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Rabea Bader, Co-Founder of IZMUS

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Rabea Bader is the Co-Founder and CEO at IZMUS. Based in Singapore, IZMUS is responsible for the development of relevant entry points for Israeli startups, including establishing entry standards and guidelines as well as connecting key relevant industry experts. Prior to IZMUS, Rabea was the Co-founder and CEO of C.R.E Online, an outsourcing and solution specialist service provider for local and international brokerage firms and he worked as software developer for the UBS Bank and managed business development projects at D.M.D. Online. Rabbi decided to take the plunge with IZMUS when he saw a real opportunity for Singapore and he speaks to The Asian Entrepreneur today about his work.

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 In your own words what is IZMUS?

IZMUS is a bridge between Singaporean and Israeli start-up ecosystems, which brings the best technology to enable Singapore’s vision of becoming a Smart Nation.

IZMUS selects well funded and mature-enough startups from Israel through a thorough due diligence process and connects them to potential Singaporean partners (government agencies, business partners, investors). IZMUS enables Israeli entrepreneurs to enter the Asian market, effectively implement their technology, get further funding for their startup and accelerate growth. For investors, IZMUS is a platform to find investment opportunities in the niche high tech Israeli startups.

How did you come up with the idea of IZMUS?

The idea of IZMUS came up when I met Joy Phua, co-founder and co-CEO at IZMUS who is a Singaporean, at Tel Aviv University where I was studying Computer Science and Economics. We discussed the potential of introducing the Israeli technology in the strong financial context of Singapore – in view of its drive to become the hub of technology in SEA. As such, we founded IZMUS last year.

Could you walk us through the process of starting up IZMUS?

The initial idea was to bring Singaporean investors to Israel to meet and connect with startups there. However, after my first trip to Singapore we realized that funding was not a problem for Israeli startups. The real challenge for startups, which wanted to expand into Asian markets were cultural different in terms of language, values and approach to business.

Since Singapore is a gateway and launch pad to the rest of Asia, we decided to bring Israeli startups here and give them investment opportunities and business development in the region.

Our first meeting was with Dr Alex Lin, Head of Infocomm Investments (IIPL), the investment subsidiary of the Infocomm Development Authority. He saw the potential and helped us in establishing IZMUS. Together, we formed our business plan and started connecting Israeli startups with investors and government agencies in Singapore.  As a result, we discussed collaboration with Infocomm Investments, and signed a Memorandum of Intent, which was a big step forward for us.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

At IZMUS, we have faced several challenges in getting the best startups on board, building a strong network in both countries and connecting with investors and government.

The first challenge was that Israeli startups mostly thought of Asia as only China. Some of them didn’t know much about Singapore, for example that English is one of its official languages. Some of our clients even thought Singapore was a part of Malaysia.

Convincing Singaporean investors to switch from investing in real estate to investing in startups was also not an easy task. Luckily we found investors who believed in us and helped us reach the next level.

With the team, we overcome the challenges day by day as we are very optimistic that this business model is promising to cater to the needs of our networks and we take one step at a time.

How have you been developing IZMUS since startup?

We have been developing IZMUS a lot since we started although we have changed our focus and business model more than once.

Now we are moving in the direction of optimising and automising of all processes, and we are developing a software so that our entire network in both countries can work efficiently. We aim to provide a set of comprehensive data that will map profiles of all promising Israeli startups for investors and corporations to review and request for deeper analysis for any startup of interest. Our focus now is on Singapore but we aim to expand into Southeast Asia.

What kind of feedback did you get for IZMUS so far?

We are glad to hear that  we are in the right place at the right time with a right mission and  we are happy that we received many positive feedback. We have been receiving many requests from startups as well as collaboration offers from both Israeli and Singaporean corporations, investors and government agencies.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry?

This market is still hardly tapped, but I am aware that there is always competition. Nonetheless, we believe that having competition is healthy and it encourage us to strive to be better and learn from others as much as possible.

IZMUS is one step ahead of the competitors, we provide deep analysis done by professionals for each startup we plan to bring here. We focus on quality, not on quantity and handpick the best startups from Israel after a long selection and tough screening process.

The startups are handpicked by IZMUS’ Tel Aviv team, led by Joy; then independently assessed by the tech advisory board. These advisors check all aspects of the startup – the team, technology, financial history, viability in Asia and more. Their information and IZMUS’ assessments are simultaneously available to interested VCs and investors that have subscribed to IZMUS’ web-based application. Once they secure 2-3 serious and strategic investors/partners for the startup, the relevant company representative come to Singapore for face-to-face meetings.

What can you tell us about the industry? 

With the population of only 8.5 million people, Israel has more than 4800 startups. Since the domestic market is very small they typically focus on globalization and aim to expand into foreign markets, traditionally the US and Europe. However these startup scenes have started to become over-saturated and this is where IZMUS comes into the picture and provide another option.

I see that now Israeli startups are beginning to realize the untapped potential that lies in Asia, and Singaporean investors are shifting towards investing in Israeli startups because of their ability to innovate.

