The success of Ascent Solutions is proof that you don't need a large team to achieve impressive results. All you need is a big vision.
Established in 2010, the technology firm made $3 million in revenue in its first year and was profitable from the get-go. And it did so with only six employees, including co-founder and chief executive Lim Chee Kean.
As Mr Lim tells it, the company might have died the early death of so many start-ups if it had not had the vision to go global from Day One. He knew Singapore was too small a market and that to make its mark, the firm had to go overseas.
Ascent provides Internet of things (IOT) software to the logistics industry, focusing on cargo- tracking solutions to help companies and government authorities track items efficiently.
This niche gap in global logistics was identified by Mr Lim, an engineer by training who was previously working at Savi Technology, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that specialises in sensor and tracking technology.
As part of its core strategy, Ascent explored markets which most badly need such technology, such as Africa.
"When we were looking into this technology, there weren't that many companies focusing on it," Mr Lim says. "And whatever we offered, we knew that we had to solve a problem, be innovative, provide state-of-the-art technology, and do all that at the right price point."
In Kenya, for example, Ascent helped local customs agencies slash the time taken for an 800km journey, with more than 10 checkpoints, from 20 days to just three.
This feat has been replicated across different countries. Now, Ascent has expanded to Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Tanzania, Kenya, and the Middle East. More than 80 per cent of its business is outside Singapore.
While venturing overseas takes some guts and involves a lot of risk, Mr Lim says that it made all the difference to the business. "Many people say, 'I can't even survive in Singapore. How can I survive overseas?' I say, 'You can't be thinking about a business that's in Singapore only. It's too myopic. It's a huge world out there.' "
The company's two proprietary tracking products are iSpot and Atlas. iSpot is an end-to-end solution that includes Ascent's electronic cargo-tracking system as well as a fleet management system, and is particularly useful in the landlocked countries of Africa, like Uganda and Rwanda.
Atlas is an affordable system which uses sensor-ready tags that can be read with a smartphone to track assets.
To enter even more new markets, Ascent is tapping IE Singapore's assistance. It is working with the agency to study the South African and Mexican markets.
IE Singapore has also assisted Ascent in its ventures, including helping with proof of concept, patent filing, business development and branding, Mr Lim says.
"It's one of the best agencies in the world that can help small, medium companies go global," Mr Lim says.
"It is really very hard to find a team of smart and knowledgeable people with such deep links to almost every market imaginable."
Looking to expand overseas by going digital? Tap IE Singapore's Global Company Partnership Grant for support. Find out more here.
Find out more about other companies that have transformed their businesses overseas and how IE can help: #SgGoesGlobal.