Ex-minister Teo Ser Luck starts new chapter with his own start-ups

Mr Teo Ser Luck, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, at start-up incubator JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.
Mr Teo Ser Luck, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, at start-up incubator JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Teo Ser Luck has been involved in several ventures since leaving Government earlier this year

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Growing up in a humble household, Mr Teo Ser Luck had always wanted to have his own business so he could be financially independent and create jobs for others.

Now, after 15 years in the private sector and another 11 in politics, the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC is finally living that entrepreneurial dream.

Since stepping down as minister of state for manpower in June, Mr Teo, 49, has been involved in several ventures ranging from education and sports to fintech.

His foray into entrepreneurship means life has come full circle for Mr Teo, who helped start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises while at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and as minister of state for trade and industry.

Mr Teo told The New Paper: "It gives me great satisfaction to see that I have created something and that it is helpful and beneficial for others. That to me is very fulfilling."

We met late in October at start-up incubator JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.

It consists of several blocks in Ayer Rajah Crescent and was one of Mr Teo's key projects when he was at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and was the minister-in-charge of entrepreneurship.

The LaunchPad was officially opened in 2015. Today, several of Mr Teo's start-ups are based there.

He preferred not to reveal the ventures he is behind, but divulged that he is one of several co-founders of Nufin Data, a company that helps SMEs automate payments and provides financing options.

It gives me great satisfaction to see that I have created something and that it is helpful and beneficial for others. That to me is very fulfilling. 
-- Mr Teo Ser Luck, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

Nufin Data's customers includes Pet Lovers Centre, and it has offices in Singapore, Guangzhou and Hongkong.

Mr Teo's days are now filled with meetings to find business partners and to dispense advice to companies that approach him a few times a day to tap his understanding of government policies.

He works wherever he can prop up his iPad and phone - even at coffee shops.

He has traded office wear for Uniqlo T-shirts, denim jeans and black sneakers.

When asked if he was channelling the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, he looked surprised.

Mr Teo said he has a range of those T-shirts in several colours and cuts, which he rotates throughout the week, because they cost $7.90 each and are durable.

He spends half the month travelling around South-east Asia, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to study their regulations and business cultures, but he still attends Meet-the-People Sessions and other constituency events.

He said: "In the past, you got resources everywhere. Now, it is like you are your own resource and you build up from scratch. You are chasing dreams, right?"

DREAMS

Mr Teo's dreams of running his own businesses began as a child watching his factory worker father and seamstress mother face job instability. But he chose to study accountancy at Nanyang Technological University because he felt that accountancy students secured jobs faster.

After graduation, he worked as an auditor. Later, he held management positions at several multinational corporations.

In 2001, after a chance encounter at Frankfurt Airport with Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, then an MP for Sembawang GRC, Mr Teo was invited to help out at Meet-the-People Sessions.

In 2006, he was elected as a People's Action Party MP for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC.

After stints at the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Transport, Mr Teo was appointed a minister of state at MTI in 2011.

In 2015, he moved to MOM, where he oversaw the Lean Enterprise Development scheme, which aims to help SMEs become more manpower-lean using technology.

When asked how the Government can continue to maintain a balance in regulating and encouraging innovation, like in the case of potentially disruptive platforms including Airbnb, Mr Teo praised the Government for its light-touch approach to innovation in Singapore.

He said: "They are learning from other countries. They are looking at our regulations to look at how to keep a balance between the original sector and new technology platforms."

That approach, he said, encourages industry to continue to innovate and compete.

 

Public service was a joy for Mr Teo, but while he was comfortable and happy, he felt that he was running out of time to start a business.

He said: "If you come out at too late a stage, the only role you can play is in investing. I did not want to be just an investor. I wanted to create, and that is what I am doing."

Ministers he worked with previously have been supportive, checking to see how his ventures are going, while Mr Teo's friends have approached him either with business ideas or to tell him they believe in what he is doing.

Mr Teo also enjoys discussing his ventures with his wife Jenny, and their son, 17, and daughter, 15. Sometimes, they tease him.

He said: "Every time I talk about my products, the two kids will look at each other, with that look like, okay..."

Mimicking them, he made an exasperated eye roll.

QUALITIES

People who have known Mr Teo for long say they have seen qualities in him that make him well-suited for the start-up world.

Mr Manoj Sharma, 44, a former board member of Action Community for Entrepreneurship, where Mr Teo was appointed chairman in 2011, said: "He brought a lot of excitement, a can-do attitude and a willing and open ear."

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari said that in politics, Mr Teo was always brimming with new ideas about how to improve the lives of his residents.

Mr Teo, who was mayor of North East District from 2009 until earlier this year, initiated in 2013 cafe corners that bring residents together by offering free drinks in areas such as void decks and community centres.

In 2014, he came up with the idea of leaving handyman tools in residents' committee offices for residents to borrow.

This year, he opened a free workspace at Sengkang Community Club for adult residents.

Said Mr Zainal: "It is in his nature. Mr Teo is a sportsperson. He has a very competitive spirit, not in a negative sense, but he likes to challenge himself to try new things."

Mr Teo has competed in several Ironman triathlons and wakes up at 5am every day to exercise.