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Interview: Deep technology key to creating value for Singapore company

Hope Technik CEO says city-state 'very good' for entrepreneurs, but challenged by global economy

| Singapore

Creating value is vital to any business, and according to a Singapore CEO, key to the city-state staying relevant in an increasingly competitive world. But how does a company create value?

Peter Ho, head of engineering company Hope Technik, thinks the answer lies in deep technology. The company he and three friends founded in 2006 has blossomed into a thriving business with 130 employees and a client list that includes a number of globally recognized companies. With funding from a venture capital arm of Singapore Telecommunications along with funds from the state investment firm Temasek Holdings, Hope Technik is now expanding its reach into international markets.

39-year-old Ho spoke with the Nikkei Asian Review recently about his company and Singapore's environment for entrepreneurs.

Q: Do you agree with criticism that Singapore's environment is unfriendly for entrepreneurs?

A: No. I think it is a very good environment. There is a lot of support, especially in recent years, [for] entrepreneurship. We have very clear, business-friendly rules. Running a business in Singapore is structural, with [everything conforming] to government regulations. Everything is written in black and white. There is a beauty to it.

Hope Technik CEO Peter Ho

Q: Is it concerning that few Singaporeans risk becoming an entrepreneur like you?

A: I would call us "entrepreneurs by accident." None of the four [founders of Hope Technik] wanted to run a company. We only started it because we couldn't do what we wanted to do [at the jobs we had]. Many founders who created big companies here were entrepreneurs by accident.

The next-generation entrepreneurs who we are seeing in the startup phenomenon are entrepreneurs by design. People now have the luxury of choosing [to become entrepreneurs]. The prosperity of the country allowed it to happen. You are starting to see more and more entrepreneurs coming up.

Q: Are you worried about the future of industry in Singapore?

A: Yes. The world is a lot more connected, and it will be so easy to get the products [that] give you the best solutions from anywhere in the world. Given increased competition, what is Singapore good at doing? What is our right to exist as an economic contributor to the global economy? This challenge is increasing.

Deep technology, or really [having mastery in] an area, does create value. It is very critical. It is no longer about how you manage or transact things. I think in the end your only calling card ... is if you create value. If one plus one equals five, you are OK. If not, you lose relevance.

Q: You have said that Red Rhinos -- the small fire engines that you have produced since 2009 -- have opened the door for the company. How did you get the deal?

A: It was through the government's open tender. Our relationship with the Singapore Civil Defense Force started earlier. They wanted unusual technologies such as robotic boats and unmanned helicopters, which we provided. Red Rhinos, for their size, have one of the highest outputs of water in the industry, at 500 gallons per minute. We developed a very unique drivetrain for that.

We have supplied several dozens of fire trucks for them, and now we are going to begin exporting new firefighting vehicles for the first time in November.

Q: How did Hope Technik start?

A: National University of Singapore had a race car student project, Formula SAE, and all four of [the company's founders] were there. After graduation, I became a race car engineer for Petronas [and was] based in the U.K. for three years. As much as I loved the race cars, I realized what I really loved was the challenge of engineering of them. I realized I should spend my life more in the factory.

So we started Hope in 2006, selling simple race car equipment [online]. Soon after that, we got [our] first proper contract from a big local company, which wanted sophisticated engine-control systems. We were able to provide a product that met [their highest] weight and performance targets.

We are unique in Singapore. There are very few places to build things like [we can]. We don't think too much of what we want to build, but we think about what customers want to buy. As we took on different programs from different customers, we realized the gap in the market, which becomes an opportunity.

Q: Could you tell us about your overseas ambitions?

A: We opened our first overseas office in Guangzhou, China in August. This is to show our intent to grow our industrial robot sales to overseas markets. There are so many manufacturers [in China] who are ready for robots.

One of our unique products is AGV, or automated guided vehicles. With robotic arms integrated on top, it can pick up an item from a machine, drive somewhere else in the factory, and put it into another machine to continue the process. That kind of technology transformation allows our customers to move towards a "dark factory." It is a full reallocation of manpower. It is already running in our customers' sites, such as semiconductor factories in Singapore and China.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Mayuko Tani

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