Starburst boss sets sights on Middle East market

Mr Edward Lim, co-founder of Starburst, at its construction yard in Tuas. The father of four children aged 20 to 26 hopes that at least one of his children will take over his business. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Mr Edward Lim, co-founder of Starburst, at its construction yard in Tuas. The father of four children aged 20 to 26 hopes that at least one of his children will take over his business. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Co-founder spends most of his time making sure firing ranges are safe for troops

At first glance, Mr Edward Lim, 57, looks like the average company executive in his neat striped shirt and black pants.

But the self-confessed introvert is actually involved in firearms - he plays a key role in keeping soldiers and special forces in South-east Asia and the Middle East safe during firearms training.

For he is the co-founder of Starburst, which installs anti-ricochet ballistic protection systems on the walls of firing ranges to ensure that bullets do not bounce back and hit anyone.

Earlier this month, Starburst made a splash on Singapore Exchange's Catalist board as it launched its initial public offering. Its shares made a debut at 43 cents per share, or 12 cents higher than its initial price of 31 cents per share.

"It's a niche industry," said Mr Lim, who founded the firm in 1999 with managing director Jonathan Yap. "You need many years of experience and a safety track record to prove that your products work, so the barriers to entry are high," Mr Lim said.

He spends most of his time designing and installing rubber pads and ballistic steel plates for firing ranges in South-east Asia and the Middle East.

Starburst's proprietary anti-ricochet ballistic protection system involves dense rubber pads that slow down the speed of bullets fired into it. After passing through the rubber, the bullets hit a hard steel plate in front of the wall and break apart. Disintegrated bullets fall through an air gap between the "self-healing" rubber and the plate.

Starburst is one of a few firms in South-east Asia that designs and installs such systems for firing ranges, said Mr Lim.

While these systems form the bulk of his business, Mr Lim also builds mock-ups of aircraft and naval ships which special forces use for training. In fact, his proudest moment was when he, with several workers, built a nearly life-sized 40m Boeing 777 mock-up. It was the "largest and most complete" mock-up he had ever built.

Another client said a 747 plane mock-up he had built was "too beautiful to shoot at". "That's when you know it's a job well done," he added with a chuckle.

The son of a cashier and housewife attended Montford Primary and Secondary schools. "As an ex-scout, I built many bridges and towers from wood and ropes. It's satisfying to see something put together with own two hands," he said.

After getting a mechanical engineering diploma from Singapore Polytechnic in 1977, Mr Lim worked at an oil rig company and shipyard before starting a firm which specialised in designing steel structures. His first break into defence-related projects came around 1990 when co-founder, Mr Yap, looked for someone to work with a British consultant to outfit a firing range.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States meant more business. "I got so many phone calls for enquiries as more governments were just concerned about homeland security," Mr Lim said.

Mr Yap, 50, called him "one of the sharpest engineers I know". "He doesn't cut corners and even if it means spending more money to do good work, he will make sure it is done," he said.

These days, Mr Lim is busy with about $20 million worth of projects. He sees potential in the Middle East where security training is being beefed up in the lead-up to the 2020 World Expo in Dubai and the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

But the father of four children aged 20 to 26 still makes time for church. He hopes that at least one of his children will take over his business.

"My eldest son is studying mechanical engineering," said Mr Lim, with a twinkle in his eye. "Let's see how he does."

kashc@sph.com.sg