55 Inspiring millennials
AMELIA CHEN, 26 She creates app features to help couples stay in love.
The co-founder of Lovebyte, a couple app, and Lovebyte Mini Me, an avatar-making app, considers herself a “chief happiness officer” whose app features let couples reminisce relationship milestones, express their feelings with cute stickers and avatars, and surprise each other with suggested date ideas.
Investors initially shut down the idea of Lovebyte. “They said the app ‘wouldn’t go viral’, but we (herself and co-founder Steve Sng) proved them wrong. Within a week of its launch in July 2012, Lovebyte [made it to] the Singapore Apple App Store’s Featured section, and it has since been downloaded more than a million times. Last October, we were successfully acquired by Migme, a social media entertainment platform, and we’re now working on expanding our presence beyond South-east Asia.”
She listens to feedback and makes adjustments selectively. “Some couples e-mail us with requests to restore accounts that were deleted during a fight. It used to be impossible, but we’ve since added a two-week cool-down period for couples to temporarily disconnect. But we don’t take all feedback seriously – someone suggested making the app user-friendly for guys with multiple girlfriends. Needless to say, that idea was shot down!”
Making money was never her goal. “If it were, I wouldn’t have chosen to work in a tech start-up at all! Work is a big part of our lives, and I want to be doing something that I really enjoy.”
GLENDA SIM, 30 (left) & GEORGINA SIM, 26 They serve French pastries with Chinese tea.
For six months, sisters Glenda and Georgina Sim visited cafe after cafe in the name of research – they had plans to open a cafe, but first wanted to explore store concepts and observe how local businesses were run. The duo finally settled on a classic French theme (think white doors with gold trim and blackand- white photographs of Paris) – apt, considering that their shop, Les Delices (say lay-day-leece), is a French patisserie. After chancing upon a suitable space in Chinatown, the first-time entrepreneurs opened shop in January this year.
The offerings: classic French pastries, such as the Heavenly Chocolate Dome (which comprises five layers of Valrhona chocolate – heavenly, indeed!) and choux pastry in flavours such as Matcha, Earl Grey, and Sakura and Berry. But that’s not all. The patisserie also has a unique selling point: The desserts are paired with Chinese tea brewed from leaves that are sourced from local tea merchants based in Chinatown.
“We wanted to offer something that reflects our Chinese heritage and traditional upbringing. At home, our 98-year-old grandmother brews a pot of tea for the family after every meal – it’s a very Teochew thing – [so we decided to incorporate that into our store concept],” says Glenda, who manages the front of house and handles the dayto- day operations while Georgina, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in 2012, works her magic in the kitchen. “Our customers find the pairings really interesting, and tell us that they would definitely bring their parents here to try them out,” adds Georgina.
JOANNE NG, 32 She owns a chain of fishball noodle stalls.
Three things you need to know about this hawker who runs Ru Ji Kitchen, which has stalls at Old Airport Road Food Centre, Redhill Market & Food Centre, Block 44 Holland Drive and Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market & Food Centre:
1. Selling fishball noodles is not her dream job. However, she has always wanted to run her own business. The bonus that comes with taking over the business from her father, who started Ru Ji Kitchen more than 10 years ago, is that she gets to continue her dad’s legacy. “I love it whenever regular customers thank us for sustaining the stall, so their kids get to eat ‘oldschool’ food,” says Joanne.
2. The fishballs and fi sh cakes are handmade... ...by Joanne and her husband Daniel Lee, who get cracking at 4am to mould the fish paste by hand, prepare the chilli sauce and fry the pork lard. Even though Joanne’s dad guides them, she feels that “it will take years to master his skill”.
3. She agrees that being a hawker is unglam. “You work in a hot and stuffy environment, you can’t dress up and all your weekends are burnt,” says Joanne. “But don’t be put off by that if you’re considering becoming one. You can always hire workers to lighten your workload and shorten your working hours.”
NICOLE WONG, 26 She is one of Singapore’s top style influencers who champions lesserknown fashion brands.
Would you believe that this fashion influencer, who is with online talent management company Indie Collaborates, was once the antithesis of style? She even had a mullet – a look inspired by one of her elder brothers. Now, she’s sharpened up her style, has close to 43,000 followers on Instagram (@ncwong) and leads the fashion pack with minimalist menswearinspired ensembles.
Two of her must-haves: a camera and a tripod. “I handle all my shoots – in addition to researching shoot locations, and sourcing inspirations from Vogue and Tumblr – so I depend completely on my trusty Canon Powershot G1 X and tripod.”
To her, traditional media is a winner. “While it’s easy to get your fill of fashion news from blogs and social media these days, I still enjoy reading about fashion in magazines. There’s something different about seeing images in vivid colour in print.”
She actually has a day job. Since 2011, Nicole has been a marketer for Kevin Seah Bespoke, which offers tailored menswear. She says: “I get to learn the ins and outs of a fashion business, from accounting to production and knowing how to identify a wellconstructed outfit. I also get a steady income, which gives me the luxury of choosing which brands to work with in my capacity as a fashion influencer – brands that I believe in, and are in line with my personal style.
SANDRA TANG (left), 24, AND NARELLE KHENG, 21 They are part of local indie band The Sam Willows, who have performed in major international music events and caught the attention of a Grammywinning producer.
Although The Sam Willows became a Youtube sensation because of their cover versions of popular songs (their channel has more than 50,000 subscribers and boasts more than three million views), Narelle is quick to point out that they have two original songs in their repertoire – Nightlight and Glasshouse.
The latter was recorded and produced in 2013 by Steve Lillywhite – a five-time Grammy-Award-winning producer responsible for the sound on albums by U2 and The Killers – who was enamoured with the band’s sounds when he visited Singapore. Formed in 2012, the quartet comprises Sandra (who owns yoga studio The Yoga Co.), Narelle (who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Communication Studies at Nanyang Technological University), her brother Benjamin, and their friend Jonathan Chua.
Since their genesis, they have done covers of hits such as Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass – the video of this song is their most viewed Youtube video to date, with more than half a million views – and have toured North America, making stops in Texas (at the renowned South by Southwest music festival) as well as Toronto (for Canadian Music Week). The secret to their popularity? “We don’t hide who we are,” says Sandra, who insists they are the same on and off screen. “Performing songs helps us connect with people and share stories. Music is powerful like that.”
CHELSEA WAN, 31 She manages Singapore’s only American bullfrog farm.
Not many would pick a slimy amphibian for a pet, but Chelsea did. Six years ago, she raised an American bullfrog (she named him Greg) from a tiny tadpole to a full-grown frog. “I was very sad when Greg died,” says Chelsea, whose affinity for frogs is befitting – she grew up on Jurong Frog Farm, a frog farm in Lim Chu Kang that is owned by her family and which her father built from scratch in 1981.
The National University of Singapore sociology graduate is now the manager of the farm, which supplies frog meat, crocodile tails, venison flank steak and locally-produced hashima – a delicacy made from the fallopian tubes of a frog that is usually sold in its dried and dehydrated form – to restaurants and supermarkets. Chelsea recalls: “Ten years ago, no one was interested in eating hashima because, well, it comes from a frog!” However, that perception changed in 2012, when she launched bottled, ready-to-eat hashima that had American ginseng. In the last two years, the farm has sold close to 18,000 bottles of it.
And Chelsea’s business smarts don’t end there. Last July, she set up the farm’s educational arm, Frogology Pte Ltd, and now conducts learning tours – the job title on her name card reads “frogologist” – during which visitors, including students, see, feed and handle bullfrogs in various stages of their life cycle. She also started The Royal Frog Shop, the farm’s online store. “This is great for those who love frog meat and prefer to have it delivered right to their doorstep,” says Chelsea. “Now, all it takes is a few clicks.”
JULYN TEOH, 33 She went from being a Singapore Girl to a hawker selling Penang prawn noodles.
This second-generation hawker mans her stall, Penang Kia Prawn Mee (Block 205D Compassvale Lane, #01-02), with her beau Gerald Goh, 37. Both are former Singapore Airlines flight attendants.
She’s taken the baton from... her father, who used to sell Penang prawn noodles in Tanjung Bungah, Penang. “After 10 years of fl ying, I wanted to do something that was more ‘grounded’,” she says.
The trickiest part of cooking Penang prawn noodles is... getting the broth right. Julyn and Gerald spent three months perfecting the spicy soup base. “You need to know the exact amount of ingredients to add and the time taken to boil the broth,” says Julyn. “If you over-boil it, the broth becomes thick and salty.”
One of her pet peeves is... that Singaporeans aren’t familiar with Penang prawn noodles. She grouses: “I get a lot of questions about why chilli paste is added to the soup. It does get frustrating at times, but I try my best to explain that that is how the dish should be eaten.”
She used to visit the fish market at 2am... during the monsoon season, when her prawn suppliers had no stock for her. “These days, I have a better working relationship with my suppliers, so I don’t have to go to the market anymore,” says the lady boss, who peels about 300 prawns daily – which means no more manicures.
DENIECE TAN, 26 She quit banking to sell Hainanese curry rice.
She’s concerned with the dying hawker trade in Singapore, and her desire to sustain it impelled her to leave her cushy job as a forex broker – with a five-figure monthly salary! – to set up Truly Curry Rice (#01-29 Telok Blangah Food Centre, Block 79 Telok Blangah Drive) in August 2013 with her business partner Joel Chia, 30.
However, it wasn’t long before she realised that cooking on a commercial scale was very different from a weekend cookout with friends. “Th e 15 items on our menu are cooked daily and we added a breakfast menu recently – the prep work is insane!” says Deniece, who starts her day at 3am and goes to bed at 9pm. The hands-on boss also washes the cutlery and scrubs the floor at her stall.
Once, she even stuck her arm down the kitchen drain to unclog it – the arms of the guys she sought help from were too big to get the job done. Nevertheless, this second-generation hawker is happy to continue her dad’s legacy, serving oldschool Hainanese dishes such as breaded pork chop and chap chye. Says Deniece: “I hope to be able to preserve this part of our culture for years to come.”
DAWN WEE, 34 She started Joe & Dough, a local speciality cafe that now has eight outlets.
Dawn is a visionary: In the face of a global economic crisis in 2009, she seized the opportunity to start a food and beverage business. “[At that time,] shop rentals were lower and suppliers were keen to collaborate – these helped keep my startup and operational costs low,” says Dawn, who, after realising that few places in Singapore served good coffee and sandwiches, opened the first Joe & Dough outlet in March 2009 with her husband Damien Koh.
A year later, she made the decision to start the cafe’s in-house bread production line. “The European lady we got our supply of bread from passed away, and subsequent suppliers weren’t able to meet our standards,” she explains. “So I decided that we should just do it ourselves.”
In spite of fierce competition from international coffee chains and local coffee roasters alike, Joe & Dough, which now boasts eight local outlets, draws crowds with its coffee (the beans are roasted in small batches and ground on demand) and artisanal breads that are rolled by hand, baked with yeast cultivated by its bakers and are preservative-free. “It can take up to six months of extensive tasting and refining before we add an item to our menu,” says Dawn. “It all boils down to quality and getting the details right.”
C.S. LING, 31 She raises awareness about wildlife issues in Asia with her photographs.
This professional wildlife shutterbug, whose works have appeared in National Geographic Explorer, an educational magazine for students, aims to raise awareness about the environmental and wildlife issues faced in Asia through photography.
She wants to connect you with nature. “I was doing a shoot in Indonesia and learnt that the yearly haze caused by deforestation was causing many baby orangutans to be orphaned. Soon after, I put up an exhibition [comprising photos I had taken] of these orphans, in the hope that more Singaporeans would know what was going on not too far away from home,” she says.
She plans her shots meticulously. Ling explains: “Before a trip, I do some research to find out about the animals that inhabit the area; I make sure I know their behaviour intimately so that I get the best shots.”
She faced plenty of rejection when she first started out. She recalls: “I had sent my pictures to nearly every single publication, as well as letters to potential sponsors – I was rejected by every single one of them. It was a stroke of luck that the boss of Nikon Singapore saw my photos at an exhibition – he liked them and I ended up being an ambassador for Nikon. That opened doors for me!”
ANGELA PHUA, 29 She started an online store to promote local artisanal food and beverage.
Local artisanal food and beverage producers (those who use traditional or non-mechanised methods to make Singaporeinspired products such as dragonfruit-and-lychee jam and Milo granola) must be pretty grateful to Crateful. The online store, which Angela co-founded with partner Joey Gan just over a year ago, helps raise awareness of and supports the growing local artisanal food and beverage industry.
What prompted Angela to start Crateful? She tells us that it was her interaction with small-batch producers whom she met when she participated in farmers’ markets to promote her own tea startup, A.muse Projects. “I realised that these other producers – who spent their weekends making jams and nougat – faced the same challenges Joey and I faced: we didn’t have economies of scale or the resources to reach more people. So we decided to pool our resources together and create Crateful,” says the former banking executive.
This central platform allows local artisanal food and beverage producers to participate in farmers’ markets around the island and events like the Savour Gourmet Market, where their produce is showcased at Crateful booths. “We’ve even facilitated collaborations between producers, who share ideas, come up with joint products and even share a central kitchen,” says Angela. “I hope this helps make it easier for them to sustain and grow their businesses.”
SHERYL SHUM, 32 She is the political counsellor at the Singapore Embassy in Washington DC.
Growing up on a steady diet of political dramas like The West Wing and autobiographies of female diplomats such as Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice whetted Sheryl’s appetite for a career in public service. After a decade of serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs both in Singapore and in Kuala Lumpur, she finally secured a posting to Washington DC last year. “Being a Singaporean diplomat carries some weight in this town.
I don’t wish to squander the cumulative work our ambassadors and diplomats have done since Singapore’s independence,” says Sheryl, whose job requires her to analyse US foreign and domestic developments. She also lobbies for improved understanding and appreciation of the bilateral ties between the US and Singapore among American senators, congressmen and their staffers. Her biggest challenge so far? Being away from home for long periods.
“It’s not easy uprooting yourself every few years,” she says. “When I get back from a posting, I imagine that life would be the same, but parents get older, friends are at different stages of their lives... I’ve come to accept it; it’s part and parcel of the job I love.”
CANDICE CHUA, 28 Through crowdfunding, she co-founded a successful brand offering nail stickers that even Hollywood celebs are fans of.
For nearly a year, Candice spent $200 per manicure, getting nail art that, unfortunately, was never done to her satisfaction. So last February, the entrepreneur (she founded a graphic design studio in 2007 and a social enterprise in 2011) turned to crowdfunding and launched a Kickstarter campaign for her nail-sticker idea.
In a month, more than $20,000 was raised, and Inni Nails was born. By August, she was rolling out customisable nail stickers – which cost US$19.90 (roughly S$27) for three sets – online. The process is simple: take any picture – of your pet, a print on your favourite dress or an online image you like – upload it to the website, and have it printed on a set of nail wraps, which are then mailed to you within a week.
“Because they’re not nail polishes, they’re non-toxic and won’t damage your nails or cause them to turn yellow,” says Candice, whose business partners Lauri and Katja Koutaniemi are from Finland, where the nails stickers are printed and shipped from. Last August, the brand was invited to helm the nail bar at Kari Feinstein’s Emmys Style Lounge, a pre-Emmy event held in Los Angeles where A-list celebrities are invited to try out the latest and coolest fashion, and beauty and lifestyle products.
Hollywood star Vanessa Hudgens was one of those who tried the nail stickers – and loved them. Earlier this year, Inni Nails created nail stickers to complement designer Ann Yee’s Spring/Summer 2015 runway show at New York Fashion Week. As far as a successful crowdfunding venture goes, we’d say Candice has nailed it.
MELISSA TAN, 26 She is an up-and-coming artist whose works have been exhibited in London and Paris.
You wouldn’t normally associate incense sticks with art, but that’s what this finearts graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts used as a medium for her work, Under The Blanket Of Bedrock. Melissa used them – together with acid-free paper and acrylic paint – to create three-dimensional layers that replicated crystal formations.
The work caught the attention of local art circles when it was part of a joint exhibition called The Singapore Show: Future Proof, held at the Singapore Art Museum in 2012. In the two years she has been a full-time artist, Melissa has exhibited in group shows in the UK and France, participated in the Dena Foundation Artist Residency Programme in Paris (organised in partnership with the National Arts Council), and held her first solo exhibition, And The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn, at Richard Koh Fine Art.
Her inspirations include geography, sculpture and even Instagram posts. “Some of my exclassmates ended up going into conservation, taking up curatorial positions or working in a gallery. I’m not cut out for an administrative role, so I’ve been very lucky to be able to work on my art full time,” says Melissa.
KOH SWEE YEN, 33 At 28, she became a partner at one of Singapore’s Big Four law firms, making her one of the youngest lawyers to do so.
According to this lawyer who graduated with first class honours from the National University of Singapore, the legal world has changed. “It’s become more gender-neutral. My clients look at me not as a woman, but as a lawyer whose strategies, tactics and solutions they value,” says Swee Yen, who served as a justices’ law clerk to the Chief Justice of Singapore – an honour reserved for the best and brightest in the graduating class – before entering private practice at Wong Partnership.
She was made partner with less than four years of practice under her belt and now specialises in commercial and corporate dispute resolution. The avid litigator – and mother of a 20-month-old boy – loves law so much, she even does it outside of work: She reviews contracts and agreements for Singapore Gymnastics pro bono, and is an adjunct tutor at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University.
This year marks her tenth year in practice, and she’s still running at full throttle. “I love the adrenalin rush from appearing before a court and persuading them to rule in my client’s favour,” she enthuses. “The satisfaction I get from a job well done and doing the best for my clients keeps me going.”
ESTHER LOO, 33 She went from marketing cosmetics to making roasted nuts cool.
At the age of 28, Esther jumped on board her family’s business (old-school brand Tai Sun) and spearheaded a brand facelift. Together, they redesigned logos, created fun packaging and introduced new snacks – including Treatz, a line of potato chips with funky flavours like Smackin’ Lime and Black Pepper, and Fearsome Wasabi.
You must get to eat all the snacks you want at work! (Laughs) “That’s true! But I don’t sit around munching chips and nuts all day. Many people think a family business is run like a mom-and-pop shop. But the truth is, it’s very fast-paced because there is less red tape to deal with – which means you have to work doubly hard.”
Tai Sun is 50 next year – how will the family be celebrating? “We’re putting together a commemorative book that will feature our story: a small business that provided roasted peanuts to mamak stalls and bars in the 1960s, which grew to become a popular household brand both locally and overseas – in the US and Europe.”
Where do you see the business heading? “I’d like to make our snacks available in far-flung places like Rome and Africa. And I want to manufacture wacky snacks like carrot chips and char-siewcoated peanuts!”
CHEN MINGSHI, 26 She maintains biological specimens – including dinosaur fossils.
Must not be afraid of dead animals – that’s one of the essentials of being a specialist associate at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. It’s also one of the traits that got Mingshi the job, which requires her to maintain and curate the museum’s vast collection of more than a million biological specimens, including the three much-talked-about diplodocid sauropod dinosaurs. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts graduate tells us more about her work and herself.
What drew you to this job? “I’ve always been curious about the anatomy of animals and how their systems work. Before I started working at the museum, I used to take pictures of dead animals (mostly roadkill) such as rats and birds to observe them more closely.”
But you were a student of fine arts. “It might not be directly related to what I’m doing now, but having a fine-arts background has taught me to be meticulous, which is advantageous when handling specimens, especially the more fragile ones. It’s very delicate work – we usually mount wet specimens onto a piece of glass with a fishing line, so they look like they are floating in the middle of the display jar.”
You seem fearless – does anything gross you out? “Touching living animals – even hamsters! Yes, it’s ironic. I’m not scared of dead ones, though. And that works to my advantage because we handle most of the specimens with our bare hands. We only wear gloves when we’re working with sensitive materials and strong chemicals like formalin.”
SYLVIA CHAN, 27 She is behind some of Youtube’s most popular videos in Singapore, one of which was shared by the PM.
Creating a viral video on Youtube is no easy task, but Sylvia Chan – one half of the husband-and-wife team behind cinematography company Night Owl Cinematics – has the formula down pat. Th e duo’s first clip, Sh*t Singaporean Girlfriends Say – created in December 2012 – has garnered more than a million views, and their Youtube channel, Ryan Sylvia, has more than 345,000 subscribers.
She works seven days a week. “Throughout the week, we meet clients and sponsors, write scripts, and source outfits and locations. We film on weekends, as most of our actors have full-time jobs.”
She oversees a 12-person team that is almost virtual. “We do nearly everything online. Sometimes, when I run out of ideas for my scripts or need a second opinion on potentially sensitive topics, I’ll check with the team using our Whatsapp group chat.”
Initially, her parents didn’t think she had a proper job. “They only started realising that what I was doing was ‘legit’ when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared a video we did for Labour Day on his Facebook page. Now, my mum’s a subscriber of our Youtube channel and even sends links of our videos to her friends!”
YIX QUEK, 29 She is an award-winning author of children’s books.
Yix Quek doesn’t want to grow up. The author of children’s fiction and lecturer at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) insists that it’s “less about wanting to remain a kid, and more about wanting to hold on to the idea of youth, and what it represents”. What it represents is a time of discovery, adventure and learning – the winning ingredients of her first work, The Book That Was Handed Down.
The semi-autobiographical story – which incorporates drawings from her own childhood diaries – was the recipient of the inaugural Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award in 2011. Her second book, Happily Ever After Is So Once Upon a Time (2012), was published under the National Arts Council’s initiative, Beyond Words: Young & Younger. “It’s an anti-fairy-tale that challenges the norms of children’s stories.
The story is still positive, but I wanted children to know that it’s okay not to have a happy ending every time,” says Yix, who worked at an advertising agency for four years before quitting to teach at Nafa. Now, she is working on a project funded by the National Heritage Board – a book and exhibition entitled My School Uniform, which sees Yix photographing and documenting students in Singapore’s secondary school uniforms for posterity.
PAULINE NG, 29 She runs an award-winning facial spa.
After her mum’s facial business folded in 2003 because of financial difficulties, Pauline decided to join forces with her. They opened a skincare spa in 2009. Three years later, it grossed $1 million in revenue. The founder and managing director of Porcelain, Th e Face Spa and Porcelain Aesthetics shares three of her business secrets:
1. Be strict with the finances. “From the start, my mum and I agreed that she would be in charge of the beauty treatments, and I would make the business decisions. I insisted that we each get a fixed salary, so I could keep tabs on the accounts. I paid myself $800 a month for the first year and gave myself a raise only after we hit our annual sales target.”
2. Know everything about your trade. “When we were formulating our skincare line in 2010, I ploughed through heaps of journal papers (even the boring medical ones), attended seminars and spoke to manufacturers about the production process. I also tested the products on my skin, because I didn’t want to sell anything that I wouldn’t use on myself.”
3. Be fastidious about providing good service. “Our customers are paying good money for their facials (the signature 120-minute Quintessential facial costs $374.50) so they deserve the best service possible. I’m very particular about the details – even ensuring water doesn’t drip down a customer’s face during a facial.”
SHARUL CHANNA, 28 She’s the only Singaporean woman doing stand-up comedy full time.
If anyone knows how to see the lighter side of things, it’s this woman who lampoons love, her relationship with her husband (comedian Rishi Budhrani) and women’s issues on stage. In one show, she talked about asking her father, “Dad, if Mum and your ex-girlfriend were drowning in a river, who would you save? He said, ‘I would leave both of them in the river – and go find a new wife!’” Four years ago, a visit to stand-up comedy club Comedy Masala sparked a desire in Sharul – who trained as an actor at Lasalle College of the Arts – to do stand-up full time.
She took a stab at the club’s three-minute open mic session. Though it was nerve-racking, Sharul’s act was a success and she was hooked. Now, she performs at The Comedy Club at House of Timbre, and does gigs in Malaysia and India. And how does she deal with drunk hecklers? “I told one guy: ‘No wonder you’re single; the only way you’d be able to find a girlfriend is if we put you on Groupon’. The audience roared!” But being a full-time comedian in Singapore is a big challenge for a woman. “I have to work doubly hard so that I can do well,” she says. “So that other women can see this as a viable career option.”
NG SHIYUN, 32 She builds offshore rigs for oil and gas companies around the world.
Not many people start a job that they know nothing about, but this woman did. Trained as an aeronautical engineer, Shiyun had zero knowledge about off shore-rig construction when she joined Keppel Fels – a subsidiary of Keppel Off shore & Marine – as a management trainee in 2006. “I had to be very hands-on, ask a lot of questions, and familiarise myself with every aspect of each project,” says Shiyun.
In 2013, she became one of the youngest people in the company – which was awarded the title of largest off shore rig manufacturer by Guinness World Records last year – to be made a project manager. Today, from her office in Tuas, the mother of two daughters (aged six and four) supervises more than 400 people and has overseen the construction of rigs for UMW Oil & Gas, Petrovietnam and Arabian Drilling Company.
She also deals with multiple vendors, as well as the design, scheduling, manpower, quality control and budgeting for these projects. Her latest project? Overseeing the construction of a jackup rig (a mobile platform used in off shore oil drilling). “I love the satisfaction of seeing steel plates turn into something concrete and powerful.”
NURULASYIQAH MOHAMMAD TAHA, 31 The Paralympian is our top boccia player.
The term “sportswoman” probably conjures up images of a runner or swimmer, but Nurulasyiqah (Nurul for short) wants to change that mindset – and raise awareness of boccia. At the Paralympics, boccia requires wheelchair-bound participants to throw six coloured balls as close as they can to the jack (a white target ball).
Nurul can’t throw because she was born with spinal muscular atrophy and can’t lift her arms, so instead, she uses a head pointer to propel the balls down a ramp held by an assistant who faces away from the court and relies only on Nurul’s strategy and instructions.
The Singapore Management University graduate – who has represented Singapore in boccia since 2005 – was the first Singaporean boccia player to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Since then, she has picked up one silver medal (at the 2013 Asia and Oceania Boccia Championships in Sydney) and three gold medals (two at the 2014 Asean Para Games and one at the 2014 Montreal Boccia World Open).
Even better, the sport has improved her physical condition. “My physiotherapist was surprised at how much boccia has strengthened my muscles and made me stronger, despite the fact that it’s not a physical sport,” she says, adding that because she is a millennial, she is “braver and more willing to take on new challenges”. “I’m not going to conform to mainstream careers and options or let anyone tell me what I can or cannot do.”
JAZREEL TAN, 26 She’s the bowling icon of our time.
This year started on a good note for Jazreel – the captain of the national bowling team was crowned Bowler of the Year by the Singapore Bowling Federation for her stellar performance at last year’s Incheon Asian Games. There, she bagged one gold, two silvers and a bronze, making her the most decorated athlete at the event. Not since Adelene Wee and Grace Young has there been such an inspiring national bowler.
The Singapore Sports School graduate, who started bowling at the age of 12, was called up to join the youth team in 2003. By the end of that year, she made the national team. To better her game, she enrolled at Wichita State University in Kansas in 2009, so that she could train alongside the best collegiate bowlers in the United States. In 2011, the Bowling Writers Association of America named her Female Amateur Bowler of the Year – making her the first non- American to bag the award since it was introduced in 1991. “If you want to do well in something, you have to just go for it.
Effort of 50 per cent will only yield a 50 per cent result, so you have to give it all you’ve got,” says Jazreel, who plans to head to the US to join the Professional Women’s Bowling Association tour, where she’ll be able to “hone her skills further by competing against top bowlers from around the world”. One of the drawbacks of going pro? “I don’t have much of a social life, but I don’t mind,” she says. “It’s a sacrifice that needs to be made.”
JESSICA WONG, 31 (left), AND PAMELA TING, 31 They create award-winning Asianinspired homeware and furniture.
A two-month-long backpacking trip to south-west China in 2013 sparked their love for Asian culture. Jessica, who was the co-founder of a graphic and interior design firm then, also noticed a demand in Singapore for contemporary Asian furniture. “Customers were looking for pieces with Chinese elements, but those available were not modern and too bulky – unsuitable for the small, contemporary homes here,” says the architecture graduate.
To familiarise themselves with the working methods of Chinese craftsmen, the duo based themselves in Shanghai for a year. Th e Raffles Junior College schoolmates launched Scene Shang in May 2014, with Jessica in charge of design and Pamela, business development. “We didn’t want to replicate what was typically Asian, but create a distinctive style for the Singaporean market instead,” says Pamela, a former banker.
How is this vision translated in their works? Think cushion covers featuring The Cathay’s Art Deco facade or modular, hand-carved and stackable pieces inspired by the Ming Dynasty – like those in the Shang System, which received a Letter of Commendation for Special Mention at the President’s Design Award Singapore 2014. Then, there are collaborations with local visual artists such as Rofizano Zaino and Arthur PY Ting (Pamela’s dad).
The latter’s paintings of old Chinatown were framed to look like shophouse windows and were part of a limited-edition Yuan Mini Windows series. “We want to create a dialogue about our unique Singaporean identity as well as show appreciation for different Asian craft forms,” says Jessica. “Right now, Singaporeans are heavily influenced by designs from abroad. We want to change that.”
DEBBIE YONG, 30 She created an online gourmet platform for independent and small-batch producers.
Isn’t it nice having someone stand up for you? When Debbie started Batch last November, her aim was to give smallbatch producers a fighting chance against larger industrial foodmakers. Under the Ideas@ SPH incubation programme, the food journalist from The Business Times received $30,000 in start-up funds, a workspace and three months to get her project off the ground.
In the first two months after going live, the site generated nearly $18,000 in revenue. A strong advocate of the growing artisanal food scene here, Debbie handpicks all the products and producers on her website, and sees herself as a matchmaker of sorts. “Due to the nature of my job, I know many people in the food industry, so I’m able to put emerging businesses in touch with wholesalers and suppliers.”
The best part of running Batch? Discovering and promoting uniquely Singaporean items with a twist – from Bak Kwa Marinade and Bobochacha Nougat to Bandung Granola and Gula Melaka Mustard. “I like hearing the stories behind them,” says Debbie. “One of my favourites is of this woman who decided to make her own granola when she realised that her father couldn’t eat heavily processed commercial ones.”
Despite the portal’s initial success, Debbie is constantly refining her business strategies. “Singapore is a very small market and, with the highly perishable nature of what we sell, we must be forward-thinking,” she says, adding that she is now partnering with gourmet grocers to curate special “Made in Singapore” shelves. “This will let us showcase local producers and give Batch more visibility.”
GAN GUO YI, 31 She runs two of Singapore’s most popular cocktail bars.
Three years ago, the future didn’t seem promising for Jigger & Pony. Business at the cocktail bar – co-founded by Guo Yi and her husband Indra Kantono – was slow when they first started, particularly on Mondays and Tuesdays. Having faith in the potential of her establishment, the former Sing apore Airlines flight attendant stuck to her guns and didn’t rush to make changes, like reducing business hours to cut losses.
It worked. Last year, the bar made it to Drinks International magazine’s list of The World’s Best Bars 2014 as one of the “Bars To Watch”. The secret of its success? “We were able to create a place where people feel comfortable hanging out,” says Guo Yi, who has exacting standards of hospitality.
“You can’t expect good service out of someone who feels disgruntled and unappreciated at work,” she says, explaining that she has a mentorship scheme in place for staff – most of whom have been with her for almost two years or more – who want to know more about the food and beverage industry.
When staff members gave feedback about wanting to step up and take on new challenges, she opened rum bar and grill Sugarhall in 2014. “Ultimately, my business is all about being able to serve good food and drinks with a good attitude,” says Guo Yi, of her management style. “Having a solid team keeps my customers coming back.”
TERESA LIM, 25 She designs textiles and has worked with H&M and Swarovski.
Like most people at the top of their game, Teresa (aka Teeteeheehee) started at the bottom. In 2009, the freelance textile designer couldn’t qualify for Lasalle College of the Arts’ Year 1 course because she didn’t have a portfolio, so she began with the art institute’s foundation course. Four years later, she graduated with first class honours in fashion design and textiles.
Today, Teresa sells copyrights of her designs to international clients, such as UK interior e-retailer Korla Home and UK fashion label Austique, who use them on garments and upholstery fabrics. She has also held customisation workshops with shoe brand Melissa and fashion retailer H&M. She describes her designs as “raw, whimsical and feminine”.
“I like creating unique looks by combining embroidery, illustrations and patterns,” adds Teresa, whose embroidered landscapes of Singapore, Tokyo and Prague have been featured in The Guardian and on CNN’s website. The designer has also dabbled in fashion – she presented a Spring/Summer collection at Bangkok International Fashion Week in 2013 and created a dress for Swarovski.
The best part about her job? The flexible work schedule, which gives her time to travel. “I try to travel at least four times a year. Usually, I buy a one-way ticket and only decide to come back when I’m ready,” says Teresa who sees herself moving to Frankfurt, Germany – where her grandmother lives – in the near future. “I can work anywhere,” she adds, “As long as I have a laptop, a scanner and Wi-Fi connection.”
MUNAH BAGHARIB, 26 She is the comedic voice of her generation – and is not afraid to start twerking in public for a wacky video.
Call Munah a funny woman, but she takes comedy very seriously. The Temasek Polytechnic communications and media management graduate’s Youtube channel, Munah Hirzi Official – which she started in 2008 with her comedy partner and ex-coursemate Hirzi Zulkiflie as a platform to upload school media assignments – has chalked up a whopping 24.6 million views (and counting).
What inspires your hilarious skits? “The people I meet, and the observations I make. Turning what I see into something funny is the best way of handling issues, especially sensitive ones.”
Your Minahconda video (based on the Nicki Minaj hit, Anaconda) has almost 790,000 views – we’re impressed! “Yeah, it’s probably the most popular one! We touched on a subject close to everyone’s hearts – food. So many viewers started sending us pictures of what – and how much – they were eating!”
How do you work up the courage to sing and dance – and twerk – in public? “Just go for it; you never know how people will react, and most of the time, they’ll surprise you. Most people we meet are very supportive – especially foreign workers. When they find out we’re shooting a video, they all want to be in it. So sporting!”
DIANA CHAN, 29 She gave up a job promotion to make pocket squares and neckties for a living.
Making pocket squares for her husband Gerald was just a hobby, until a visit to Portland, Oregon – where home businesses thrive – inspired Diana to turn her pastime into a fully fledged trade. The former hotel corporate sales executive quit her job – despite a promotion on the horizon – and convinced Gerald to set up Vanda Fine Clothing with her in 2011.
The business was named after Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid. “We wanted to challenge the notion of Singapore being a sartorial wasteland,” she says. As with most start-up businesses, volatile sales proved to be a challenge, especially in the first year when figures spiked due to the initial hype.
But sales have evened out, allowing them to better plan upcoming collections and manage production. Diana sells about 150 neckties and 60 pocket squares a month. Every fortnight, she launches a new collection comprising four neckties, two pocket squares and bow ties. Their company sells the accessories at a showroom in Geylang East, but the items are a bigger hit with online customers.
Interestingly, only 10 per cent of her customers are from Singapore. Diana’s prime concern? Meticulous craftsmanship. The construction of each necktie is a three-hour process – she and Gerald cut each piece by hand, and the edges are hand-rolled for a perfect finish. “Many businesses in the world sell neckties, but only a handful manufacture them in-house, much less to a high standard,” says Diana. “We’re proud to be one of them.”