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This is a fireside chat with the founder of Real Inbound Consulting, Gerald Yap. It showcases his views on the SME consulting landscape, how he runs his team, as well as his future plans for the company.
Profile of RIC:
Real Inbound Consulting (RIC) is a management consultancy firm headquartered in Singapore which helps businesses commercialize new technology, expand overseas, digitalize operations, and automate production lines. RIC also supports its clients in securing financing that supports the above-mentioned initiatives and projects, where such financing can be secured from government grants, commercial loans, or equity investments. RIC serves companies across a wide range of industries and growth-stages (SMEs, MNCs, start-ups), and handles projects of value ranging from USD thousands to millions.
1. How do you see the SME consulting market developing in Asia? What are the major factors that have been driving the market’s growth?
To answer this question, we firstly define the market that RIC plays in. For RIC, we serve SMEs in two areas - helping SMEs plan and make recommendations for projects relating to company transformation and expansion (see the four areas mentioned in the profile section), as well as support them in securing external financing to fund the execution of such projects - be it grant financing, commercial loans or equity investments. We see the market for such a combination of services growing very well in the recent years for us.
Factors that have been driving market’s growth:
2. What are the major problems and expectations that customers have from the players of this segment? How do you strategize to meet those?
One of the problems we see in this segment is that SME owners perceive management consultants negatively due to previous encounters with some which displayed unprofessional conduct. They have also become hyper-aware of consultants due to previous experiences with scams and the consultants ‘ghosting’ them after collection of pre-paid fees.
Correspondingly, we see that most SMEs today expect that the consultants they work with be professional company with an experienced team and good track record, instead of just a one-man-show business. SMEs may also expect that the consulting company hold some certification that is recognised by an industry-body in the field of their specialty. Importantly, SMEs need to be convinced that the consulting firm they work with is sincere in helping the company can serve as a valuable partner in growing the business for the long haul- and not just ‘here to make a quick buck’.
At RIC, while we are no way near perfect, we try our best each day to provide our services in the most professional manner possible; and to create to most value for our clients as we reasonably can. To ensure we meet the above objectives, we ensure that this mindset is constantly manifested by our team in whatever we do. We make it part of our DNA. In every engagement and action with a client, we ask ourselves: “Is doing this in the best interest of the client? Would doing this allow us to become a valuable partner of our client that can guide them through various stages of growth and capital requirement, and not just fulfilling a one-off ad hoc project alone?”
This mindset has benefitted us in enabling continual, long-term business relationships with our clients. For example, one of our clients is a developer of offshore renewable energy projects which has been partnering us for more than three years. RIC started off by first helping them with the R&D a new offshore solar floating platform technology and raising grant financing to build a prototype. We were then brought in to do the same for other R&D projects in the pipeline. Thereafter, we helped them commercialise their productised technology in overseas markets like US and Korea. Currently, we are still engaged with this client, exploring potential in helping them raise project financing for the offshore renewable projects they are looking to develop. This type of engagement is what keeps the RIC team passionate about what we do.
3. How is Real Inbound Consulting positioned in the SME consulting market?
We believe we have a unique positioning- as we are not only able to help companies with planning their projects and making recommendations on how best to approach them, but also raising external financing for the companies to execute on them. For example, if a company is looking to digitise their inventory management operations, we first do a detailed study of their current processes and identify inefficiencies and wastages. We then consult with stakeholders and develop a future desired process flow, along with detailed process map diagrams. We then do a technology scan to identify suitable tools or software systems that can fulfil the identified needs and to-be processes; and help them find and evaluate technology vendors. If the client goes ahead with our recommendations, we can help them secure financing (grants or loans) to purchase and implement the solution.
In addition, we see that the business areas that our services address (overseas expansion, new product development, automation, digitisation) are all aligned with the critical areas any company needs to look at to achieve meaningful growth and scale. We have deliberately positioned our services to embody the essence of what companies need to thrive.
As our services can apply to companies in any industry, we also need to ensure our team possesses a good breadth of knowledge across many industry domains. Some examples of the interesting industry domains that we have developed expertise (in addition to the traditional industry verticals) include telecommunications technology, agritech, biotech, cleantech, fintech, renewable energy technologies and alternative proteins.
Since our service relates to raising external financing for SMEs to execute on their projects, we also ensure that our team is well verse with the SME funding schemes available, especially in relation to grant financing. This is an area we put considerable effort in keeping ourselves abreast on, as such schemes are constantly updated and replaced with newer schemes by the funding agencies.
4. Walk us through the approach of the firm in delivering quality services to the clients. What are the key benefactors helping you attain the same?
I would list the following approaches we take to delivering quality service:
The key benefactors that help us in continually delivering quality services:
Our clients themselves:
5. What are the key specifications of the range of services delivered by the firm? Highlight the USP.
The set of services we offer is split into two parts:
For (i), these are examples of what we can consult on for clients:
Develop and Commercialise New Technology
Automate Production Lines
We are not only able to help companies with planning their projects and making recommendations on how best to approach them, but also raising external financing for the companies to execute on them.
6. Tell us about the team of Real Inbound Consulting. How are your combined skills and experience helping the firm to grow?
We currently have a team of 7 of us (as of Jan 2023). This is split into different roles: BD, Client Operations (which includes Technical Writers and Project Managers) and Finance & HR.
In helping the firm grow, proper teamwork and a tight understanding between divisions is critical. While each of us in RIC specialises in different divisions involved in the consulting value chain, we working closely with each other to ensure clients get a unified consultancy delivery that does not seem disconnected at any parts. A common issue faced by professional services firms is that the sales team overpromises and puts undue pressure on operations and the execution team to deliver. Clients then find misalignment between what sales has committed verses what the operations team eventually delivers. We are especially cognisant of this, and constantly try our best to ensure that our sales team is closely aligned with our operations team on what we can or cannot do for any particular client, and making sure Sales is meticulous in handing over every deal well to Ops for execution. We constantly try to grease the interface between divisions so as to ensure everyone internally is on the same page on what and how to deliver to the client.
In addition, we tap on a network of competent advisors, leveraging their experience and connections to help us grow. Such advisors have been critical in helping us connect our clients to funding sources like investors, banks, government agencies. More importantly, they have also contributed technical knowledge to help RIC deliver successful consulting projects to clients in niche industries and with uncommon requirements. A good example would be time where RIC was helping a NASDAQ-listed company enter the Singapore market with a product that had a comprehensive set of technical features. With the help of advisors with the relevant domain knowledge with similar types of products as well as the right connections into the relevant government authority, RIC was able to help the client have their product pre-approved by the government for fast-track grant support for the benefit of customers looking to buy their product. This aided the client significantly in accelerating their product roll-out in Singapore.
7. Please elaborate, what are the key points that differentiate your company from other players in this segment?
8. How has been the journey of the company since its inception? Walk us through the growth it has received in terms of clients and geographical expansions.
The story of RIC started all the way back when I was still in university. Back then, I saw a clear need for a consultancy service like this after interning with a few companies. I started out as a one-man show, serving our first few clients which are mostly traditional businesses. Apparently, what I learnt in university and across multiple internships was already able to provide value to these businesses.
After graduation, while I went on to work under several companies in the technology space, I kept RIC running as a side hustle as a freelancer (while ensuring that I do not flout any terms under my full-time employment contract). Faced with the challenge of juggling RIC commitments with a full-time corporate job, I started building up a small team and delegated responsibilities. RIC was no longer a one-man show.
RIC started to serve more clients, and it got to a point where the take-home profits from RIC exceeded the income of my full-time job. It was then I made the switch to do RIC as a proper business, full time. Our client base and team size expanded significantly, and we started to secure projects of higher value and larger scope. We also started to onboard more stakeholders and partners. Many years have passed since, and I’ve never looked back.
Life today is constantly charged with drive and sense of mission to help good companies do better. I am privileged in knowing that every second spent on RIC is contributing towards building something of long-lasting value and helping deserving companies actualise projects that can bring a positive impact to economies and societies.
Today, RIC mainly operates in the Singapore market. However, one the key agenda I am pursing right now is to make our consulting operations scalable in order to facilitate overseas expansion. We are now looking at the Hong Kong and Australian market with interest.
9. Where do you see this market in the near future? What is the future roadmap for your Company?
The market should continue to be strong- as almost all companies will see the need to expand overseas, develop new innovative products, digitise, and automate their production for increased efficiency. In addition, such companies will likely also consider help to raise external financing (on favourable terms) to fund the above project as much as they can so as not to disrupt day-to-day operational cashflow or having to draw-down from their ‘war chest’.
