New innovation hub set to boost food start-ups

Theo10 founder Theodore Khng showcasing his company's products to Minister of State for the Ministry of Social and Family Development Sam Tan, on Sept 15, 2019.
Theo10 founder Theodore Khng showcasing his company's products to Minister of State for the Ministry of Social and Family Development Sam Tan, on Sept 15, 2019.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Food start-ups here may have a new home in a 90,000 square foot building in Chin Bee Drive, which offers spaces such as research and development laboratories, a co-working area, and trading, logistics and manufacturing facilities.

A spin-off by sugar company Cheng Yew Heng, the six-storey Innovate 360 opened about two weeks ago and is now at around 60 per cent occupancy, Innovate 360 vice-president Elias Tan said yesterday.

Start-ups can also benefit from Innovate 360's network of sales partners, mentors and funding, he said.

For Mr Ethan Eng, founder of healthy beverage producer Kombynation, Innovate 360 provided him with financial support and introduced him to business networks and distribution channels.

The 26-year-old started experimenting with brewing Kombucha in his university dormitory last year. With help from Innovate 360, he now produces four drink flavours and is planning to branch out to China and the United States.

"As a start-up, my team and I didn't really know how to set up our factory space, but (Innovate 360) pointed us in the right direction so we could focus on developing our product," said Mr Eng.

Mr Eng and Mr Tan spoke to The Straits Times on the sidelines of an exhibition at Tiong Bahru Plaza by the Singapore Manufacturing Federation's Lifestyle Industry Group (LIG), featuring 14 local food and lifestyle companies, about half of them less than three years old.

 
 
 

LIG chairman Kimming Yap, 33, said: "Some people have the impression that manufacturing is a sector that is old, or in the background, but the entrepreneurs here are really interesting.

"We want to show how our local manufacturers are evolving."

Take, for instance, Mpillow, a family-run start-up launched last October. Founder Darren Yeo, 57, ran a precision engineering business for over 30 years, serving the military and aerospace industries.

Fed up with the difficulty of shopping for comfortable pillows, he decided to use his engineering experience to design customised products. He also roped in his 26-year-old son to help with digitisation and marketing.

He said: "When you buy a shirt, you try different sizes to find one that fits you, so why shouldn't it be the same for a pillow?"

Another start-up at the exhibition, Theo10, produces Health Sciences Authority-approved skin products, including steroid-free eczema cream, and is working with local scientists to develop medicine. The firm has also represented Singapore at the Asean fair in Thailand.

Reflecting on his experience overseas, founder Theodore Khng, 29, said he never thought he would get to where he is today. He said: "When people hear you are from Singapore, they trust you and your product, hence I feel very proud."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2019, with the headline 'New innovation hub set to boost food start-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe