Editor’s Note: We’ve added more to the list since this article was first published
Singaporeans have always been an entrepreneurial bunch, especially in the area of tech. Many have even outgrew the local market, and in search of an international audience, have created a faithful following overseas along the way.
In the ‘old days’, tech entrepreneurs would more often than not be referring to individuals whose businesses dealt with hardware. Computers, audio products, memory, and digital storage solutions were just some examples.
Throughout the years though, as becoming an entrepreneur becomes more commonplace, and the term ‘startup’ becomes the new buzzword among those who want to strike out on their own, and we see a shift of products going from hardware to software, more specifically, apps and services.
Regardless, the tech entrepreneurship community comprises of some notable individuals whom have become public figures in their own right.
Let’s take a look at 21 of them. Don’t worry, we’ll make this a short read.
1. Challenger – Loo Leong Thye
Challenger is perhaps the granddaddy of multi-product tech stores in Singapore.
It started as a small computer accessories and software store called Symphony in 1985, at (where else!) good old Funan.
Founder Mr Loo Leong Thye has since grown that humble store into the largest computer and electronics retailer in Singapore, with stores in every major mall at every corner of Singapore.
Now, at the back of a 10% rise in revenue in the second quarter of 2016, he is setting his sights on the online marketplace, and Challenger’s online platform Hachi.tech, is poised to do just that.
While the closure of their flagship store at Funan is saddening, Mr Loo and Challenger are more than adequate to face challenges, and is charging forward with his other 44 Challenger stores.
2. Creative Technology – Sim Wong Hoo
They are the company and CEO who once stood toe-to-toe with Apple and Steve Jobs in the war of portable music. I
t is none other than Creative Technology and its CEO Mr Sim Wong Hoo. Oddly enough, Creative started out as a computer repair shop, servicing the Apple II, and later on releasing their own computer in the Cubic 99, but it was in 1987 that they released a product that made them a household name, the sound card for computers.
Creative’s Sound Blaster line of sound cards were the first of its kind in the industry made for the mass consumer market, which until today still proves to be a go-to component for PC enthusiasts to upgrade the audio quality of their computers.
Along the way, they dabbled in the world of portable music players with the NOMAD, and then the ZEN later on, bringing with it the legendary competition between them and Apple’s iPod.
Today, aside from their sound cards, Creative is also known as the manufacturer of affordable, yet powerful consumer speaker systems, while also looking at breaking into the premium segment.
3. Nutek (Eubiq) – Yong Choon
Eubiq is the result of an engineer/inventor’s search for a solution to the cable mess on his factory’s floors.
Founder of Nutek, Yong Choon, feels that all the loose cables lying around were a workplace hazard for his workers, and thus started a six-year, multi-million dollar journey in 2000 to research and prototype a new kind of power track system.
Getting electricity from it is simple – just plug an adaptor anywhere along the track. Local schools and hospitals, as well as Emirates lounges throughout the world have integrated the Eubiq system into their premises.
What once was a solution for factories and offices can now be found in homes, with the modern homeowners gravitating towards its futuristic, yet minimalistic alternative to buying unsightly multiplug adapters from electrical hardware stores.
The Eubiq system is probably now a common sight among new homeowners in Singapore.
4. Fida International (PROLiNK) – Jack Huang
Fida International and founder Jack Huang may not be household names to you, but their flagship brand just might be.
The company started off as a PC peripherals distributor in 1991, and PROLiNK (then a Taiwan brand) was one of its main product lines. In an effort to move away from distribution and to actually manufacture the products they sold, Jack acquired PROLiNK with a solid focus on creating products for the Southeast Asia PC market.
Today, you can find PROLiNK products everywhere, in homes and offices, and you can buy them at any department and IT stores.
They make everything from USB accessories, home networking solutions, mouse and keyboards among other things. In recent years, they have even branched out to the realm of gaming, releasing their own line of stylised PC gaming peripherals with accompanying multi-coloured lighting and gaming aesthetics.
5. Aztech Group – Michael Mun
Based in Ubi for the longest time, Michael Mun founded Aztech back in 1986 as a company which assembles PCs from parts imported from Taiwan, selling it to customers in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
They too joined Creative in releasing a sound card of their own back in the day, becoming the number two to the market leaders as they faced off both in the consumer market, as well as the courtroom where copyright infringement allegations flew.
Under the stewardship of Michael Mun, Aztech went beyond just PC peripherals, and into the realm of home networking where it made a name for itself on the international stage.
Their ‘homeplugs’ are now a common necessity for Singaporeans who want internet connections in Wifi blindspots at home. Away from computer and networking, they have also diversified their products to even include home appliances, and lighting solutions for consumers.
