SPECIAL REPORT

From Problem to Profit

by Ara Luna-Reston
02 Sep 2020

Several homegrown companies in Singapore seize business opportunities that are surprisingly growing from a cracked economy.

No one saw it coming: Job losses, pay cuts, an economic downturn. Many homegrown brands in Singapore saw the year 2020 as a promising start to the decade in terms of revenue growth, company expansions, and boundless innovation before COVID-19 hit. As the country bears witness to the pandemic slowly shutting down enterprises, select small and medium businesses have found entrepreneurial opportunities – and continue to thrive – in the middle of the chaos.

  • AS CLEAN AS IT GETS
  • BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
  • CLOSING KNOWLEDGE GAPS

As Clean as it Gets

Eliminating all traces of the virus is paramount to curb COVID-19 transmission. On 9 May 2020, companies in Singapore have since been subjected by the state to a set of Safe Management Measures, which include thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting all relevant on-site areas before they are allowed to resume operations. There is a continuous demand for enhanced cleaning services, according to the National Environment Agency – and homegrown cleaning company Primech has been rising to the occasion.

“Our cleaning services primarily upkeep our B2B clients’ facilities to enhance their value, image, and branding,” Primech chief executive Vernon Kwek says. “But now with the frequent calls for extra stringent disinfection services from commercial establishments, workplaces, and residential areas, we needed to diversify our menu to keep up with these new growing demands.”

To ensure that Primech delivers without a hitch amid the pandemic, Kwek says that they have procured additional sanitation equipment and added better chemical disinfectants into their cleaning arsenal. “We have started to use antimicrobial nano-coating. Once applied on any surface, the special formulation instantly kills bacteria and viruses upon contact,” he explains.

Primech has also incorporated artificial intelligence (AI) and technology into their operations with the D’Mister, a robotic cleaning machine. It features UV disinfection lamps and a 360˚ nozzle spray that wipes out harmful microbes in seconds. “There are clients who are even interested in purchasing or leasing the D’Mister from us,” Kwek shares.

Primech rolled out a home, office, and specialised cleaning online portal, HomeHelpy, as well. With just a few taps, customers can select their desired cleaning service and make the payment at the HomeHelpy app. Kwek says that launching the portal helped them leverage on the consumer’s increased use of technology during the quarantine period.

“COVID-19 has caused a significant economic impact on the world,” the cleaning firm boss reflects. “But we are also positive that the pandemic also brings about new opportunities that we can look forward to."

“COVID-19 has caused a significant economic impact on the world, but we are also positive that the pandemic also brings about new opportunities.” – Vernon Kwek, Primech chief executive
  • AS CLEAN AS IT GETS
  • BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
  • CLOSING KNOWLEDGE GAPS

Best Seats in the House

When working from home became the default working mode for all companies in Singapore, ErgoEdge saw a whopping 500% increase in monthly revenue, according to founder and managing director Joshua Chan. The young office furniture label ErgoEdge designs and sells ergonomic products across three brands: ErgoTune for office chairs, AmpDesk for height-adjustable desks, and ErgoBloom for children’s ergonomic products.

“The work-from-home setup has positively impacted our financial achievements because teleworkers realize the importance of investing in ergonomic office furniture. They want products that eliminate niggling aches and pains, and prevent chronic stress-related body injuries,”Chan says. “And with home delivery also becoming the preferred option by most shoppers, I feel fortunate to ride on the e-commerce trend because ErgoEdge has been an online store since day one.”

The ErgoEdge head shares that part of their success is that they have an extremely streamlined web platform: Easily readable product information pages, user-friendly furniture customization options, and a seamless payment process. Chan also says working directly with factories and selling the products via the e-commerce platform allow them to price their items competitively.

To further boost their revenue streams, ErgoEdge’s corporate sales staff now heavily liaises with the human resources department instead of the procurement/ supplies unit. “Our strategy is to educate corporations like Amazon and Google on the importance of having the right tools to work from home using our products,” Chan says.

As a homegrown company that is fortuitously making profits in the pandemic, Chan greatly empathizes with retrenched Singaporeans by hiring more local staff. “We tapped on government schemes such as the SGUnited Traineeships Programme and Professional Conversion Programme,” he says. “These programmes help companies build a strong local talent base, as well as aid fellow professionals with transitioning to a digital economy.”

Chan says that ErgoEdge will continue to adopt this spirit of innovation as the company expands internationally and creates new products. “I hope that our experience during the pandemic encourages other local entrepreneurs to soldier on,” he adds. “We wish them all the best in navigating these difficult times.”

“The work-from-home setup has positively impacted our financial achievements because teleworkers realize the importance of investing in ergonomic office furniture." – Joshua Chan, ErgoEdge founder
  • AS CLEAN AS IT GETS
  • BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE
  • CLOSING KNOWLEDGE GAPS

Closing Knowledge Gaps

Alicia Cheong co-founded Geniebook with one goal in mind: To simplify home-based learning for school-age children. Today, the online learning platform provider has grown to be an assessment-led learning tool that effectively patterns lessons according to a child’s academic performance.

“Learning often follows a one-size-fits-all model, which may result in some students getting left behind in certain topics,” observes Cheong, who is also Geniebook’s chief revenue officer. “Every child has their unique strengths and challenges, and we believe in gathering data to craft a personalized learning journey for them.”

To help students confidently master their areas of difficulty, Geniebook requires them to fill out the Ministry of Education Syllabus-relevant worksheets. At the same time, the platform’s proprietary AI technology analyzes the answers. A tailor-made lesson plan is then generated to meet the child’s learning needs.

Pre-pandemic, Geniebook has been offering four classes per month for the Live Online Lessons. These ‘live’ sessions allow students to ask questions from highly trained teachers directly. When Singapore schools shifted to full home-based learning mode amid the outbreak from 8 April to 4 May 2020, there was an uptick in demand for these real-time classes. Thus, Cheong says that they doubled the number of Live Online Lessons as home-based learning slowly became the norm.

“In these uncertain economic times, parents are generally extra wary when it comes to spending,” Cheong observes. “Still, we see that their child’s education remains among their top priorities. As a result, Geniebook’s revenue this fiscal year, fortunately, remains unaffected.” So far, Cheong says that the game plan for Geniebook is to stay relevant no matter what. “We are constantly exploring ways to improve the user experience of students and parents alike,” she states. “In fact, we have been employing more teachers, engineers, and data scientists, as well as adding innovative technologies to take personalized learning to new levels further.”