One direction our future roadmap can head towards is in the development of new, scalable B2B services in addition to what we already provide to SMEs. If we can do this successfully, it can strengthen our position as a one-stop consultancy partner of choice for many of our clients. For our clients, it is easier for them to just go with a preferred trusted service provider to meet as many needs as possible, instead of having to spend time evaluating and trying out new service providers for new needs all the time.
10. Is there anything you think that the audience must know about your company?
People are often curious about how the name of the company was conceived. One first glance, ‘Real Inbound’ it seems pretty unrelated to a management consulting business.
However, this term was intentionally selected to highlight the firms’ commitment to the ‘Inbound Methodology’. According to Hubspot, the inbound methodology in business is ‘the method of growing your organization by building meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers, prospects, and customers. It's about valuing and empowering these people to reach their goals at any stage in their journey with you.’
That perfecting sums up what we embody as an organisation, and hence the name ‘Real Inbound’.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore. It champions the development of Singapore's tourism sector, one of the country's key service sectors and economic pillars, and undertakes the marketing and promotion of Singapore as a tourism destination.
The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB) was first established in 1964 with the mandate to promote Singapore as a tourist destination. It signaled the government’s recognition of tourism’s potential as an important contributor to the country’s economy.
The tourism sector currently contributes 4 percent to Singapore’s gross domestic product. Tourism plays an essential role in reinforcing Singapore’s status as a vibrant global city that is a magnet for capital, businesses and talent. It also enhances the quality and diversity of leisure options for local residents and helps to create a living environment that Singaporeans can be proud to call home.
To reflect a major shift in the way tourism was championed as a key economic driver, STPB was renamed the STB in 1997. STB expanded its role beyond destination promotion and started to establish Singapore as a regional tourism hub for both tourism companies and tourists. It marked a decisive move towards tourism industry development, an approach that continues to distinguish STB from many other national tourism organisations that focus almost exclusively on marketing and promotional activities.
STB strives to ensure that tourism remains an important economic pillar through long-term strategic planning, and by forging partnerships, driving innovation and ensuring excellence in the tourism sector. It continues to market Singapore’s multi-faceted appeal as a premier business and leisure destination, and offer empowering and customised experiences. STB strives to bring the Passion Made Possible brand to life by differentiating Singapore as a vibrant destination that inspires people to share and deepen their passions. This is a unified brand between STB and Economic Development Board (EDB) which will allow the international marketing of Singapore for tourism and business purposes. STB also regularly reviews and updates the tourism regulatory framework to ensure its relevance in the current business environment, while providing support and incentives to catalyse the private sector to take the lead in investing for growth.
Top Grants by STB
To support the industry in the drive towards quality tourism growth, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) offers assistance in the form of various grant schemes for tourism-related industries and events. STB, as the lead agency for tourism, can facilitate the application of other grants by other Singapore government agencies such as the Economic Development Board, and Enterprise Singapore, if the projects support quality tourism outcomes.
STB recently unveils a new four-year Tourism Development Fund (TDF), designed to catalyse the creation of innovative and quality tourism products and experiences, and capability and employee upgrading efforts among tourism-related enterprises.
With the enhancements made to TDF, STB is committed to partnering the tourism sector in driving tourism recovery and transformation efforts.
In the sections that follow, we introduce the top few grants from STB which are the most relevant and accessible for tourism-related businesses:
Details of Funding Schemes:
1. Tourism Product Development Scheme > Experience Step-up Fund (ESF)
The Experience Step-Up Fund (ESF) supports the development and enhancement of Singapore’s tourism experiences that increase the attractiveness of Singapore to visitors.
The ESF grant is open to all legal entities and Singapore government agencies. Proposed projects should fall under one of the following categories:
● Development of new products and experiences (including virtual experiences)
● Content enhancements
● Technology enablers
● Amenities enhancements
● Infrastructure enhancements
Successful applicants will receive funding support for qualifying costs, subject to the scope of the project and STB's evaluation of the merits of the project. Qualifying costs may include third-party project-related costs such as professional services, hardware/equipment and software, materials and consumables, production (1), and/or marketing (2) costs; and internal manpower costs (only applicable for tour development and tech enabler projects).
