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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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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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