6. Acronis – Serguei Beloussov
Russian-born Singaporean entrepreneur Serguei Beloussov, is the man behind global data protection company Acronis. His entrepreneurial journey started while he was doing his Masters degree where he found that he was a pretty good businessman. After a stint working in a Russian computer company, he co-founded several other electronics and software companies during the course of his career as a serial entrepreneur.
One of those companies was Acronis, which was founded in 2001. After successfully steering the company, he stepped down as CEO in 2007 to focus on other ventures, only to return again in 2013 permanently, when he saw that the company has stagnated.
Today, Acronis has a presence in over 145 countries worldwide, and a full range of data protection features, including migration, cloning and replication. Their products are being used by both corporate or everyday consumers, especially with Acronis True Image, a full disk image backup software
Acronis also has had the pleasure of being the very first Singaporean company to have been featured as a sponsor on a Formula 1 car. Their partnership with Scuderia Torro Rosso made the headlines earlier this year, sparking heated interest in the company, as well as the team and drivers.
7. Strontium – Vivian Singh
It is a company that was birthed because two friends missed a flight.
Strontium was born because its name rhymed with Pentium, and for a company that started life making memory modules for computers, it made sense.
President and co-founder Vivian Singh now heads the company himself, after co-founder and former CEO, Anshuman Gupta left in 2013 to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs.
PC hobbyists may know them as the company who made SSDs (which they have ended production for) and RAM memory modules for laptops and desktops.
Average consumers will know them as the company that makes affordable yet high performance flash drives and sd cards for use in the mobile devices. Today, the company is expected to turn a 20% increase in revenue of about S$375 million this year, with a projection of more than S$500 million in growth by 2020.
8. Leapfroglobal – George Hu
George Hu started his journey as an entrepreneur in 1999 with the Sonic Gear brand which offered audio peripherals for consumers to use with their mobile devices and computers. Headquartered in Singapore and having an office in Malaysia initially, they expanded into Indonesia, and accompanying brand, Power Logic, was introduced then aimed at providing PC peripherals for everyday consumers.
They too dived into the world of gaming peripherals with the introduction of the Armageddon brand in 2011, with the products for those looking to DIY their own computers, such as cases and power supply units, on top of the usual mouse, keyboard, and audio peripherals.
Two years ago, we also see George Hu take Leapfroglobal (the company all these brands are under) into the premium audio market with the newly minted Elysium brand. With their products available conveniently located in major department stores as well as popular online sites, coupled with their ever-present booths at tech fairs, they are definitely brands from which you have owned a product of at some point.
9. Xmi (X-Mini) – Ryan Lee
If you haven’t noticed by now, audio and Singaporean entrepreneurs seems to be a common theme, and with Xmi it is no different.
“Sound beyond size” is their tagline, and they delivered.
CEO Ryan Lee was 29 when he founded the company with his brother Reuben and friend Barry Choo with just S$30,000 in 2006. This was a time when the iPod reigned supreme, but back then, speakers were bulky and had to be powered by wall source, which made playing music outdoors a muted affair through headphones.
Out came the award winning, super-portable X-Mini speaker, and with it, carved a whole new market segment for the portable audio market.
Success followed, with the company turning a profit of 1000% in the first year alone, and in the next five years raking in an eight figure revenue. This was despite the onset of imitations from China six months in from the time when their very first speaker was released.
Ask any millennial in Singapore, and chances are, they would have owned one of these signature speakers. Today, more than just their mini speakers, Xmi also produces larger bluetooth speakers, as well as headphones, and their products reach some 80 countries as of last year.
Here’s a fun fact, the speaker wasn’t Xmi’s first product, it was actually a long-forgotten watch.
10. Razer – Min-Liang Tan
“For gamers, by gamers”.
He made gaming cool, and is probably the poster-boy for Singaporeans giving up a bright career path, to pursuing a passion in a completely different field.
He left a law career at a time when gaming wasn’t considered ‘sexy’. Today, his company, Razer is probably the most recognisable brand by gamers worldwide – a journey that started with the introduction of the world’s first gaming mouse, the Razer Boomslang.
Razer makes more than mice now.
With a varied range of gaming peripherals which includes keyboards, speakers, headphones, and game pads, they even ventured into making their own gaming laptops.
Look around you today, and you will definitely know of someone using a Razer product. Beyond consumers, Razer has been making itself known in e-Sports with their own teams featuring in many of the world’s biggest competitions.
11. Aftershock PC – Marcus Wee
While we are on the topic of gaming laptops, you cannot exclude Aftershock PC.
Founded in 2011, Marcus Wee had a dream to enable fellow gamers to customise their own gaming laptops.
With the imminent launch of his first laptop, the Aftershock X11, he roped in the help of his brother (and co-founder) Joel Wee, who left his job in New Zealand to come back home.
