Business

Ex-NMP urges S'pore businesses to go abroad

Calvin Cheng says to grow big, local entrepreneurs should explore overseas markets

Young entrepreneurs should "get out of Singapore" and look at markets overseas for bigger growth opportunities, said businessman and former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng.

And China, in particular, is one market that businesses here should aim to get into, he said.

"I think a lot of our businesses start with a very small vision, thinking about Singapore - but you are never going to grow big in Singapore," Mr Cheng told The Straits Times in an interview this week.

"China is the story of our generation. It is all about China, wherever you are.

"And we have seen how the country went from being the third-largest economy to being the second, and now it is going to be the first very soon," he said.

"It is already a superpower - not only in business but also in politics. So it is a place that we cannot ignore. In fact, I think it is a place we can learn from."

Mr Cheng, for his part, had entered China in 2011 when he realised that the Singapore market, on its own, was "far too small".

He set up Jue Rui Bao Si - a grooming school for actresses, models and celebrities - which was then merged with Retech Group in August 2015 to form China-based education technology company Retech Technology.

CORPORATE TRAINING

Retech Technology, which listed in Australia in June, builds technology platforms for Chinese corporates to deliver their corporate training online.

Its clients comprise Chinese state-owned enterprises and multinational corporations, including Ping An Insurance and Mercedes-Benz.

Mr Cheng, who is co-chairman of the company, said Retech Technology has seen profits double every year since 2015.

Last year, profits hit A$4.9 million (S$5.2 million).

"We could go to Indonesia, which is another very large market, but China is big enough to keep us busy for a long time," he said.

Mr Cheng acknowledged that it had been tough learning the ropes of doing business in China.

This was a key reason why he was part of a new internship scheme launched last month - the Singapore Valley Awards - that will allow undergraduates here to experience working with some of China's top names in technology, including the Alibaba Group.

Mr Cheng noted that when Chinese technology companies were in the nascent stage of growth, they used to copy concepts from other parts of the world.

"But China is starting to innovate a lot of its own business models and technologies now," he said, citing apps such as WeChat, which has evolved to do more than just messaging.

"The hope is that more Singaporeans can learn from technology start-ups in China and bring (the knowledge) back to the region."

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