Considering entrepreneurship as an alternative career path is often a daunting move for Singaporeans who traditionally take the safer route of working as an employee in the public or private sector.
Our school system teaches us to be good employees and not employers. Compounding the problem is the spoon feeding of answers to students, which causes them to lack the creative thinking needed in starting a business.
Singaporeans also lead a cushy life style, which hurts the drive to succeed or persevere in finding a solution to every problem encountered.
Some two hundred secondary school children, SP students and staff packed the SP Auditorium on 19 Jul 06 for the second Alumni Entrepreneurs’ Forum.
The speakers for the event were Christian Chua, Managing Director of Renosis Industries, Ms Diana Cheng, Managing Director of My Mum's Cuisine, and Charles Ng, Managing Director of Arcadia Health Consultancy.
Christian Chua who graduated from SP in 1988 with Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering and made his first million at the age of 29 in 1996 had this to share:
- Some of the smartest and richest persons are entrepreneurs
- Entrepreneurs are constantly thinking and outwitting their competitors
- An entrepreneur is able to use his skills for any given product
- Financial freedom is the reward for the successful entrepreneur
Ms Diana Cheng, a graduate from Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Business and the owner of My Mum’s Cuisine restaurant chain, talked about the truth of entrepreneurship. She confessed that her boss said that she “was nuts” to leave a high paying job to strike out on her own.
Diana admitted that she went into the food business because she figured that it would be a recession proof industry as people need to eat regardless of good times or bad and that the costs of ingredients in the food industry are low, returns high and that customers pay after eating thus lowering the chance of cash flow problems.
Diana shared that she faced challenges such as the lack of money, and she had to convince relatives and banks for loans. She also lacked the experience as she did not have any prior restaurant experience. She acknowledged that she lacked the time and did not have any social life for the first three years as the restaurant was her life. She also shared how she had to swallow her pride when it came to dealing with customers as some could be very demanding.
Diana felt the most important aspect of being an entrepreneur is the need to find good employees, and to take good care of them as it takes two hands to clap.
She gave the following advice to students to ponder before striking out as an entrepreneur.
- Do I have the passion in this field?
- Do I have the requisites to succeed in this field?
- Do I have sufficient capital?
- Do I have the financial background to my accounts?
- Am I goal oriented and committed?
- Can I work long and irregular hours?
- Can I take "rejection"?
- Do I have support of my family & friends?
Summing up, Diana shared that the most important key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is how hard you work and who you know. As a result, it is important for one to have a wide network of acquaintances.
The final speaker for the day was Charles Ng, a 1997 graduate in Mechanical Engineering, who is today the Managing Director of Arcadia Health Consultancy. Charles did the polytechnic proud when he was awarded the “Spirit of Enterprise” award just last year.
Charles shared how even though he was a Mechanical Engineering graduate, he still managed to become a successful entrepreneur in the healthcare industry.
He said that while he was in university and before he entered the healthcare industry, he did a competitor analysis to look for a unique selling point and found that there were no companies providing an all-natural healthcare service.
He also shared that entrepreneurs need to keep innovating their products to keep them relevant to their clients.
The discussion forum provided an excellent opportunity for students to ask the experts on any burning questions they have. The Forum was chaired by SPEC Ex-Co, Mr Alex Lo, Managing Director for TechSource Systems.
One of the questions asked by a student was, “What advice would you give to boost a student’s interest in entrepreneurship?”
Students were advised to have be positive and to be curious about everything because an entrepreneur will face lots of problems and needs to keep a positive mindset. As an entrepreneur, one needs to ask hard probing questions.
In concluding, students were given this advice. Start small, dare to dream and make it a reality.
Mr Christian Chua, Managing Director of Renosis Industries
Mr Chua set up Renosis Industries Pte Ltd in 1994 and turned a $2 investment into a multi-million dollar setup today. He made his first million at the age of 29 in 1996 and was invited to sit on a panel of guests with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the TV program "Over the Rainbow" where the senior minister sought the views of young Singaporeans in 1998. He is the author of 2 great books: Financial Literacy for Schools and Making Extra Pocket money. Mr Chua graduated from SP in 1988 with a Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering.
Ms Diana Cheng, Managing Director of My Mum's Cuisine
In 1995, at the age of 26, Diana Cheng became the owner of My Mum’s Cuisine restaurants. She and her friends then opened a few restaurants in Holland Village and the Central Business area. Sadly, she was soon in debt and waiting for her creditors to sue her. She had one restaurant left at the Paragon. She needed a break. On the advice of her ex-SP lecturer, Mr Willy Wong, she flew off to do a Master’s degree in Hospitality Management in Cornell University. Now, ten years down the road, Diana is the Managing Director of My Mum’s Cuisine Restaurant Group, which owns My Mum’s Cuisine in Paragon, three Noodle Hut Restaurants at IMM, United Square and Harbourfront, and Heng Café at Wisma Atria. She is also packaging her desserts and sauces such as Pulot Hitam and Sichuan sauce.
Her $2.5 million factory in Tuas was opened in Oct 2002 and the products were launched in March 2003. You can find My Mum’s Cuisine products at supermarkets. Diana also has distributors in London, Australia, Japan and Canada. Ms Cheng graduated from SP with a Diploma in Business Administration in 1989.
Mr Charles Ng, Managing Director of Arcadia Health Consultancy
Mr Ng graduated from SP with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering in 1997 and went on to obtain his Degree in Mechanical Engineering from NUS in 2003. He set up Arcadia Health Consultancy in 2004, and within one year, won the Spirit of Enterprise Award in 2005. Charles believes strongly in natural integration healthcare. Arcadia is the first and only wellness establishment of its kind in Singapore that uses clinical Nutrition Therapy to approach healthcare, lifestyle and skincare ailments, and chronic discomfort. He started off this business because there was a latent need for his service/product by people who have healthcare and lifestyle problems. Most of these people have undergone certain kind of treatments and medications, but some of these don't exactly meet their needs and requirements. Charles employs the use of nutrition therapy to address lifestyle and healthcare problems. Everything used are all-natural, no drugs, no medication, no chemicals. It's a proven, safer, way of achieving effective results pertaining to healthcare and lifestyle problems. Charles is also an Iridologist – a professional who studies the iris of the eyes to determine the general health and well-being of a person.