SME Spotlight

Persistence propels this family business

HDI Group chairman Brandon Chia, 37, with his sisters, Dr Chia Su-Ynn (left), 40, and Ms Chia Su-Mae, 26. Their father, company founder Peter Chia, 67, started distributing bee products in 1986 to provide for his family and the siblings gradually got
HDI Group chairman Brandon Chia, 37, with his sisters, Dr Chia Su-Ynn (left), 40, and Ms Chia Su-Mae, 26. Their father, company founder Peter Chia, 67, started distributing bee products in 1986 to provide for his family and the siblings gradually got involved in the business.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Many local firms have sprung up in the health and wellness space over the years. This week, Jeremy Koh speaks to the family behind the High-Desert International (HDI) Group about Propoelix, a health supplement it started marketing about two years ago.

Q Tell us about your business.

A Our company sells nutritional supplements and a skin care range derived from bee products.

We also run programmes in the region that equip individuals with entrepreneurship skills.

We have a presence in seven countries and employ about 360 people.

Q How did the company begin?

A Our father started distributing bee products in 1986 to provide for his family. He also believed such products could improve people's health. Over the years, the company entered various other industries where we felt we could make a difference to people.

Gradually, we, his children, became involved in the business. Brandon, the chairman, joined after he graduated from law school.

Dr Chia Su-Ynn is our consultant for the clinical trial protocols and supplement formulation. She has her own clinical practice.

Ms Chia Su-Mae, key leader for regional marketing, became involved in the company after practising law for 21/2 years. 

Q What is Propoelix?

A Propoelix is a supplement that is based on propolis, a compound which bees extract from tree sap and use to seal gaps in the hive so bacteria cannot enter. They also use propolis to embalm and thus disinfect decaying objects in hives.

Q How is Propoelix made?

A Propolis is first scraped from bee hives. We have developed a process which extracts this "active" component and puts it into capsules for consumption. The resulting product is Propoelix. We do not know of other companies that have this process of extraction yet.

Q Why did your company decide to develop this product?

A Our father had seen the positive results propolis had on patients and wanted to improve its effectiveness by isolating its active component for consumption.

Some 20 years ago, he started engaging various researchers to work on this but no solution was found. A scientist only successfully discovered a means of extracting the active component eight years ago.

We then worked on devising ways to manufacture this product in an industrial setting. Finally, we had a product we were satisfied with about two years ago.

Q How widely is the product used in hospitals and clinics in Singapore?

A Only a handful of clinics in Singapore are using our product now.

The challenge is that doctors are trained to prescribe drugs which have usually undergone various levels of testing in clinical trials to prove that they work.

However, supplements, which are derived from natural plants or ingredients, do not usually undergo the same level of testing as drugs. They are also not covered in most medical school curricula .

As such, it is not surprising that most physicians may be hesitant to prescribe or use supplements.

Q Is the product used overseas?

A In Indonesia, we have obtained approval to sell it as a supplement.

Q What other plans do you have to increase the use of your product?

A We are working on selling the product online to increase sales.

In addition, we are speaking with parties interested in distributing the product in Cambodia, China, Myanmar and Thailand.

Q What are sales like?

A We've been selling about 4,000 to 5,000 bottles a month in Indonesia, which comprises 90 per cent of our market.

Q How do you price the product?

A In Singapore, we are selling a bottle of 60 capsules at $80. The version we sell to Indonesia has a lower dosage and is half the cost.

Q What is your vision?

A We hope the product will have wide appeal in Singapore, and people will have it in their homes, ready to take to prevent themselves from falling sick, or to recover faster.

Q Any advice for entrepreneurs?

A Persistence is one of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur. Our case shows that sometimes it takes 20 years to develop a product, and even then, it may take a long time before people know about it. But if our dad had given up 10 years ago, we would not even have this product today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Persistence propels this family business'. Print Edition | Subscribe