technology project, including the development of a working prototype: Up to 85% of qualifying costs for each project up to maximum of S$500,000. The applicant must demonstrate proof of interest from a potential customer or third-party investor.
- Do note that you can apply for POC throughout the whole year but the window for POV applications only opens twice a year. Do expect the application – till – grant disbursement period to last at least 3 – 6 months so that advice is to apply early.
- Click here to find out more.
- iSPRINT: Another project by the IDA, iSPRINT (Increase SME Productivity with Infocomm Adoption & Transformation) covers improvements through packaged solutions, such as for accounting and payroll, to more complex customized solutions for areas such as customer relationship management and supply chain management. Any customized solutions require that the development must be for the first-time automation of business functions. In addition, it should be carried out in Singapore, and must not have started before the grant is approved. iSPRINT is open to all locally registered or incorporated SMEs. For more information, see iSprint Scheme Details.
For social enterprises
- ComCare Enterprise Fund (CEF): The ComCare Enterprise Fund that is administered by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF; formerly Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports) provides seed funding for social enterprise start-ups (strictly from the social services sector) that train and employ disadvantaged Singaporeans of up-to 80% of the capital expenditure and first two years’ operating costs, subject to a maximum of S$300,000. More details can be found here.
- New Initiative Grant (NIG): The New Initiative Grant that is administered by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) provides seed money for Singapore-based start-ups with new initiatives that meet community needs in Singapore and are strong in volunteerism and/or philanthropy. Qualifying start-ups will receive funding that covers up to 80% of costs (e.g. manpower, rent, equipment, volunteerism and philanthropy-related costs) in furtherance of the initiative for one-year subject to a maximum of S$200,000. Click here for more details.
Equity based Financing Schemes
If your business is able to survive on grants in the initial phase of your business, that will be best. Equity financing is capital that is lent by investors to a business in exchange for a share of ownership in the company. Hence, giving away equity too early in the business may cripple your start-up’s ability to raise more funding to accelerate further growth as it reduces your start-up’s attractiveness to future investors.
Having said that, this form of financing is helpful for start-ups that need larger amount of capital and those who value the knowledge capital and networks that the investor(s) bring to the business. In addition to private sources of equity capital, there are certain co-investment equity financing schemes that have been launched by the Singapore government in order to catalyze the supply of private capital. In other words, the government co-invests in start-ups along with a third-party investor. The popular government-backed equity financing schemes include the following:
- NRF Technology Incubation Scheme(TIS Scheme)
A popular program, especially in 2013-2014, the Technology Incubation Scheme (TIS) is an initiative under the National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise (NFIE) programme, which was set up in March 2008.
Under the TIS scheme, the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore could co-invest up to 85% of investment (up to S$500,000 per company) into a Singapore-based start-up, on recommendation from the Technology Incubator.
The Technology Incubator will be required to co-invest the remaining 15% of investment into the start-up. In addition to funding, the Technology Incubator will be required to provide active mentorship and guidance to the start-up.
As an incentive, the Technology Incubator will be given an option to buy over NRF’s stake in the start-up within three years by repaying the capital plus interest. This will align the interests of all parties towards the success of the start-up companies, and help to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Singapore.
Do note that the TIS incubator usually provides the investment in the form of convertible note, a debt instrument that provides the incubator priority access to the assets and money after the company liquidates. Hence, start-ups with convertible note may not be as attractive to future investors.
– Click here for more details.
- SPRING Startup Enterprise Development Scheme (SPRING SEEDS): SPRING SEEDS is an equity investment scheme where SPRING SEEDS Capital, a subsidiary of government agency SPRING Singapore, co-invests in commercially viable Singapore-based start-ups along with independent third-party investor(s), matching dollar-for-dollar up to a maximum of S$1 million; the first round of investment is usually limited to S$300,000. SPRING SEEDS Capital and the third-party investor(s) will take equity stakes in the company in proportion to their investments. For more details, please visit here.
- Business Angels Fund (BAF) Scheme: Related to the SEEDS funding, the Business Angels Fund (BAF) Scheme is an equity investment scheme where SPRING SEEDS Capital, a subsidiary of government agency SPRING Singapore, co-invests in growth-oriented, innovative Singapore-based start-ups along with pre-approved business angels matching dollar-for-dollar up to a maximum of S$1.5 million. SPRING SEEDS Capital and the business angel group will take equity stakes in the company in proportion to their investments. For further information, please click here.
