A Rising ASEAN Entrepreneurial Talent

Young entrepreneur Theodore Khng is making a name for himself in the local and regional business communities

As Singapore’s representative to the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Carnival in Bangkok last year, Theodore Khng created awareness of entrepreneurs here and shared his business journey in Singapore. The annual carnival, designed to create more opportunities for young business leaders to connect, interact and build relationships across ASEAN and the region, was first launched in Malaysia in 2016, and is the flagship event of the ASEAN Young Entrepreneurs Council.

“As a fairly young entrepreneur with not much resources to start with, I figured that I could instead offer my time to help other budding local entrepreneurs through such activities, and provide experience and insights that may contribute to their own success stories. I am where I am today because of the people who have helped me,” he says.

As a young, dynamic entrepreneur in the local business community, it is unsurprising that Mr Khng was given the honour of representing Singapore at the ASEAN event. The skincare and pharmaceutical company he founded at just the age of 23, Theo10, became prominent in 2016 when it developed a non-sticky, non-oily mosquito repellent that proved popular during the Zika outbreak that year.

Mr Khng, an accountant by training, concocted the repellent in his own kitchen, getting the formula right after 68 arduous attempts. Today, the company offers a range of consumer skincare and pharmaceutical products made from natural ingredients which are sold in Singapore and the region. To this day his knack for developing innovative products to meet pressing needs has continued. During this COVID-19 pandemic period, for instance, the company developed its own organic hand sanitiser that could be used by people with sensitive skin.

Benefiting from networks

While Mr Khng’s success has come relatively quickly, he is keen to learn from his more experienced business community counterparts here and abroad, even as he supports other fledgling entrepreneurs.

He is on the executive committee of the Singapore Business Federation’s Young Business Leaders Network (SBF-YBLN), which was launched in September 2018 to prepare young entrepreneurs, next-generation business owners and corporate leaders under the age of 45 to embrace transformation, respond to the changing global environment, and be future-ready as well as creating positive impact through their business. Mr Khng joined YBLN to benefit from collaborations, provide leadership to other budding entrepreneurs, and connect with peers.

“Networks like YBLN have a lot of benefits to gain. You can gather with like-minded individuals who understand your struggles and learn how to improve yourself. It is also a way to pitch yourself against a benchmark too,” he explains. “Through such platforms, entrepreneurs can carry on their journey of self-discovery and “keep the fire going”, he adds.

During his time at YBLN, he had the opportunity not only to interact with his fellow Exco members, such as Sing Lun Group CEO Mark Lee, but also with veteran businessmen like OSIM founder Ron Sim.

“It was very interesting to meet Ron Sim. We had chicken rice with him in his board room and he was a very down-to-earth guy. It was like talking to an old friend,” he recalls. In particular, Mr Khng recalls a piece of advice given by Mr Sim that day – Cash is king and to focus on cash flow even with limited resources.

“His lesson on cash flow, which was simple to understand and very meaningful, was something which is commonly neglected in the search for expansion and business growth.”

Mr Khng is also in SBF’s inaugural group of mentees on the YBLN Mentorship Programme 2020-21 at SBF, which will allow him to continue learning from more experienced entrepreneurs.

Pivoting in a crisis

Such guidance is particularly necessary for many entrepreneurs today as they battle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While Theo10’s business has been impacted by the pandemic, the company is forging ahead with the development of new, relevant products that will meet consumers’ needs both during this period and in the future.

To this end, Theo10 is working with Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory to conduct research over the next six to 12 months in several areas. These include developing innovative treatments for Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, Eczema, and an odourless mosquito repellent that can provide prolonged periods of effective protection.