6 S’pore Politicians Starting Ventures
For years, Singapore’s parliament has largely consisted of well-trained candidates in professional corporate environments, as opposed to candidates accustomed to the strain of the startup scene.
However, that is changing. In the recent general election, many candidates from the entrepreneurial scene came forward.
Far from sitting in an ivory tower, these six Singaporean politicians have created and run their own businesses and bring these useful experiences to politics and governance.
Here are these 6 people who started their own businesses before or after their foray into politics:
Edward Chia was presented in the 2020 general election as part of the Popular Action Party (PAP).
His team won against the Democratic Party of Singapore (SDP) in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, securing 66.36% of the vote alongside Vivian Balakrishnan, Christopher De Souza and Sim Ann.
Edward Chia is a long-time entrepreneur with a particular interest in supporting and developing Singaporean music and culinary talent.
At 18, Edward founded the nonprofit Arts For Us All to involve young people in art-based community work.
At 21, he then co-founded Timbre while pursuing undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore.
Today, the Timbre Group is one of Singapore’s most prolific social enterprises with a diverse portfolio of lifestyle and entertainment brands that include festival promotion, F&B brands, and music management. .
The Timbre Group operates four concert halls for local musicians to perform and expand their audiences, as well as partners with organizers to launch musical and artistic events.
The social enterprise was the first to introduce an automatic return system.
He also started a Hawkerpreneur incubation program to encourage young Singaporeans to start their own hawking business.
Raeesah Khan, a member of the Workers’ Party (WP), won against the PAP in a historic ticket that won the WP 52.13% of the vote in the Sengkang GRC alongside Jamus Lim, He Ting Ru and Louis Chua.
She is the founder of the Reyna Movement, a social enterprise that empowers women in disadvantaged communities through community engagement programs and skills building opportunities.
The company was founded in 2016, in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2014.
In 2019, the Reyna movement ran two projects: Kakak Dan Adik, which provides Rohingya refugees in Kuala Lumpur with aid and support, and Project Ria, which supports poor women in Singapore.
In 2020, Reyna’s Entrepreneurial Acceleration Program (REAP) was launched as a start-up program for women-founded businesses, with a particular focus on women from disadvantaged communities, in collaboration with Liyana Dhamirah, the founder of Virtual Assistants Singapore.
Teo Ser Luck
One of Singapore’s most prominent ministers, Teo Ser Luck has served as Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Manpower, and Mayor of the Northeast District of Singapore.
He also worked at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports as the youngest member of the government.
He played a central role at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and represented the PAP, leading the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2006 to 2020.
Since retiring from public service in 2017, Teo Ser Luck has built a series of businesses in industries ranging from education to sports and fintech.
The ex-politician is silent on details of the companies he started but revealed he was one of the co-founders of Nufin Data.
Nufin Data’s cloud platform, NEMO, provides SMEs and startups with rapid access to capital through secure data exchange, turning supply chain financing into a simple, secure and transparent process.
Former Appointed Member of Parliament (NMP) under Singapore’s 13th legislature, Anthea Ong came to power in 2018 to speak out on issues of social inclusion, mental health and volunteering.
After a stint in the corporate world, Anthea embarked on a series of start-up initiatives including projects aimed at strengthening social inclusion.
This includes WIMBY, an initiative designed to tackle xenophobic feelings towards migrant workers, and Playground Of Joy, which incorporates mindfulness into an educational program for children.
In 2014, Anthea founded the social enterprise Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s first silent tea bar.
Hush employs deaf people and people with mental health issues to raise awareness among people with disabilities and fight the epidemic of mental health issues in Singapore.
In 2017, Anthea co-founded A Good Space, a non-profit community cooperative that fosters collaboration and innovation between activists and change makers.
The community has launched more than 334 activities and projects for more than 7,676 people in the past two years.
Rachel Ong entered politics in GE2020 as the PAP candidate for West Coast GRC, defeating the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) in a marginal victory alongside ministers like Desmond Lee.
In 2001 Rachel founded Trybe, a social service agency specializing in working with troubled youth.
Trybe is classified as a public institution in the National Council of Social Services. It operates the Singapore Boys’ Hostel and offers intervention, rehabilitation and integration programs for young people.
Rachel is also the Founder and Interim CEO of ROHEI Corporation, a Singapore-based learning and development consultancy.
To date, ROHEI has partnered with over 100 organizations and has served over 70,000 executives in all sectors with a force of 60 full-time consultants.
The brand has grown in China and has a foundation based in Manila.
Carrie Tan was elected to parliament in GE2020 under the PAP, as MP for Nee Soon GRC.
Alongside ministers like K Shanmugan, Faishal Ibrahim and Derrick Goh, the team won the ticket against PSP with 61.9% of the vote.
After a volunteer trip to South India in 2007, Carrie founded a social enterprise, Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT’s), incorporated in 2014.
Registered as a charity in Singapore, the organization supports existing training agencies for disadvantaged women, giving them the skills to support themselves.
DOT has reached over 800 women through their vocational training programs, enabling them to secure sustainable employment and a strong social network.
The organization provides women with access to computer literacy programs, temporary child care, employment supports and other services.
The rise of the entrepreneur-politician
It’s a full-time job running a country, but some of the politicians listed here have proven that you can make a change both nationally and on the ground if you want it enough.
While cabinet candidates may claim to have invested their time for the good of the local community, these politicians mobilized themselves by trying to bring about their own social change – some long before entering the political arena.
Singapore’s economy, which also relies on small-scale SMEs, could benefit from the presence of ruling leaders who have built their own businesses and understand the types of concerns that affect small businesses.
At the end of the day, having an entrepreneur-politician in your back pocket doesn’t just make good public relations – it can also contribute to better governance.
Featured Image Credit: Edward Chia’s Facebook / Raeesah Khan’s Facebook / A Magazine / Anthea Ong’s Facebook / Rohei / Teo Ser Luck’s Facebook
Our sincere thanks to