- Early-Stage Venture Funding Scheme (EVFS): The Early-Stage Venture Funding Scheme (EVFS), that is administered by the National Research Foundation (NRF), is a co-funding scheme where selected venture capital firms who raise at least S$10 million from third-party investors will receive dollar-for-dollar matching from the NRF up-to a maximum of S$10 million in order to invest in early-stage technology start-ups. Certain qualifying technology start-ups can approach the venture capital firms directly in order to seek funding of up-to S$3 million. Click here to find out more.
Other tips/ resources:
If you are an undergraduate or alumni of a tertiary institution in Singapore, it is often worth checking out your school’s business incubator. Incubators like NUS Enterprise are an invaluable resource for start-up entrepreneurs who are not only looking for funding but are also keen on getting resources, guidance and know-how for their venture. Typically, business incubators offer a physical space for the new start-up (usually free for first 12 months) to operate along with access to cost-effective or even free shared services, business guidance, and financial assistance during their early-stage of development. It is ideal for start-ups that are looking for regular support, mentoring, funding and networking along with low-start up costs.
One of the very prudent and noteworthy initiatives of the government has been the introduction of several tax benefits for start-ups. Tax breaks act an incentive for entrepreneurs to build more companies and generate more jobs for the economy. Listed below are the various tax incentives that are made available to start-ups and SMEs in Singapore.
- Tax Exemption for Start-ups: Singapore startups that meet certain qualifying criteria can avail of a full tax exemption on a certain amount of their taxable income for the each of their first three consecutive years. A newly incorporated Singapore company that satisfies the qualifying conditions (viz. be incorporated in Singapore, be a tax resident of Singapore and has no more than 20 shareholders of which at least one is an individual shareholder holding at least 10% of shares) will be taxed as follows:
- For each of its first three consecutive tax years – corporate tax rate of 0% on the first S$100,000 of taxable income and 8.5% (partial exemption) tax rate on the next S$200,000 of taxable income. The taxable income above S$300,000 will be charged at the normal headline corporate tax rate of 17%.
- From the fourth tax year onwards – 8.5% tax rate on taxable income of up to S$300,000 per annum. The taxable income above S$300,000 will be charged at the normal headline corporate tax rate of 17%. For more information, please click here.
- Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme: The PIC scheme is a tax benefit scheme that was first introduced in 2010 to encourage companies to engage in innovative and productive activities. Under the scheme, businesses can enjoy up-to 400% deduction or allowances on up to $400,000 of expenditure incurred in each of the following qualifying innovative activities. The qualifying activities include Research & Development; Intellectual Property registration; Intellectual Property acquisition; Design activities, Automation through technology or software; and training of employees. Note businesses will be allowed to combine the $400,000 expenditure cap per year for YA 2015 into a new ceiling of $1,200,000 over the three years. Businesses with a low taxable income, can choose to convert up to S$300,000 of the tax deductions and allowances credited to them into a cash grant, up to a maximum of S$21,000 each year. Businesses can also exercise an option to convert upto S$100,000 of their expenditure into a non-taxable cash payout at a conversion rate of 30%. The cash payout rate will be increased from 30% to 60% for up to S$100,000 of qualifying expenditure in YA 2015. Earlier the PIC benefits were applicable only to R&D activities performed in Singapore.
- Development and Expansion Incentive (DEI): The DEI encourages Singapore-based companies to move into high value-addition business activities, expand their operations in the country, and procure advanced machinery and equipment by offering a reduced tax in the range of 5%-10% on incremental income derived from qualifying activities.
- Investment Allowance: Companies may claim capital allowance on plant and equipment used in connection with their trade or business, subject to meeting certain conditions. Budget 2012 saw the introduction of a new Integrated Investment Allowance Scheme that will provide an additional allowance on fixed capital expenditure incurred for productive equipment placed overseas on approved projects with effect from YA 2013.
- Pioneer Incentive Scheme: Companies from the manufacturing or services sector that engage in activities that raise overall industry standards may be eligible for full corporate tax exemption on qualifying profits for up to 15 years.
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