They received rave reviews for their laptops from local press and publications, and soon found themselves a regular at tech shows in Singapore – all in the space of two years.
Today, the brand is synonymous as being the first of its kind in Singapore to bring truly customisable gaming grade laptops, at a price point that is considered affordable. Now they offer more than just laptops, and have since expanded their product lines to include desktop computers, and even have Aftershock-branded peripherals to go with their computers.
12. Secret Lab – Ian Ang
Secret Lab is a company with roots within Aftershock PC.
Co-founder Ian Ang was doing business development there, where he noticed that computer chairs that were aimed at gamers were going for ludicrous amounts of money.
Inspired by the “Xiaomi philosophy” he set out to set out to make his own together with co-founder Alaric Choo, offering quality chairs at prices people will not balk on.
Their gaming chairs are now some of the most widely-used within gaming establishments and companies in Singapore, as well as popular content creators on Youtube.
The chairs have also been acclaimed by international tech publications such as Cnet and Kotaku, and they now ship to customers around Southeast Asia, as well as Australia.
Their biggest score thus far would probably be their recent collaboration with Asus under the Republic of Gamers (ROG) line, where Secret Lab will be producing ROG inspired chairs that will be sold along Asus systems.
13. Hyflux – Olivia Lum
The water that you are drinking off the tap right now, her company had a part in getting it there. Olivia Lum founded Hyflux in 1989 (known as Hydrochem back then) as a company selling water treatment systems.
Today the company is worth more than a billion dollars and is the first water treatment company to be listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX), and employs more than 1,200 staff across China, India, the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Singapore.
Back home, the technology pioneered by Hyflux had a literal impact in Singapore, and its water distribution. First was through the NEWater Project in 2001, when they were chose to supply and install the process equipment for the Bedok NEWater Plant (Singapore’s first) essentially marking the launch of the Third National Tap.
The second was when Hyflux was tasked to build Singapore’s first seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in 2003. For them, it was the first time that they did a desalination project; and it was also their biggest project to date, and at $200 million, the project costs more than their market value at the time.
The plant was completed three months ahead of schedule and the Fourth National Tap was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 13 September 2005.
14. MyRepublic – Malcolm Rodrigues
This company has been making the local news headlines recently in their bid to become the fourth telco, and it’s who else but MyRepublic, and founder Malcolm Rodrigues.
The company has seen encouraging growth ever since it was founded in 2011, and is now found in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. Back in Singapore, MyRepublic has been giving the main three telcos and ISPs a good run for their money.
A former Starhub executive himself, Malcolm knows pretty well how the industry works.
With the belief that the telcos are short-changing their users, he introduced high bandwidth consumer plans which disrupted what was already available, prompting the big three to make similar moves.
More recently, MyRepublic started to offer super affordable data only mobile plans, again forcing the three telcos to put in countermeasures.
15. ViewQwest – Vignesa Moorthy
While MyRepublic sets its sights on the mobile market, CEO Vignesa Moorthy is taking his ISP company, ViewQwest into a whole other direction.
Their destination? Smart homes.
To show how serious they are in going this direction, they have been bundling smart home products with their subscription plans, as well as providing much-needed training at their showrooms.
At its core, ViewQwest is still an internet service provider, and in September this year, they completed their expansion into Malaysia, marking the first time that a Singaporean ISP broke into that market.
From traditional ‘tech’ companies and entrepreneurs, we now go into the realm of startups where a new generation is using technology to improve everyday functions.
16. Garena – Forrest Li
Founded in 2009, Garena is Singapore’s first billion dollar internet company, and Southeast Asia’s largest startup.
Inspired by the many big company CEOs who came to speak during his time at Stanford, as well as the now-famous Steve Jobs commencement speech that gave us the line “stay hungry, stay foolish”, Forrest made the most of his time there by learning about how to grow a business.
Described as a cross between Tencent and Alibaba, Garena has entrenched itself into areas that goes beyond the gaming foundations on which the company was laid upon when they got the big break with Riot Games to be the platform for the highly-popular League of Legends game in Southeast Asia.
With their own media arm, e-commerce platform, and social platforms, they have grown much more than just a game publisher.
17. Tickled Media – Roshni Mahtani
When she started theAsianparent.com while she was living in the New York, Roshni Mahtani wasn’t even a parent herself but she found out herself what it was like to be one when babysitting children.
Due the endless questions these kids asked about her background, and being too far away from family to actually ask for Asian parenting tips, she turned to Google and found nothing.
Which is exactly why theAsianparent.com made sense. Nobody addressed the need for Asian parenting tips and advise, with her peers often feeling lost as they cannot relate to the many Western-style parenting resources which were readily available which was so unlike the way that they were raised by their parents.
