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Posts Tagged ‘success’

Will Singapore become the “entrepreneurship capital” of South East Asia?

Monday, May 28th, 2012

There are various reasons why entrepreneurship has not traditionally thrived in Asia.  Relatively speaking, US culture regards failure in business as a positive part of the learning process, and therefore Americans are more inclined to take risks.  Asian culture, however, is less forgiving of failure.  In addition, Hugh Mason (Chief Executive of Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI)) explains that the traditional method in Asian schools is “all about getting the right answer”, and that “being smart sometimes weighs against entrepreneurship”.

Traditionally Singapore has been considered by many in the business world as a gateway to South East Asia, as it represents a relatively small market of five million people.  Investors often choose to temporarily place their money in Singapore before investing in larger markets in the region such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.  However Angel investors and venture capital funds are increasingly seeking investment opportunities in Singapore itself.

A growing number of educational institutions are running entrepreneurship programmes and providing mentoring opportunities; and the Singaporean government are actively removing regulatory barriers in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship.  Ron Mahabir (found of Asia Cleantech Capital) states that “While the government has done a great job of loans and grant programmes, culturally it’s very difficult to push entrepreneurship very quickly.”  Change, however, is undoubtedly underway in Singapore.  In fact, according to the WorldBank, Singapore ranks at Number One in the world “for ease of doing business, and Number Four “for starting a business”.

Singapore-based JFDI is working in partnership with SingTel [a subsidiary of a major telecommunications company] to run an accelerator programme for start-ups from around Asia.  This program allocates start-up teams from around the South East Asia with mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and specialists for 100 days, after which the start-ups can pitch to investors.  Wong Meng Weng (who helped start JFDI) says, “I see Singapore as the technology and start-up capital of South East Asia, not unlike the US where you recruit from around the world and get them to come into Silicon Valley”.

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Michelle Mone

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Michelle Mone is one of the UK’s most successful female entrepreneurs.

Born and brought up in Glasgow, Ms Mone left school at 15 with no qualifications, and successfully found full-time employment at Labatt Brewers.  By the age of 20 she was running their sales and marketing team, but became inspired to start her own business.  Based upon her desire to invent a bra “more comfortable, more innovative, more attractive and more cleavage enhancing than any other bra on the market”, she set up MJM International in 1996.

Ms Mone says that her biggest challenge early on was securing finance, but that she took risks which eventually paid off.  One bold move was to send one of her products (– a bra in her “Ultima” range) to the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts’ stylist.  Her initiative paid off when Julia Roberts wore an Ultimo bra to enhance her cleavage in the film Erin Brockovich in 2000 – and this exposure [excuse the pun!] is what made Michelle Mone’s lingerie famous.  While she has since gone from strength to strength, she has experienced the odd set-back along the way – such as the time when a distributor purloined £1.6m of her money.  She regards such incidents as part of the learning process, however; and in this instance she has put procedures in place to prevent any misappropriations from occurring again.  Ever optimistic she states, “The best piece of advice is always to think of plan B in case plan A fails, and kick in with plan B as soon as you think it’s failing.  Don’t be scared of changing your mind – go with your instinct.”

Over the years MJM International has created a number of brands in addition to Ultimo; and has supplied retailers including Selfridges, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda, Next, Figleaves, MaxCleavage and ASOS, along with a number of independent lingerie stores across Europe.  It has also developed a range of worldwide patented inventions including the Ultimo Miracle backless body.  In 2009 Ultimo became the first UK lingerie brand to debut on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week and several in-shop boutiques within Debenhams in key cities across the UK.

In addition, MJM has developed partner lines with Tesco, Asda and Debenhams.  Ms Mone says, “You’ve got to decide why each retail partner would want your product. We don’t give every partner the same things. It has to be individual and give them a unique selling point. You have to treat each retailer individually, and listen to their needs.”

Michelle Mone has received a large number of awards and accolades over the years, including an Honorary Doctorate degree by Paisley University in 2002.  In 2005 she attended a speaking engagement with former US president Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, and went on to support the Sultan of Oman in setting up a women’s enterprise project in the Middle East.  She has even received an OBE by the Queen for her contribution to business in 2010.

Michelle Mone declares, “I’m not the typical businesswoman in a pin-stripe suit; I dress the way I want to dress. If you want to be glamorous, then why not!  Walking into a meeting well groomed, with your lipstick on and high heels, makes you feel good. I use my femininity to its full effect!”

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Karren Brady

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

You probably recognise Karren Brady from the BBC’s popular series The Apprentice.

