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Kenneth Lou Of Novelsys Talks Juggling School And Startups, And Why The Time Is Now

When you meet Kenneth, you can instantly feel the energy radiating off of him. Even when he’s sitting down, you can see how eager and excited he is to speak about what he does. He is the driver of change in Novelsys, a startup raring to become the next big thing in wireless charging. After we introduced each other and I had explained what I had planned for this article, which was to find out his “secret of success” behind Novelsys winning the GlobalTiC award (and several others), he seemed to perk up instantly and said “I’d love to! I’m really passionate about this stuff.”

This ‘stuff’ turned out to be the entrepreneurial spirit driving the operation. Through out our conversation, he was constantly opening up slides and documents to show me, and highlighting how he loved the entrepreneurial spirit of his team, who sadly couldn’t make it for the interview as they were busy prototyping. The Novelsys team consists of – himself, Kenneth Lou, age 22; Mark Keong, age 24; and Delane Foo, age 22. The most impressive of all the documents that he happily shared was this one email that he had sent earlier in the year, which turned out to be instrumental in building the Novelsys team.

Building The Team

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 7.30.19 PM
The first recruitment email (Image Credit: Kenneth Lou)

“It started because I was really into the tech scene, and I started reading up a lot on tech and tried to stay updated on the tech news,” said Kenneth, clearly the ‘idea-guy’ of the group. “There was this competition – Techcrunch’s Disrupt Hackathon – last year and there was this winner called Cota. They won the best award. The idea was very cool, it was like Wireless Power Like Wifi. So I was like ‘Yeah, this could be a reality very soon! Why not do it in Singapore?’ So I started looking at their patents, and even blasted out an email to the Engineering (Faculty in NUS), like all of them.”

He proceeded to show me the email, which was titled quite simply “YOU are the next Elon Musk”

“With this, you can really sieve out the good ones,” he added. “I was very clear that I needed engineers, but not just any engineers. I really needed engineers with (a) real entrepreneurial mindset. They’re not easy to find.”

Out of the four who replied to his email, he chose Mark Keong, an electrical engineering student. After a few months of working with professors and prototyping, Delane Foo, an industrial design student, joined the team as well.

Image Credit: novelsys.com
Image Credit: novelsys.com

“We realized that the product that we were designing had a more lifestyle focus. It definitely had to have a feminine touch to it as well as an IT touch to it.”

With Kenneth at the helm for business and strategy, Mark as the head of operations, and Delane directing design and marketing, the team went on to prototype, pitch, and even take part in competitions to get the word out and garner support. And despite still being students, the team has been so committed to Novelsys’ vision that they have taken a year off school to develop their product further. And it isn’t without its sacrifices.

“I had to convince them to take an LOA (Leave of Absence from school), which is a big thing. In fact for Mark, he had to push back his Final Year Project, and because Delane is in Industrial Design, she’s not allowed to take 6 months (of LOA), so it had to be a year. I was the only one who had nothing much to lose because I am the youngest in terms of academic age.”

While Kenneth had just finished his first year in school, Delane was about to embark on her third while Mark was due to begin his final year of school. They all pushed back their graduation for Novelsys.

“We really feel that the time is now,” said Kenneth. “It’s all about the skin in the game. That’s what Leslie (Leslie Loh, Managing Director of Red Dot Ventures) always likes to emphasis on – it’s about the skin in the game. If you want to do this, you go all out to do this.”

The Road Ahead

The Novelsys team at the APEC Accelerator Network Summit (Image Credit: Novelsys)
The Novelsys team at the APEC Accelerator Network Summit (Image Credit: Novelsys)

The team is in the middle of building ampere™, the world’s first wireless charging sleeve for mobile phones. It is due to be released next year. Inspired by Ossia’s work on Cota, a wireless charging enabler, they have transformed the concept into what they hope will be their first step to becoming the number 1 service provider for wireless charging in Asia. A big goal for young people.

They are backed by NUS enterprise as well as FocusTech Ventures. And on top of the iJAM Grant and the Innovation Grant Practicum that Novelsys has been given, Kenneth has also been personally granted the “Phillip Yeo Initiative“, which is named after the Chairman of SPRING Singapore and offers promising entrepreneurs financial support and mentorship to grow their talents and abilities.

“There’s a network (for entrepreneurs) that helps give a lot of support, so I hope it will encourage more people to take this path (to join the startup scene). It’s a good path to take, but you feel very lonely. That’s why you need a good team.”

Kenneth at the GlobalTiC Awards Ceremony (Image Credit: Novelsys Facebook Page)
Kenneth at the GlobalTiC Awards Ceremony (Image Credit: Novelsys Facebook Page)

He then went on to appreciate the situation joining the Novelsys has put teammates Mark and Delane in, and their dedication to the team’s shared vision. According to Kenneth, while entrepreneurs are easy to find in a Business School, it is tougher to find similar mindsets from Engineers and Industrial Designers, whom Kenneth deemed will usually end up to work in big firms.

“I told them, you could work in a big firm and become successful that way, or you could grow a highly successful company! You’ll never know. You see, today when I speak to you we’re still a startup, but you’ll never know in two, three years time…”

Before that time even comes, Novelsys has already been highly successful with their work on ampere™. Within less than a year of being together, they have won 5 different awards, the latest of which was the prize for Youth Pre-Start-up category at the 2014 Global Talentrepreneur Innovation & Collaboration (GlobalTiC), taking home US$2,000 in prize money. They are also finalists for the SiTF (Singapore infocomm Technology Federation) Awards for Best Startup, Best Consumer Product and Best Tertiary Startup.

Currently, they’re working towards creating a functional prototype to push out their kickstarter campaign in October.

Secret to Success

Image Credit: Novelsys
Image Credit: Novelsys

When asked what his secret to success was, Kenneth very seriously told me that it was all in his personal formula – H.I.T.

“We need to be Hardworking to stay lean in our operations, Innovative as a startup, and we really need to Trust each other as a team. When we meet people, they need to feel all this. Using that, and a common vision and goal to bind us all together. At this moment, it is our Kickstarter campaign.”

And when asked what keeps him and his team going, he takes a moment to ponder over it, like he’s never thought about it before, before saying that it is simply how the startup scene works. “Doing this is very different than interning at a big firm. In a big company there’s always someone to tell you what to do, but when you’re in a startup you have to keep at it. The moment you stop, everything stops.”

Novelsys was founded in 2014 by three NUS students – Kenneth Lou (NUS Business School), Delane Foo (NUS Division of Industrial Design) and Mark Keong (NUS Department of Electrical Engineering). They have taken a year off their studies to work on the company, to develop ampere™, the world’s first wireless charging sleeve for mobile phones. Users simply drop their mobile phone into the sleeve and it charges wirelessly on the go, making it more convenient than bulky power-banks that require wires. Kenneth has also written an article on Thought Catalog called “3 Reasons Why You Should Start Your Startup Today“. Their Kickstarter Campaign launches in October.

 

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