(1) For production costs of new products and/or new packaging for souvenirs, funding support is only applicable to the first run of production (2) For marketing costs of qualifying media (print, digital and video) for overseas promotion/distribution, funding support is only applicable for a maximum period of 6 months
Step 1: Pre-Application Interested applicants are advised to provide an executive summary/ brief description of the proposed project to STB_Incentives@stb.gov.sg. An STB officer will be in touch to assist further. The STB officer in-charge of the project will advise the applicant if the proposed project is eligible for ESF and to proceed with the application.
Step 2: Application
The applicant prepares the project proposal and estimated breakdown of project costs for submission with the application. To apply for the grant, the applicant needs to log in to the Business Grants Portal (BGP) using a CorpPass.
Application Evaluation: Proposed projects will be assessed on how they develop tourism experiences to improve visitor satisfaction (especially tourists), increase footfall, increase revenue and/or enhancing the overall destination branding.
2. Tourism Event Development Scheme > Kickstart Fund (KF)
The Kickstart Fund supports the creation and test-bedding of innovative consumer-focused concepts and events with strong tourism potential and scalability. This is with the aim of adding to the existing quality tourism software and enhancing the vibrancy of Singapore as a tourist destination.
The Kickstart Fund is open to all legal entities, for e.g. businesses, companies, associations, institutes, etc.
Qualifying projects include customer-focused events and concepts (including pop-ups), such as multi-disciplinary/ hybrid/ virtual events which can cut across multiple lifestyle and/or business sectors, including B2B2C events.
Grant Support: Successful applicants will receive funding support for qualifying costs, capped at a maximum grant of up to $250,000 per edition (multi-edition supported, up to 3 editions over maximum 3 years). Examples of qualifying costs include costs for professional services, equipment & materials, production and marketing costs, as well as internal manpower costs. Funding support is awarded based on STB's evaluation of the scope and merits of the project.
Application Process: The applicant should submit a scanned copy of the completed and signed grant application form, along with relevant supporting documents such as a project concept proposal, a detailed business plan, project budget and CV of key team members as well as track record (if any), to STB_Kickstart@stb.gov.sg. (Please note that digital signatures are not allowed.)
Only complete applications will qualify for evaluation. A project should not commence prior to STB's offer of the grant. Similarly, project qualifying costs should only be incurred after STB's grant offer. Applicants are encouraged to contact STB at least three months before project commencement.
Application Evaluation: Funding support is awarded based on the scope and merits of the application. STB will evaluate the application/proposal based on the following evaluation considerations:
3. Tourism Capability Development Scheme > Local Enterprise and Association Development Programme (LEAD)
The Local Enterprise and Association Development Programme (LEAD) is overseen by Enterprise Singapore and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to support efforts by Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to drive industry initiatives, focusing on areas like technology and infrastructure, business collaborations, as well as intelligence and research.
STB supports tourism-related associations by strengthening their capabilities to enable them to take on a greater leadership role to drive the development and growth of their respective industries and precincts.
LEAD is open to trade associations and chambers (TACs) which can include Singapore-registered societies, professional bodies, unions of employers, overseas business chambers and companies limited by guarantee.
These include Singapore-registered tourism-related associations from industries (such as Attractions, Hotels, Travel Agents, Tourist Guides, MICE, Cruise) and from precincts (such as Orchard Road, Chinatown and Little India).
Proposed projects should involve areas such as training, technology & infrastructure development, business capabilities development, as well as market & channel development and brand development.
Grant Support: Successful applicants will receive funding support for qualifying costs, subject to the scope of the project and STB's evaluation of the merits of the project. Examples of qualifying costs include third-party costs related to professional services, equipment and materials, business development, training and manpower-related costs.
Application Process: Interested tourism-related associations should email to STB_Incentives@stb.gov.sg with a brief description of the association's aims and the proposed project(s). An STB officer will be in touch to assist the applicant further. The STB officer in-charge of the project will advise the applicant if the proposed project is eligible for LEAD and to proceed with the application. (Please note that projects that have commenced prior to STB’s offer of the grant may not be eligible.)
Application Evaluation: Each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Generally, STB would take into account various factors including, but not limited to, the association's financial position and operating track record, developmental plans for the industry or precinct, and the nature of the projects.
In its pursuit of Quality Tourism, STB understands it can neither work in isolation nor spearhead all aspects of development in Singapore's tourism sector alone. Collaborating with and supporting other public agencies and the private sector is vital for the sector's success. STB supports, incentivises and catalyses the private sector to take the lead in investing for sector growth and industry competitiveness.