Show up the money, really

Governments worldwide have been stepping in and scurrying to help their local business community ride out this current economic slump. Singapore, for sure, isn't one to be left out.

Governments worldwide have been stepping in and scurrying to help their local business community ride out this current economic slump. Singapore, for sure, isn't one to be left out.

During its budget address in January, the Singapore government unveiled a massive S$20.5 billion (US$13.2 billion) funding pool to bolster market competitiveness and job security. Of this, S$230 million (US$148.2 million) will be set aside for the media and digital entertainment industry, providing much-needed grants to aid local businesses specializing in this market.

It all sounds great...local companies, especially the smaller shops, will get the financial help they so desperately need to tide over these difficult times, and employees will get to keep their jobs.

But, just how easy is it for local businesses to get the funds?

Some years back, over lunch with a friend who ran his own SMB (small and midsize business), he described how was trying to get investors to come in so he could finance some new projects for the company.

I reminded him about the various funding schemes the government had set aside for SMBs like his to tap, and that he was definitely eligible to submit an application for the grant.

As it turned out, he already tried that route, but decided not to pursue it because the approval process was too tedious, took too long and was tagged with too many terms and conditions. My friend needed to kickstart his projects in the shortest time possible so he could stay ahead of his competitors, and couldn't afford to wade through a long and winding path just to get some government funds.

Just yesterday, I was told about yet another promising local company--specializing in the digital entertainment space--that was finding the going tough in this current recession. Again, I dished out a reminder about the government's S$230 million fund, especially since it has been set aside specifically for local enterprises playing in this market space. Again, the head shook in doubt.

Dane Anderson, CEO of Springboard Research, said it best when he noted how it's just as important for governments to ensure funds are able to reach the companies they're intended to help. Much of the impact, he added, will depend on how quickly governments can get the money out to local businesses.

And I think that's something that is often overlooked.

Sure, governments might feel compelled to tighten the strings around the purse when they read about how some companies are using bailout funds to pay their CEOs fat bonuses. But, they are also small local businesses that genuinely need the money to pull them through.

To ensure their grants are not being misused, governments could perhaps set up subcommittees dedicated to handling fund applications for small local companies. This can help speed up the approval process, and at the same time, ensure the smaller boys that badly need financial assistance aren't slipping through the cracks.

In these times of need, it's not enough to simply promise help. We need to also ensure help is indeed received.