What is the future of the industry?

The future of the industry is to connect high potential businesses to suitable investors and partners and take it globally.

We are planning to advocate Startup Nation by establishing a strong Israeli tech presence in Asia via Singapore and realize Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative.

In this industry it is very important to be at the forefront of all current technology trends, to have a foresight for opportunities and react quickly. It’s also crucial to maintain the company’s reputation and image. Both investors and startups trust you to find the best match for them and their expectations are always very high.

Were there anything that disappointed you initially?

When I dropped out of school and left my high-paying job to follow my passion, there were many skeptical people that tried to discourage me. But because I found something I really believe in and worked towards that direction, the confidence and strive for success stimulated me to think of new ideas and implement them. I just forget about what other people think.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia? 

Being an entrepreneur in Asia is different and it may not seem like a virtue but I can see that this is changing. I feel like Asia has no place for second chances for entrepreneurs. It has its pros and cons. On the one hand it puts you under big pressure, but on the other hand you will work even harder to insure the high quality of what you deliver.

What is your opinion on Asian entrepreneurship vs Western entrepreneurship?

Asian entrepreneurship practices today are still very much a reflection of strong family values deeply rooted in Asian society, and the loyalty to existing social structures still remains as the rule for survival – while Western entrepreneurship seems to be more pragmatic and individualistic.

I think that Asian market is still untapped with a lot of opportunities and that provides a level playing field to both Asian and Western entrepreneurs.

What is your definition of success?

Success as I define it is to make a positive impact and a positive change.

Not only that, it’s also managing to reach your goals and not let the difficulties you face to prevent that.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I grew up in the North of Israel near the Lebanese border, where everyday was a matter of life and death. I didn’t know if the war would start the next day and felt the urge to work and succeed and make the most of my life. I believe that we are living for a purpose and I want to make a real change in the world.

Being an entrepreneur is way harder and more demanding than corporate jobs. In a startup life you always work a minimum of 12 hours a day, and you don’t have your weekends. Sometimes you find yourself surviving on canned food for a month until you close the next deal or get an investment but I believe it’s worth it.

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Hard work, believing in an idea and in yourself, expecting the unexpected, ability to work under pressure and overcome obstacles.

You will always face drawbacks and will always think about going back to your comfort zone and earning a stable income every month. But it’s important that you believe in yourself and don’t let negatitivities obstruct you from reaching your real goal.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

Find something you are really passionate about and follow it.

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Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Ray Ferguson, Founder of Caber Partners

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Ray Ferguson left the banking world and returned to Asia to explore exciting fintech opportunities.

What’s your story?
I am the Founder of Caber Partners, a Singapore based MAS Licensed Fund Manager and Financial Advisor investing and working with companies focused exclusively on the intersection of finance and technology. I work specifically in the areas of payments, insurance, wealth management, alternative lending and blockchain.

I am also Chairman of Singapore Life which was founded last year. It is the first new local life company in Singapore. Concurrently, I chair Youtap a business which is creating a cashless e-money processing backbone providing real-time interoperable settlements of all consumer e-money payments to the merchants, e-money providers, retail and FMCG distribution groups, and banks across emerging markets.

My 30 year journey as a banker had its main leg with Standard Chartered Bank, where I held multiple country chief executive and regional leadership roles across four continents. I spent 6 years as Regional CEO, South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore. After Standard Chartered, I moved to Bank ABC, Bahrain and assumed the role of Group Chief Banking Officer where I took care of the group’s banking businesses worldwide.
Last year, I decided to step down after 3 years from my role with Bank ABC to return to Asia to pursue interesting and exciting opportunities that fintech disruption was providing.

What excites you most about your industry?
The sheer pace of technological innovation in the financial sector, and how it is up-ending the traditional models and traditional players. There are huge implications and benefits for efficiency, transparency and importantly financial inclusion which will drive growth in emerging markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have lived in and worked in Asia for more than 30 years. I first came to Singapore in 1994 and today I am a proud Singapore citizen, and to me Singapore is home.

Its an invigorating environment. Asia is in the middle of an historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise sixfold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution. This is a big deal and I’m excited to be part of it!

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore! Singapore is known for being a business-friendly country and it was crowned the best country in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business List” and ranks as the top 3 in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitive Index.” Singapore is an attractive hub, for both businesses and has a great community to live in.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and you will know what you don’t know.

Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That the global mobile wallet market was valued at approximately USD 594 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3,100 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 32% between 2017 and 2022.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt to code.

How do you unwind?
Exercise, golf and sailing large catamarans.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket. Easy to reach, Thai people and service, breadth of choice of locations/accomodation and great sailing weather.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Good to Great – Jim Collins. It’s about how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how and why most companies fail to make the transition.

Shameless plug for your business:
Caber Partners team is uniquely connected with our networks and experience in fintech markets, investing and banking and business growth solutions throughout Asia and across the emerging world.

How can people connect with you?
Come connect with me through my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayfergusonscb

Twitter handle?
Rayferguson888

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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