Entrepreneur of the Year is a glorified hawker

From ‘Singapore’s best’, 30 Aug 2011, My Point, ST Forum

(MR JONATHAN WOOD): ‘As a visiting businessman, I was very surprised and slightly disappointed to read that the joint winners of the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award were a glorified hawker food operator and an Apple product retail on-seller (‘Joint winners for top entrepreneur award’; last Saturday). However wonderful the invention of butter crab, where is the true Singaporean inventor or entrepreneur on the final shortlist of 15? As a world-class country, where are the world-class entrepreneurial ideas and products? I am going home to Europe with very little inspiration from a lacklustre shortlist of candidates.’

The definition of an entrepreneur according to the EYA organisers’ qualification criteria seems focused more on fiscal numbers rather than breakthrough innovation, and applies to individuals who have taken an existing idea, repackaged it and become wildly successful through hard work and business savvy. Mr Wood’s ‘glorified hawker’ description of co-winner Eldwin Chua’s history as a self-made ‘zi char’ businessman borders on a backhanded insult, but the Taste Paradise conglomerate is not the only success story with humble origins. Shortlisted for the 2007 EYA list, Mr Bean started out as a stall in People’s Park Hawker Centre selling only soya bean milk and has since diversified and expanded to become synonymous with ‘dao huay zhui’. The 2001 EYA winner Lim Boon Chay (see list below) was previously a fishball seller. There’s nothing that the average Singaporean can immediately cite as a truly homegrown  innovation without thinking of something that you put in your mouth. Yes, that includes NewWater and the Singapore Sling.

Butter crab is not so much an invention than a culinary ‘twist’ to a seafood staple, or simply one man’s version of an already established recipe. Perhaps the writer should look somewhere else if he wants to capitalise on inventions ‘bubbling under’ the radar. Or maybe we have reached a plateau in the golden age of invention, with the great imagination pipeline being milked of all its worth. It’s revealing, though, how the food business has become a goldmine for at least 8 moguls over the last 10 years of celebrating entrepreneurship, a sign that Singapore  is unlikely to  spawn its own start-up tech billionaires the likes of Mark Zuckerberg anytime soon, and even if we had a budding social media genius in our midst, they’d probably mine their fortunes elsewhere, like what What’s Your Price founder and now US citizen Brandon Wey has done.

Here’s a rundown of award winning businessmen who have gluttonous Singaporeans eating off their hands till this very day.

2011: Eldwin Chua ( Paradise Group)

2009: Ip Yiu Tung (Crystal Jade)

2008: Ivan Lee (Thai Express) – EYA for Enterprise

2003: Ricky Chew (Fish and Co)

2002: Douglas Foo (Sakae Sushi) and George Quek (Breadtalk)

2001: Andrew Tijoe (Tung Lok) – Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year, Lim Boon Chay (Thong Siek Food) Entrepreneur of the Year (Rotary club/ASME)


2 Responses

  1. U overlooked Di Yih Jia, the popiah skin man? Tho not sure if he won any award. Then there’re Yeo Hiap Seng, APB (Gimme a Tiger), F&N to name but a few, all of which have or had global reach.

    Of cos, we also have Trek 2000 which invented the ubiquitous flash drive (can put dis in your mouth but can’t eat unless u r a magician) but somehow no one remembers dat, least of all a fly by nite foreign visitor 🙄

    • Vaguely remember the flash\thumb drive. useful invention no doubt but easily misplaced.someone should build it into a watch or hp or something

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