Imperial College London

Imperial alumni: Singapore’s innovative entrepreneurs

by

Val and Kevin

Singapore has become one of the world’s most thriving startup environments, with Imperial graduates playing a central role.

The emergence of multi-billion dollar companies such as ride-hailing platform Grab and e-commerce Lazada, as well as a supportive government and access to grants, have encouraged entrepreneurs to base themselves in the Lion City.

Many of Imperial’s 3,000 alumni living in Singapore are making big strides with their own startups.

We spoke with some of Imperial’s innovative alumni in Singapore to find out why the region is so popular with technology startups and how Imperial set them on the path to entrepreneurship.

Val Yap – CEO and Founder, PolicyPal Group

Val Yap
Val Yap is the CEO and Founder of PolicyPal Group

Val Yap (MSc Management, 2012) is the CEO and Founder of PolicyPal Group, a leading insurtech that aims to bring protection to millions of lives through data and technology.

Founded in 2016, PolicyPal is an insurance platform that uses predictive analytics to help people choose protection.

It also connects advisors across different insurers and provides them with services such as quotations, marketing, customer service and data analytics. With over 50,000 consumers on the platform, PolicyPal is building technology to transform protection and financial services for consumers, advisors and insurers across the entire insurance industry.

What do you remember about your time at Imperial?

I had a great time, my classmates were very international. I think there were 16 nationalities on the course, so I got to make friends with people from places such as Africa, Asia, Australia and the US. We became a big family from all around the world.

"I believe the support from Imperial and energy from international friends and people I met in London motivated me to want to do something." Val Yap PolicyPal Group CEO

Did you always want to become an entrepreneur?

No, I was an accidental entrepreneur. The whole idea came about because my mum was diagnosed with cancer and I figured it was best to be closer to home.

I was helping her file for an insurance claim and I found out the insurance industry was quite old school and tedious paperwork. Her claim was rejected because the payment was late once.

And within the same year, my dad passed away due to a heart attack, and I had to deal with insurance again.

All the paperwork got me thinking that everyone has to deal with insurance, often at difficult situations, when you find out illness or someone close to you passes on, and it can be quite complicated to manage it all. I realised this is an area to solve.

How did Imperial help you do what you’re doing now?

I believe the support from Imperial and energy from international friends and people I met in London motivated me to want to do something.

The course gave me a broad experience of how businesses are run, covering finance, marketing and organisational behaviour. It helped show me how to run businesses.

They also demonstrated the importance of networking and relationships. The Careers Service helped me get internships and a place on the graduate programme at PwC.

Is Singapore a good place to become an entrepreneur?

There are lots of grants and initiatives to kick-start businesses. Although it is a small country, it is a good test bed to launch and understand what is doable.

It would be great if there was a stronger bridge for entrepreneurs in Asia to connect with the US and UK to share experiences and collaborate.

What would be your advice for student entrepreneurs?

Always ask the question as to why you are building a business – is there a burning need you’re solving, are you passionate about what you’re working on?

Kevin Koh – CEO and Founder, Vivo Surgical

Kevin Koh
Kevin Koh is the CEO and Founder of Vivo Surgical

Kevin Koh (PhD Biomedical Engineering, 2011) is the CEO and Founder of surgical technology company Vivo Surgical. They are developing KLAROTM, an in vivo surgical LED lighting device used to improve lighting and visibility for surgeons during open surgery.

Kevin and his team of scientists, clinicians and engineers are also working on a disposable endoscopic robot that would augment a surgeon’s range of movement during minimally-invasive surgery, and a hand-held and more affordable device to detect nose cancer – which could be used in low-cost settings in emerging and developing countries.

Kevin also co-founded the first fully-independent professional symphony orchestra in Singapore, known regionally as the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra.

What do you remember about your time at Imperial?

It was inspiring because when I started my PhD at Imperial in 2007, that was at the cusp of the medtech wave of innovation. Imperial had the foresight to start the course so early in the sector’s infancy.

Even though we didn’t know it at the time, we were being exposed to really cutting-edge stuff, that we then all grew along with it and now everyone’s seeing applications of the technology.

KLARO
Surgical LED lighting device KLAROTM

How did Imperial help you do what you’re doing now?

With the broad range of things that Imperial does, it gets you to start thinking outside the box.

You’re exposed to a lot and you realise the world is not just science but how all the different disciplines, such as healthcare, sustainability and even music, are interconnected.

A lot of big names in the fields would come and give talks and one of these talks actually led to my first job at a biotech/medtech private equity firm.

How did you find living in London?

I was there for ten years and found it great! It’s the capital city of the world. You find everything there, and the food scene was amazing. I attend a great deal of classical concerts and the scene in London tops anywhere in the world.

I came back to Singapore and was approached to privatise an orchestra here. We are now the first fully-independent professional symphony orchestra in Singapore, the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra. We pioneered the movie-concert concept in Southeast Asia.

Singapore Orchestra
Kevin co-runs the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra in Singapore

What would your advice be to student entrepreneurs?

People have come to ask me, ‘when’s a good time?’ The answer is; there’s never a good time, it’s only when you start. You’re only ready when you start. You’ve got to be brave.

Imperial's network of innovators in Singapore

Singapore alumni
There are 3,000 Imperial alumni living in Singapore

Imperial has a growing alumni community of 3,000 living in Singapore and the Imperial College Alumni Association of Singapore marked its 40th anniversary in September 2017.

Established in 1977, it has grown into a strong network of professionals, bonded by friendships forged at Imperial.

Alumni include former Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (MSc Computing 1977). 

Industrialists J. Y. Pillay and Koh Boon Hwee (Mechanical Engineering 1972).

Jayson Goh (Engineering 1998) is the Managing Director, Airport Operations Management at Changi Airport Group. 

Serial entrepreneur Eddie Chau (Msc DIC, Communications Engineering, 1986) is founder of digital security firm V-Key.

Natasha Foong (MSc Management Science, 1989) is the co-founder of ValuAir, South-East Asia’s first budget airline, and Partner at Incuvest PTE, Venture Capital firm.


Reporter

Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications and Public Affairs

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 9531
Email: s.johns@imperial.ac.uk

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Alumni, South-East-Asia, International, Entrepreneurship, East-Asia, Comms-strategy-International-university
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