Owners of failed SMEs hit by huge debts
Pilot programme aims to help such entrepreneurs pay off personal loans they took to try to keep their failing businesses afloat
Successful start-ups in Singapore are often glamorised, used as examples of the heights one can attain through innovation and grit.
But there are many more that fail, saddling their owners with crushing debt and despair.
A jewellery business owner in his 50s took personal loans from nine banks to keep his company afloat and ended up with a $130,000 debt.
"I was thinking positive, hoping the market would go well," said the man, who wanted to be known only as Alfred.
"But it is not always what we think or predict."
When the banks started calling, he hid the bad news from his family and friends.
"It was not something I am proud of, and I didn't want to share the stress with anyone.
"I was so alone, and I felt so sorry and ashamed because a father is supposed to provide for his kids, but I couldn't do that. I couldn't even buy them simple gifts like a wristwatch."
Another businessman racked up a $600,000 debt after taking personal loans from several banks to pay his workers.
A teacher owed $200,000 after she stood as guarantor for her father's failed business.
Other entrepreneurs told The New Paper they took personal loans as a last-ditch attempt to turn things around after their failing businesses could no longer get credit from the banks.
The cases mentioned are just a few of the 351 owners of failed or failing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who had sought help from Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) since June last year.
Noting this growing trend, CCS launched the Enterprise Credit Counselling Programme (ECCP) yesterday to help entrepreneurs with massive debts.
CCS chairman Kuo How Nam said the pilot programme seeks to address a gap in Singapore's drive for entrepreneurship.
He said: "The system is geared towards finding winners. Every committee focusing on SMEs talks about how to get them to grow and expand. But where are the programmes to help those that fail?"
There were 43,000 start-ups here in 2016, almost double the 22,000 in 2003.
But according to the Department of Statistics, half of new businesses fail within the first three years.
The ECCP aims to help entrepreneurs deal with business and personal debts by coordinating the repayments with their creditors.
As a pilot, ECCP will handle only cases of enterprises with assets up to $1 million and debts up to $500,000 and focus on owners of businesses that have closed or are closing.
"We are not out to save enterprises that are in trouble as we don't have the resources or expertise to broker a deal with the various stakeholders involved in a rescue mission," Mr Kuo said.
"But we can try to minimise the impact of a business failure by helping the owners avoid bankruptcy if their creditors can agree on a structured repayment proposed by CCS."
Mr Samuel Ang, the director for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department at Temasek Polytechnic, said the ECCP can help failed start-ups get a "second chance" to succeed. To achieve this, however, it is important to secure mentors with a successful track record in the start-up's line of business, Mr Ang added.
He said there are many reasons why start-ups fail, but in general they are "unprepared in one way or another".
Mr Ang, who oversees the Temasek Launchpad, stressed that support is vital for start-ups to have sustained success.
"The Temasek Launchpad, for example, is dedicated to spending time with our start-ups to understand their plans, needs and other resource requirements so we can follow up to facilitate the meeting of these needs," he said.
"Like nurturing any newborn, the secret to a successful start-up is to be 'invested' in it, be it time or energy."