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Women behind EE winner's success

(From left) Too Heng-Phon, founder of MiRXES; Alvin Tay, editor of The Business Times; Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry; Nelson Yap, managing director of Benjamin Barker; Henry Chan, chief executive of ShopBack; Gabriel Tan, project director of Innovfusion; Linus Goh, head of global commercial banking at OCBC Bank; and Joshua Tan, creative director of CraveFX.


THEY say that behind every successful man is a woman, but in the case of Nelson Yap, founder and managing director of Benjamin Barker, it should be "women" instead.

The homegrown menswear label was one of three triumphant firms to bag top honours at the 2016 Emerging Enterprise Awards (EE 2016).

It was the first business award for Benjamin Barker in its seven years of operations, and Mr Yap professed that a lot of the credit went to his twin pillars of support.

"I'm very thankful to two women in my life: my wife, and my mum … My mum was the one who supported me when I first started," he said. "Business can be very stressful; it's usually the wife at home who hears all about the ups and downs, and she has been incredibly encouraging throughout the whole process."

Organised by The Business Times and OCBC Bank, EE honours promising emerging enterprises that are younger than 10 years old and with an annual sales turnover of not more than S$15 million.

Into its ninth year, EE is the only annual entrepreneurial award in Singapore to celebrate such businesses, and was on Friday night graced by Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.

At a gala dinner at the St Regis Hotel, Dr Koh handed out the night's top award to two other firms - medical technology company Innovfusion and e-commerce cashback platform ShopBack.

The trio each received S$500,000 in prizes, comprising consultancy services, executive education programmes and support in capability development offered by the various EE 2016 partners - including a S$200,000 two-year interest-free business overdraft facility from OCBC.

The awards are supported by MasterCard, Acorn Marketing and Research Consultants, Insead, Spring Singapore, Singtel, Maxus and RSM, which is also the official auditor for the awards.

Said OCBC head of emerging business Eric Ong: "What sets the winners apart is their ability to capitalise on new consumer trends and needs to come up with first-of-its-kind solutions by ingeniously leveraging innovation and technology to do so."

And it was innovation indeed, that helped Innovfusion (it's even in its name) nab the top prize. The medtech startup created, in collaboration with KK Women's and Children's Hospital, a pump that matches the amount of epidural analgesia administered to the demand of a patient during labour. Dubbed Epiva, the pump relies on an algorithm system to calibrate the amount of epidural to discharge in each dose to meet the patient's need for pain relief.

To get to where it is, however, took a "very supportive" mother figure behind the firm's father-and-son team, Theodore and Gabriel Tan.

"The mother is the most important figure, and she has been very encouraging and always supporting us in what we are doing," said the elder Mr Tan, who is the firm's managing director. "It's the love and the concern she has for the family that drives us further, it makes us more determined to work harder every day."

For ShopBack chief executive Henry Chan, meanwhile, his "mother figure" has been the ShopBack team.

He said: "I think it's an interesting testament to our hard work and all the effort that the team has put in. (But) there's really a lot more to do, we are still a very young company - just two years in - and hopefully we can grow more."

Apart from the main award, trophies were also presented to two firms in other categories - MiRXES (an A*Star spinoff that aims to revolutionise cancer detection by offering affordable blood test kits in place of current diagnostic methods) and digital film production firm CraveFX.

MiRXES took home the Most Promising Startup Award and S$30,000 worth of digital consultancy services from Maxus, while CraveFX came up tops in the Best Innovation Award and S$80,000 in prizes.

Perhaps the night's glitz and glamour was best summed up by ShopBack's Mr Chan. "Celebrate tonight, tomorrow go back to work, push hard, change the world."