Technopreneurs chart realistic route to success

"Find a good established partner" and "hang in there."

These phrases formed the thread of recent presentations by four local technopreneurs in a panel discussion on the biggest obstacles faced by budding technopreneurs, and how to overcome these.

"If you don't build your references, it'll kill you," said Leslie Loh, chairman and chief executive officer, System Access. The Singapore company whose flagship software, Symbols, is used by banks internationally, got a strong boost by partnering Oracle.

"You will have to know how to add value to the partner by providing a product that would complement your partner. In the process, we used Oracle's distribution channel for our products," Loh continued.

V Suresh, president and chief executive officer of SR Singapore, also stressed the importance of such alliances. The IT consulting services company too chose to ally Oracle.

"A start-up's products would not be visible, so they must work with partners," he said.

Strong emphasis on developing their intellectual property, would help firms better leverage its products, added said Steve Ting, managing director, Frontline Technologies Holdings, a provider of integrated IT products and services.

The panelists also highlighted the difficulty of raising capital through financial institutions here.

"Unfortunately banks in this part of world are not aware of [the viability of] electronic-commerce. They look at it as an intangible asset, and are very concerned over whether it would work successfully. So we went to the United States to get a listing on the OTC market, and we plan to get on the main board there this year," said Suresh of SR.

Another Singapore-owned company that also had went to America to get itself started and continues to have its headquarters there, is MyWebInc.com. It is a portal and Internet-based software developer, said Danny Toe, its chief operating officer.

"We went to Silicon Valley because of the availability of funds there," he said. "There we enjoyed the 'networking effect' with organisations that are receptive to our type of business."

"Fortunately there is the availability of government funding for local start-ups here," lauded Loh.

As the path to success is never paved with gold, Suresh advised the audience, "Don't give up."

"Patience pays off," added Loh.

"If you don't need money, don't sell off your equity too early. Manage your expenses well and measure performance," suggested Frontline's Ting.

Admitting that the difficulty to raise funds can make it very tempting at times to accept acquisition offers, Loh of Systems Access suggested a way around the matter.

"If your product is expected to take x years to take off, fund it by stages," he said.

Also expect huge salary cuts, said Ting.

"If the people in your enterprise are good technically but bad at marketing, get a good marketing person on board, even if you have to pay that person more than yourself."

Getting a good team together is important. Offering stock options to employees could be a very strong tool to secure the services of key senior executives, said Loh.

"But don't give too much stock too fast," he cautioned.

MyWeb's Toe, however, does not think that stock options are a very good idea for now.

"Offering stock options is a new concept in Singapore. It is not as appealing here as it would be in Hong Kong, for example, where the entrepreneurial spirit is strong. Also employees here would want to be assured of the potential to exercise stock."

"Stocks do fluctuate," echoed panel chairman and moderator, Dr Arnoud De Meyer, director-general of the Europe-Asia Centre.

"With business being global now, it's almost impossible to preempt competition. Enterprises must therefore have business processes that react to changes first," said Toe All said, the bottom line to technopreneurship is basic business instinct.

"Entrepreneurs should have great vision," Ting summarised.

Chart: Getting Started

1. Write a good business plan.

2. Engage legal assistance. Most people don't know the law. Spend on a corporate lawyer.

3. Attract talents.

4. Motivate. Ensure that your people accept your vision.

5. Have a strategic plan. Work with big corporations for wide visibility.

6. Take risks.

(Source: V Suresh, president & CEO, SR Singapore.)

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