New year, new ventures

A group of enterprising individuals shares how they're making a fresh start in 2021 with a change in careers or business opportunities.

Tay Suan Chiang
Published Fri, Jan 22, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Jenny Ang, managing director, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne's Singapore

WHEN it comes to building a career, there are the movers and the stayers - those who easily segue from one industry or company to another every few years, and those who stick with the same employer throughout their career. Jenny Ang would have fit into the second category, if not for an opportunity that beckoned.

She took the plunge from managing a music school to launching a hospitality school when she left her role as a deputy director at the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music to become the managing director for Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne's (EHL) campus in Singapore. Reputed to be one of the top hospitality schools in the world, Ms Ang is heading its first overseas campus.

"The opportunity came at the right time for me, in my forties," says the 41-year-old who was in charge of artistic administration and strategic development at YST. Besides an honours degree in Piano Performance from Trinity College of Music, she also has an Executive MBA from Aalto University in Finland.

The latter gives her the business skills that she needs, despite her lack of hospitality experience, she says. That, plus her Asian outlook and experience in running a school. Her decision to switch careers was also to show her two teenage daughters that career progression is possible at any age. "My daughters saw me go through the EMBA studies several years ago and continuing to find opportunities. It's important for me, as a mother, that they see me evolve," she says.

Now that she has stepped comfortably into her new role, it is full speed ahead to get the campus at Lady Hill Road ready for its students in September. The Singapore campus offers a Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Managament.

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She is in the midst of setting up her team of both faculty and administration personnel, as well as the IT system so that hyflex elements can be included in the educational model. She also wants to develop EHL's presence in South-east Asia, "such as giving more opportunities to Southeast Asian students to study in Singapore, or for our alumni members to work with regional communities."

The differences between music and hospitality are not so stark for her yet. "They both aim to tell a story and deliver an experience," she says. "Perhaps with hospitality, you have to make it profitable from day one, whereas with the arts, you can still depend on your patrons for support."

Ms Ang adds that there is no better time than now to have a higher education institution for hospitality in Singapore. After all, there has been a growth in the number of five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. "And with more professionals interested in starting their own restaurants, there should be a space for those who want to pursue their passion in hospitality," she says.

She isn't too bothered that the hospitality sector has been hit hard during this pandemic, knowing that people are itching to travel and this sector will flourish again.

"Our opening now is the perfect time to get ready students for the new future in hospitality," she says.

Sean Low, co-founder of

SEAN Low isn't one to shy away from talking about taboo subjects. In his previous role as product lead for an end-of-life tech start up, he dealt with issues such as cremation, estate administration and wills. He's since left the company to start his own firm, Noah, a digital health clinic for men.

The 25-year-old who is in the pink of health now helps men who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), premature ejaculation (PE) or hair loss.

"Death and impotence are both taboo areas," he says. "But it boiled down to whether I wanted to build somebody else's rocketship or do I want to build my own," he says, on the decision to start his own firm.

He believes he found a sweet spot in helping men. "No one likes visiting the doctor whether it is for the flu or something more serious. Especially so when it comes to sensitive conditions, or having to speak about our more intimate parts. We all also know that machismo sometimes gets in the way too."

He adds that in Singapore, there is often a lack of understanding and conversation surrounding men's health issues. "When it comes to ED, PE and even hair loss, they are aptly referred to as 'by-the-way' conditions. Noah removes the hassle and embarrassment of going down and having those awkward conversations in-person." It has over 8,000 users currently - older men tend to seek treatment for ED, while younger men turn to Noah for hair loss problems.

Users fill up an online medical evaluation form before going on a video call with one of Noah's three doctors, and followup sessions are arranged too.

Consultations are free. Users pay only for the medication which is delivered in discreet pouches for free within four hours.

"Telemedicine is definitely here to stay. The pandemic has accelerated its adoption, and globally, people are experiencing first-hand how telemedicine can increase healthcare accessibility and affordability," says Mr Low.

While there are no plans to start a similar platform for women, Mr Low says he has received lots of inquiries about other areas of care for men and will be addressing those in the near future.

Kelvin Chan, founder of Furniche

YOU could say Kelvin Chan is constantly thinking on his feet. After a decade working in the events industry, where he specialised in planning and logistics, he noticed that there was a gap in the market for specialty furniture rentals.

"Most of the furniture provided were run-of-the-mill, so I created Furniche.Co to offer more options for event organisers," says Mr Chan. That was in 2018, when the firm leased out stylish and unconventional furniture for events.

Building on the experience he gained from running Furniche.Co and his passion for furniture design, Mr Chan has now launched Furniche Plus because "it felt like a natural extension."Furniche Plus is an online shop that retails furnishings and homewares inspired by utilitarian design.

"There is no decoration and each piece is prized for its functionality. I have a personal appreciation for these products and believe in each maker's ethos," says Mr Chan. They include simple but stylish stackable plastic boxes, round containers that double as planters, galvanised steel shelves and steel tool boxes.

Mr Chan says that he has always wanted to start a business selling well-designed products.

