EMERGING ENTERPRISE AWARDS 2017

Shining a spotlight on the secret life of entrepreneurs

Support from family, friends and staff helped them get through difficult times, especially in the early years

THE life of an entrepreneur is often filled with hardship, but what helps customisable computer chair maker Secretlab's co-founder and managing director Ian Ang get through it is support from loved ones and staff.

When Mr Ang and co-founder Alaric Choo first started Secretlab in 2014, the duo did not draw any salary in their first year and had to live frugally after having invested all their savings in the company - not just money, but also time.

Mr Ang said: "I would like to thank our family and loved ones for supporting us every day. For understanding the life - or lack thereof - of an entrepreneur."

Secretlab was one of three companies to clinch top honours at the 2017 Emerging Enterprise Awards (EE 2017). The sentiment expressed by Mr Ang was shared by the other two recipents of EE 2017.

One of them is Veera Sekaran, managing director of Greenology, a provider of landscaping and urban farming products and technology.

He said: "It's been a hard slog being an entrepreneur . . . getting people to buy in to what you have as your passion is more difficult."

But, he added, while there are moments of pain, there is also joy.

Aside from Secretlab and Greenology, the other big winner was Ace Water, a provider of wastewater treatment services and technology.

The annual awards - jointly organised by The Business Times and OCBC Bank - celebrates promising young businesses with annual sales turnover of up to S$20 million which are outstanding in their respective fields.

The awards, now in their 10th year, remain the only such entrepreneurial prize here shining a spotlight on this group of businesses.

This year's EE 2017 Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony was graced by Minister of Trade & Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran at The Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore on Friday.

In his speech, Mr Iswaran said accolades such as the EE Awards help to serve as success stories that "inspire and motivate other aspiring business owners in their own journeys of entrepreneurship".

In today's economic climate, companies must seek new opportunities, respond more nimbly to political and economic shifts, shorter technology cycles, and changes in consumer demand patterns and business models, said Mr Iswaran.

To do so, enterprises must be prepared to develop new capabilities as well as to internationalise - strategies that must be implemented in tandem, he added.

READ ALSO: SMEs must be nimble to adapt to change, says Iswaran

These are traits the top three winners of this year's EE Awards possess.

The trio received prizes worth at least S$340,000 each, comprising consultancy services, executive education programmes, business debit card credits, travel packages and a $200,000 interest-free business overdraft facility from OCBC Bank.

The awards are supported by Mastercard, Acorn Marketing and Research Consultants, INSEAD, Spring Singapore, Singtel, Maxus and the official auditor, RSM.

Two other firms took the Best Innovation Award, which recognises firms with "the spirit of innovation and originality in business concepts".

They were Bttrigtical, a provider of analytical instruments to measure water content in oil; and Pixel Automation, which designs and builds customised automation solutions.

Both received an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) business solutions package from Singtel worth up to S$30,000, and a S$50,000 interest-free business overdraft facility from OCBC Bank.

Another two companies won the Most Promising Startup Award: Homage, a provider of on-demand home-based care for the elderly; and The Golden Duck, maker of salted egg chips.

Both received S$30,000 worth of digital consultancy services from Maxus. The award was introduced in 2014 to recognise young businesses below three years old and with turnover of less than S$1 million per annum.

Gillian Tee, CEO and co-founder of Homage, credited her team for the win. "Homage started from nothing and it was brought to life by a group of people putting their heart and soul into solving a problem they believe in," she said.

"I just feel very fortunate and thankful to be working with them every day . . . This group of people are amazing and we owe everything to them.''

The winners for the respective awards emerged out of a competitive field of 15 finalists, ranging from industries as varied as furniture design to luxury paper and leather accessories.

The finalists were shortlisted based on the sustainability of their business models and growth plans, as well as the viability of their business strategies.

Wong Wei Kong, editor of The Business Times, said that the new batch of winners have excelled in their respective industry with "entrepreneurial spirit, ingenuity and perseverance in the face of competition and disruption".

Tan Chor Sen, OCBC executive vice-president, global commercial banking, agreed, saying this year's winners understood the importance of leveraging technology, and have come up with innovative solutions and business models that benefit customers and make their companies truly unique.

He added: "Many past winners have gone on to become industry leaders and this year's winners have similarly strong prospects.

"We look forward to providing them the support they need to scale up operations and continue expanding in Singapore and beyond."

READ ABOUT THE WINNERS: