Entrepreneurship in polytechnics: A chance to hook up to phone business

Although his business venture failed, Mr Yap (right) displayed entrepreneurial traits, such as being able to relate to different people, so his poly lecturer gave him an A.
Although his business venture failed, Mr Yap (right) displayed entrepreneurial traits, such as being able to relate to different people, so his poly lecturer gave him an A.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

An only child brought up by his paternal granny after his parents divorced, Alvin Yap took on various part-time jobs as a student to supplement his family's income.

It was 2005 when the then 19-year-old Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) Business Studies student saw a chance to start a business and he thought, why not?

"I had always wanted to do business because I thought that was the most effective way to become financially independent," he said.

 
 
 

So he managed to get a grant of $3,000 from the poly and opened a kiosk at Jurong Point, helping customers wrap phones and other devices with a protective layer of adhesive material printed with decorative pictures or patterns. He later opened two more kiosks in Toa Payoh and in Sim Lim Square.

The poly helped by linking him up with potential partners on a study trip to China in 2005.

But the business soon folded.

"We were inexperienced, and expanded simply because we thought we could, not because we needed to," said Mr Yap, now 30. "This resulted in cash-flow issues - we didn't have enough money to pay our six part-time staff and had to close down within six months."

Mr Leow Teck Sim, 43, one of Mr Yap's lecturers at NP, said the school assessed the venture for a module and gave the student an A though it failed. The young man had displayed entrepreneurial traits, such as being able to relate to different people, Mr Leow said.

Said Mr Yap: "Back then, it was the first time that I had a sense of how doing business could be really hard. But after getting over the initial pains of defeat, I wanted to try again."

In 2008, Mr Yap had the chance to do it again when he won the first prize in the youth category of the Start-Up@Singapore business plan competition for a games portal idea. This became his second business venture, TheMobileGamer, which developed free-to-play games on mobile browsers.

The Singapore-based company chalked up about six million registered users in the region, and the majority of the company's shares was sold to Singtel and SoftBank in 2013, with Singtel forking out about $3 million for the deal.

Mr Yap then set up Laku6, an online business that sells certified used phones, in Indonesia last year. It raised $500,000 by September last year and has sold close to 1,000 phones so far.

What it does, said Mr Yap, is to act as a middleman between buyers and sellers of used phones. The firm checks the phones and gives customers a 30-day money-back guarantee. "Basically, we are high-tech karung gunis," he quipped, referring to the rag-and-bone trade. He hopes to expand to other kinds of consumer electronics, such as television sets, in future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'A chance to hook up to phone business'. Print Edition | Subscribe