"In the wake of the pandemic, Furniche.Co's business was severely affected by a spate of cancelled events. I wanted to launch Furniche Plus so that the overall business model is not entirely dependent on events," he says.

"The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the home, so we see a demand for smart storage solutions or thoughtful pieces to would make it a better respite for people."

Gidania Wong, founder of

MOTHER of two, Gidania Wong runs a successful boutique public relations firm and a website dedicated to mums. As if she isn't busy enough, Ms Wong recently ventured into the retail business with SOVA, a range of high quality mulberry silk products that can enhance wellbeing and improve quality of life.

"SOVA was conceived during the Circuit Breaker. All of my events were halted overnight and the situation did not seem to get any better so I needed a new challenge and to expand my revenue stream into another sector, since my current businesses were undergoing a lull period," says Ms Wong.

She has been a fan of silk since her early 20s and uses silk pillow cases and sheets because of the many benefits it brings, such as its temperature balancing, hypoallergenic, anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle properties. Ms Wong says silk pillow cases help her sleep better.

"The rise of silk as a beauty product has been ongoing for the past two years, with K-pop stars using silk accessories, giving the age-old silk a modern makeover. I wanted to start the line with smaller accessories that would be easy to complement any lifestyle," she says.

SOVA, which means sleep in Swedish, comprises a range of pillowcases, eye masks, headbands and scrunchies.

Ms Wong isn't daunted by her lack of experience in retail. "My expertise is in marketing and promotion so that aspect of the business is familiar ground but I'm excited for all the little steps that are happening to this business, such as photography, styling, packaging, finding stockists, customer service and fulfilling orders," she says. "Retail is not an easy game but I love thinking of creative ways to market and promote the products."

This year, she plans to expand the product line and distribution channels. "I would also like to conduct sleep workshops to discuss the importance of sleep and how it impacts lives," she says.

Soukaina, Boutaina and Amira Faruq, founders of

LIKE most people around the world, sisters Soukaina, Boutaina and Amira Faruq spent much of 2020 working from home. They work in their parents' textile business, which manufactures and exports knitwear, lingerie and activewear from Bangladesh to retailers around the world.

"We spent a lot of time living and working from home, and I'm sure for many, home started to lose its comforting qualities and even became stressful or mundane at times," says eldest sister Boutaina Faruq.

The idea that the home should be a place for comfort, peace and solitude inspired the sisters to create their own sleepwear brand called Rawbought. "We wanted to create pyjamas that reminded people of how soothing it can be to curl up on the couch, or in bed and take time for yourself. But also make sure that the women wearing our PJs feel beautiful and confident while doing so," says Ms Faruq. Rawbought is made in Bangladesh, and having grown up in the textile industry, the sisters are conscious of the environmental and socio-economic impact it has on the world. "We're constantly striving to employ sustainable and ethical methods of production, from materials to manpower," says Ms Faruq. Rawbought pieces are made using modal, a semi-synthetic fabric made from beech tree pulp. Modal is silky to touch, breathable and considered to be an eco-friendlier alternative to cotton.

The sisters' backgrounds also give them an advantage in knowing what customers want. "As the eldest sister and a mother, my days are hectic and I prioritise fashion that allows me to go about my day so versatility is key," says Ms Faruq. "My second sister Soukaina, on the other hand, is very style conscious, so clothes that make her look and feel good are her priority. Lastly, comfort is what drives my youngest sister Amira."

For 2021, they hope to expand their business outside of Singapore, open a store, and also create a men's sleepwear range.

Veronica Chau and Alvin Tan, founders of Emery &

LIKE most businesses owners, Veronica Chau and Alvin Tan saw business for their creative agency, The Ad Makers, slow down last year.

Rather than fret about the loss of revenue, they decided that it was the right time to launch a new product, namely nail wraps.

As a busy working mum, Ms Chau was on the lookout for quick and fuss-free beauty solutions. A friend introduced her to nail wraps. "I appreciated the ease of use and having beautiful nails in 10 minutes and I could do it anywhere, anytime," says Ms Chau.

The duo explored the idea of developing their own nail wraps in 2019, but never had the time to work on it properly. "The downtime we experienced during Circuit Breaker was the impetus we needed to get cracking. Fortunately, we already had resources on hand," says Ms Chau. The Ad Makers' designers worked on the designs while Mr Tan worked on the e-commerce, supply and logistics to get Emery & Co products to the market as soon as possible.

Nail wrap brands are plenty, but Ms Chau says what makes Emery & Co. different are its designs. "Our design aim is to allow our customers to carry littles pieces of art right on their nails. Most of the designs focus on the play of graphics, illustrations, lines and colours," says Ms Chau.

Mr Tan says developing a consumer product has allowed him to see a different side of business. "We have helped to build our clients' brands over the years through The Ad Makers and we now leverage on the knowledge and experiences gained to build Emery & Co."

In the process, "we get to make business decisions to adopt new technologies and test new strategies, and from there, we're able to service our clients better."


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