Starting her career in advertising at the tender age of 18, she first worked at Saatchi & Saatchi and then Sport Newspapers Ltd where she became Director within a year.  In 1993, aged 23 she bought and became the Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club, launching the Club on the Stock market in 1997 – becoming in the process the youngest Managing Director of a PLC in the UK.  Despite undergoing an operation for a brain aneurysm in 2006, Brady went from strength to strength in the business world; and when she sold her business in 2009, it was valued at over £82million.

From then on, her list of credentials is so numerous, it almost becomes tedious!  In January 2010 she was appointed Vice Chairman of West Ham United FC, generating a trading profit for the first time in several years.  In addition she has been on the Boards of various companies and enterprises such as Mothercare PLC, Channel 4 Television and Arcadia.

She has been the subject of a BBC 1 Inside Story documentary; participated in the aforementioned The Apprentice; featured on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs; presented shows on ITV; written four books; worked as a columnist at The Sun newspaper and Women & Home magazine; launched her own magazine Today’s Business Woman; and won numerous awards.  She also works as Ambassador for various charities.

Karren Brady is now estimated to be worth £82 million ($131 million).  In her latest book, Strong Woman: Ambition, Grit and a Great Pair of Heels, she admits she only took three days off after the birth of her first child, and that it was wrong of her to prioritise her career over her family.  She stresses that women should not succumb to pressures of “having it all” as she has done in the past.  Off To See My Lawyer quite agree, but at the same time we cannot help but admire what she has achieved!

Intelligent Textiles: Asha Peta Thompson

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

To kick start your Wednesday, here is an inspiring story about an ambitious textiles student who has ended up with a contract designing innovative fabrics for the Ministry of Defence, worth several billions of pounds!

While studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Asha Peta Thompson was initially interested in experimenting with textiles to find ways of imparting the National Curriculum to children with special educational needs.  In turn this led to Thompson gaining a research grant from Brunel University’s Design for Life project, where she met, and started to work with, Dr Stan Swallow, a lecturer with a background in engineering.

It is a well-known phenomenon that some of the world’s best inventions synthesise art and science, and so it proved to be the case when Thompson’s expertise in textiles combined with Swallow’s knowledge of electronics, to spawn various revolutionary types of weaves.  The pair secured various patents on their designs under the trading name “Intelligent Textiles”; and they were awarded a private grant through the University – which led to the construction of a custom loom in Switzerland.

The prospects of success for a number of Thompson’s products (such as a fabric QWERTY keyboard) initially looked promising, but ultimately did not take off in the market.

Thompson’s hard work finally paid off, however, when she exhibited some of her weaves in Canada and one of her innovations attracted the interest of the Canadian military.  This fabric, when squeezed, forms an electric switch – allowing power and data to be transmitted wirelessly through cloth.  For the next three years Intelligent Textiles worked on a project to prove that USB2 power and data could be transmitted around a soldier’s uniform.

Thompson was later head-hunted by the British MOD when conducting a presentation to NATO in Brussels, and soon after, Intelligent Textiles was granted funding by the MOD’s Centre for Defence Enterprise to develop a system which could lighten the burden for British soldiers.  Thompson’s innovative weave eradicates the need for wires, so that power can be transmitted from a backpack, through a uniform, up to a helmet and down to a glove, to potentially power a weapon.

Thompson states, “One of the problems we have with the fashion industry is they still promote [our work] as a craft, rather than a complicated exact science – just because we do it on wooden machines. There’s a lot more to it than that.”  However, she recommends working with the MOD to other entrepreneurs:  “We’ve found working with the military incredibly easy.  We’re talking and reassessing frequently and there’s also working groups that they invite industry to come and sit on, so we can understand the bigger picture of what they hope to do.”  She adds, “If small businesses are interested in working with the MOD and they already have IP, they might be put off by thinking that they want to own the IP.  In fact the beauty of working with the MOD is they don’t – they just want access to it.”

Thompson has only taken two holidays in the last 10 years, but her tireless endeavours have definitely been worth it, as Intelligent Textiles is poised to take a slice of the annual $28bn (£18bn) global soldier system budget in the next few years.

The Centre for Defence Enterprise is aligned with the government’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), which connects government departments in need of innovative solutions to businesses in the UK who have the potential to solve them. For more information on working with SBRI, visit:

[Article adapted from “The accidental entrepreneur on securing a major contract with the MoD – and why great innovation sells itself” by Georgina-Kate Adams,, 20 January 2012]