In 6 years the site grew to become Southeast Asia’s largest parenting portal, expanding too all the way to India. Today Tickled Media is home to not just theAsianparent.com, but also other children and parenting platforms for the Asian demographic. Roshni even has a film under her, serving as Executive Producer for Untouchable: Children of God.
18. Honestbee – Joel Sng
It’s amazing that Honestbee is just a year old.
In that one year alone, co-founder Joel Sng has made Honestbee a household name, forever changing the way Singaporeans get their groceries, all through an app and having no inventory.
Growing quickly with partnerships with supermarkets, they expanded greatly within 6 months since its founding, and the service found itself going into three other cities in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Now, those in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are also enjoying their service.
It has grown to include more than just groceries, too.
As the number of merchants grew, so did the type of products available for users to purchase. Now, you can find artisanal foodstuffs, pet supplies, and wine stores. Honestbee has even delved into doing your laundry for you, all in the name of helping modern professionals lessen the burden of daily chores.
19. 99.co – Darius Cheung
99.co happened because Darius Cheung had trouble finding a home due to bad information floating around.
99.co is technology-driven to simplify the task of looking through properties online, with all the information clearly laid out for potential home buyers to scrutinise. 99.co is now home to property listings located in all corners of Singapore, varying from HDB units to landed properties for sale, as well as listings for properties that are available for rent.
This wasn’t his first tech based startup either.
Earlier in his career, Darius founded TenCube together with his team developed the WaveSecure anti-theft sotware for mobile platforms. TenCube eventually got acquired by software giant McAfee, where Darius spent some time. He left the company in a bid to figure out how to create a better ecosystem that is sustainable and healthy for the real estate industry in Singapore – and that’s where 99.co fits in.
20. Carousell – Quek Siu Rui
Carousell CEO Quek Siu Rui is perhaps at the forefront of a mobile marketplace revolution.
Together with founding members Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan, they created Carousell after a year long stint in Silicon Valley, putting the skills they acquired to good use by envisioning a peer-to-peer marketplace where NUS students could sell their things to each other.
What started out in a single school has now grown to become a widely-used marketplace app in 14 cities worldwide, reaching out to millions of buyers and sellers each day.
More recently, with their acquisition of Caarly, Carousell is now on course to become a destination for the car classifieds market. Yes, you can sell your car along with all your unused books and electronics!
From startups, we move to the people who support them. Helping to inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs, here are some of Venture Capitalists that are making a mark on local tech startups.
21. Jungle Ventures – Amit Anand
Managing partner of Jungle Ventures, Amit Anand is someone you will always bump into at startup networking events, at times even appearing as a guest speaker to share his experiences and give advice to startups and aspiring startup founders.
Together with co-founder Anurag Srivastava, they run Jungle Ventures, investing in early stage startups in Singapore and the region.
Jungle Ventures takes a slightly different approach when considering potential startups to invest in.
While they do appreciate ideas that coming from startups that are formed by younger people in, or fresh out of school, their main targets are actually startups by mid-career switchers and industry veterans.
These are people who are former executives, or ex-CEO/CTO/CFO of the bigger corporations, who are “leaving their jobs, knowing their industries inside out, wanting to disrupt their own industry. More seasoned, more experienced, going after very large ideas.”
22. Monk’s Hill Ventures – Peng T. Ong
This is a VC that was inspired by a secondary school of the same name where their founders hailed from.
Managing director of Monk’s Hill Ventures Ong Peng Tsin himself had been a long time entrepreneur, most famously known for being the founder of Match.com and Interwoven, both of which got acquired. After his stint in the US, he went into being venture capitalist during his time in China for three years, identifying and nurturing Chinese startups, before returning home.
Back in Singapore, he co-founded Monk’s Hill Ventures, and using what he has learnt as both an entrepreneur and a VC, created a VC that is more of a community entrepreneurs, which invests in startups in Singapore to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs where not only he funds them but also has a network of industry veterans ready to mentor them.
Among some of their successful startups have been logistics company Ninja Van, and mobile game developer Playlab.
23. Quest Ventures – James Tan
Lastly, we have Quest Ventures, and managing partner, James Tan.
With offices in both Singapore and Beijing, they have invested heavily in many recognisable tech startups in Singapore, some you have already seen on this list (99.co, Carousell), as well as some others like Shopback, Carro, and even the website you are reading this on.
An entrepreneur of 11 years of experience, James is largely based in China where he is the co-founder of 55tuan, one of the largest social e-commerce sites in China. He has steered Quest Ventures into becoming one of the leading VC firms in both China and Singapore, especially when investing in tech related startups.
The Singapore tech scene is certainly an amalgamation of the old and the new, with promising new companies poised to continue a state of renewal as the new gets old, and the old gets older.