EE 2015 winners from diverse industries share the same gung-ho spirit

Entrepreneurial daring shines in top three winners Hope First Response, ZWEEC, and GD Group

KINDNESS and business can be a winning formula, according to Charles Johnson, founder and director of do-good company Hope First Response. And it is for Hope.

On Wednesday, the provider of emergency medical response services became one of three companies to bag top honours at the 2015 Emerging Enterprise Awards (EE 2015).

Dr Johnson, a 47-year-old medical doctor, told BT: “The award is a testament to the dedication and resourcefulness of our team. It’s an inspiration for all of us to keep dreaming, and see each day as a challenge and a day to make someone’s life better.”

The EE journey, he added, is not about aiming to get an award, but a learning journey that encourages the company to think out of the box, reflect on the past and plan for the future.

Organised by The Business Times and OCBC Bank, EE honours promising enterprises that are younger than 10 years old and with an annual sales turnover of not more than S$15 million. Into its eighth year, EE is the only annual entrepreneurial award in Singapore to celebrate such businesses, and was on Wednesday night graced by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan.

ZWEEC Analytics – a surveillance and water security solutions firm that snagged not just the top honours but also the Best Innovation Award (which celebrates innovation and originality in business concept) – was the night’s biggest winner.

Executive director Cecilia Chow said: “The double joy of receiving both awards came as a very pleasant surprise to all of us.”

She added: “Honestly, deep down inside, we were hoping for the Best Innovation Award as the ultimate endorsement to our patented tech products, ranging from water-testing or life-saving solutions through DEWS to safe and affordable drinking water through IONI Water.”

EE 2015 also saw the budding of several friendships, said Ms Chow. “The finalists of EE 2015 come from a diversified range of businesses. In the lead-up to the awards night, we had the privilege to meet with several past winners too, to learn about their businesses. As the nature of ZWEEC’s technologies can be easily applied and scaled across multiple industries, we see potential collaborative opportunities ahead."

Penang food restaurant chain GD Group, the third recipient of top honours that night, did not see the win coming. Founder and executive director Ven Chin said: “From what we understood from the organisers, historically, very few F&B companies win the award.”

But he was heartened that the group’s efforts at constant innovation were recognised. These, Mr Chin said, include regularly creating fresh takes on food concepts, as well as refining all aspects of the business’s operations – from developing its own enterprise resource planning system to more accurately tracking inventory and costs, and to looking for new channels to better engage customers.

Visenze, a tech venture that provides visual search and image recognition solutions, won the Most Promising Startup Award, a prize introduced last year to recognise young businesses under three years old with an annual turnover of less than S$1 million.

CEO Oliver Tan said: “I take this award as further encouragement of the potential we have yet to reach. Our growth spurt in the last six months – including securing our largest customer to date (India’s Flipkart) and setting up our first overseas office in the US – is something I am happy about, and looking forward to build upon in the next 12 months.”

To aspiring enterprises, Mr Tan’s advice is to be “laser sharp” about the unique value proposition they offer, and to consistently differentiate their edge over the competition.

EE 2015 is supported by Acorn and Spring Singapore, together with INSEAD, MasterCard, Singtel and RSM Chio Lim LLP, which is also the official auditor for the awards.

This year, each of the top three winners – Hope, ZWEEC and GD – received S$490,000 in prizes comprising an OCBC business overdraft facility, consultancy services from Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants, and a capability development grant from Spring Singapore.

Eric Ong, OCBC’s head of emerging business, said: “Although this year’s winners come from diverse industries such as tech, F&B and healthcare, they share the same entrepreneurial spirit that sets them apart from the competition – the courage and tenacity to always push boundaries and embrace innovation in creating differentiated product offerings and new revenue streams.”