Home-grown food start-ups get a hand in the kitchen with new innovation hub

SINGAPORE - Food start-ups here may have a new home in a 90,000 square foot building in Chin Bee Drive, offering facilities such as research and development laboratories, a co-working space, and trading, logistics and manufacturing facilities.

A spin-off by sugar company Cheng Yew Heng, the six-storey Innovate 360 opened about two weeks ago and is now at around 60 per cent occupancy, Innovate 360 vice-president Elias Tan told The Straits Times on Sunday (Sept 15).

Mr Tan, 25, said the hub is the first commercially-driven food start-up incubator with facilities in Singapore, and charges "very competitive" rates for its spaces.

Start-ups can also benefit from Innovate 360's network of sales partners, mentors and funding, he added.

Innovate 360 not only provided him with financial support but introduced him to business networks and distribution channels, said the 26-year-old founder of local healthy beverage producer Kombynation.

Mr Ethan Eng started experimenting with brewing Kombucha in his university dormitory just last year, but with help from Innovate 360 now produces four different drink flavours and is planning to branch out to China and the United States.

"As a start-up, we didn't really know how to set up our factory space, but (Innovate 360) pointed us in the right direction so we could focus on developing our product," said Mr Eng.

Mr Tan spoke to The Straits Times on the sidelines of an exhibition by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation's Lifestyle Industry Group (LIG) featuring 14 local food and lifestyle companies, about half of which were less than three years old.

LIG chairman Kimming Yap, 33, said the exhibition at Tiong Bahru Plaza was aimed at raising the public's awareness of local manufacturing brands, as well as showcasing innovative products to inspire others in the manufacturing industry.

He said: "Some people have the impression that manufacturing is a sector that's old, or in the background, but the entrepreneurs here are really interesting... We want to show how our local manufacturers are evolving."

Take, for instance, Mpillow, a family-run start-up that launched last October. Founder Darren Yeo, 57, ran a precision engineering business for over 30 years, providing customised cutting tools to businesses in the military and aerospace industries.

Fed up with shopping for comfortable pillows, he decided to use his engineering experience to design customised products. Mr Yeo also roped in his 26-year-old son to help him with digitisation and marketing.

He said: "When you buy a shirt you have to try different sizes to find one that fits you - so why shouldn't it be the same for a pillow?"

Another start-up present, Theo10, was founded by Mr Theodore Khng, 29,  an accountant by training, who had 68 failed attempts to produce a mosquito repellent.

Now the company produces Health Sciences Authority-approved skin products, including steroid-free eczema cream, and is working with local scientists to develop medicine.

Mr Khng has also represented Singapore at the Asean fair in Thailand for the past three years, and intends to expand his operations to that country.

Reflecting on his experience overseas, he said he never thought he would get to where he is today.

He said: "When people hear you're from Singapore, they trust you and your product - I felt very proud."