For some youths, their dream job is to be self-made bosses. For Kendra Liew, Founder of I Love Katfood, and Hong Kai, Co-Founder and CTO of Roceso Technologies, they have taken that step towards pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams – albeit a tough road they’ve had to navigate. Hear their personal stories on why and how they started, challenges they faced, experiences of starting businesses in Singapore, and why you should be following them right now.
25 August 2020 / By SGN
While their love for avocado toast is no secret, millennials also love breaking the status quo and chasing their dreams of being self-made bosses. However, it takes careful planning and sheer grit to launch the business of your dreams. We’re sharing the journey taken by two successful entrepreneurs who have overcome the odds and proved that age is nothing but a number.
Meet Kendra Liew, 32 years old, Founder of I Love Katfood
Back in November 2014, a fresh-eyed and ambitious 26-year old Kendra was juggling between her corporate job as a litigator and developing her dream skincare business, I Love Katfood. Everything changed when she was given an ultimatum. “My boss offered me two options – either work full-time or leave. I chose to leave and never looked back,” recalled Kendra.
Meet Hong Kai Yap, 29 years old, Co-founder and CTO of Roceso Technologies
Thailand has announced stimulus worth US$60 billion to revive its economy, forecasted by the finance ministry to contract 8.5% this year. This is the biggest-ever cash injection from the government in history.
For Hong Kai, what started as a research topic when he was pursuing his PhD in NUS, turned into an opportunity for him to apply soft robotics in the healthcare industry. His Singapore-based MedTech startup produced EsoGLOVE, one of the world’s lightest hand rehabilitation and exoskeleton device.
Making it onto the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list, he shares, “I developed a passion to develop technologies that could augment people’s life, thus Roceso Technologies was founded”.
- First decree: authorizes the finance ministry to borrow about THB 1 trillion to fund the government’s economic and social rehabilitation
- Second decree: authorizes the Bank of Thailand to provide THB 500 billion soft loans to support SMEs
- Third decree: supports bond market liquidity with THB 400 billion via the Corporate Bond Stabilization Fund (BSF), established jointly by the finance ministry and the Bank of Thailand
#Selfmade entrepreneurs pursuing their passion to help others
Today, young entrepreneurs are quickly realising that they can pursue their dreams and produce new products to improve people’s lives.
Kendra was inspired to start I Love Katfood after seeing a gap in the number of all-natural skincare products in Singapore. “When we started in 2014, natural skincare products were still a niche, so I created a range of food-based skincare basics at an attractive price to quality ratio.”
For Hong Kai, “Roceso Technologies was founded with the mission to empower people with neurological disorders and disabilities through innovations and technologies.” Their product, EsoGLOVE, is a wearable glove that provides assistance to patient’s hand movements and has won multiple awards, including the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors’ Award 2018 and Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES) Prestigious Engineering Achievement Awards 2017.
The perks of starting in Singapore
To young people looking for entrepreneurial advice, both Kendra and Hong Kai are keen to share what they have learnt over the years. For one, setting up your company in pro-business environments like Singapore is very important. Hong Kai shares,
“Singapore itself is a very strong brand globally, the tax frameworks are very attractive and the environment here is relatively stable and reliable”.
When Kendra wanted to launch her first start-up, Singapore was a no-brainer. She adds, “It is so easy to start and maintain a business here and even though I currently reside in Europe, I can easily perform my business-related transactions online… Plus, Singapore is so economically integrated that expanding to Southeast Asia is pretty seamless.”
For those curious about venturing into MedTech, Hong Kai reckons that “the sector in Singapore is growing exponentially due to government support and investments, allowing companies to fast-track the development and commercialisation of technologies. Most of the healthcare clusters have internal teams to accelerate clinical innovations and adoption. They are very open to allowing local companies to test out their product in a clinical setting.”
With a little help from the squad
Starting a business at such a young age is bound to have its fair share of challenges. However, successful entrepreneurs know the strength of tapping on networks to gain valuable advice and tips. Kendra reveals, “I discovered that there was an entire community of young entrepreneurs in Singapore just like me and we organically supported each other.”
Hong Kai also hopped on several programmes to help grow his company. “We are part of the Joint University Medtech Programme (JUMPstart), which supported us in training and helped to build connections in MedTech. It has provided us with intensive mentorship, business and product development, industry collaboration, and capital raising support.”
Funding your dreams
Whether it is to support cash flow, expansion goals, or day-to-day operations, all start-ups need capital and funding. Good news – there are lots of subsidies and government grants out there to tap on!
Kendra has applied for several subsidies including IT automation, skills training and most recently, the Pre-scoped Productivity Solutions offered by Enterprise Singapore for her accounting software needs. “The application procedures are easy and the assistance provided is very substantial,” she says. “I’m blown away by the level of government support we have received and as a young business owner, I am very grateful.”
Staying true to the hustle
Despite starting with little knowledge about the industry, both Kendra and Hong Kai persevered and overcame many speed bumps.
For Kendra, “gathering the courage and know-how to start was the key challenge. I pretty much knew nothing except that I wanted to sell natural skincare. Where did I begin? I began by just doing.”
Similarly, Hong Kai says his company “received a lot of support and guidance from our ecosystem and community. With the team’s hard work, Roceso Technologies has progressed rapidly and received ISO13485:2016 certification in early 2018 after establishing a robust quality management system. Our first product, EsoGLOVE has since received FDA, CE and HSA approvals.”
Here is their advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs out there:
- Be open, almost hungry, for advice and knowledge
- Talk to people and don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Be humble and have a willingness to learn
Even during the pandemic, there’s also an opportunity for entrepreneurs to stay resilient and adapt to the changing demands. Hit by COVID-19, “Roceso has experienced business slow down and patients are unable to receive rehabilitation services in many countries. Thus, we started EsoGLOVE rental program to offer home solutions for patients.” As a result, they are discussing with the Singapore government on providing tele-rehabilitation, remote therapy and a future senso-based platform to enable the effectiveness of home therapy.
Allow your passion to become your purpose
For those eager to begin their journey to being #selfmade bosses, Hong Kai shares that it is important to “constantly ask yourself whether you enjoy the pursuit regardless of the outcome.” Kendra reckons to “go with the flow, take input and feedback constructively, and try to view every idea you have to discard as a learning opportunity rather than a defeat.”
We hope you’ve gained a little #inspo from the journeys of these millennial entrepreneurs and the paths they have taken to lead them where they are today. Launching a new business has its fair share of challenges. However, pursuing your goal with passion, having the courage to ask questions and being open to new opportunities can set you on the path to success!