Editor’s note: this article was first published on 10 January 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
For many of us, the circuit breaker was a period of isolation, filled with restrictions that separated us from our loved ones. It revolutionised the way we hung out with one another and made working from home the norm. COVID-19 was the reason we brought all our activities online.
But among our student population, some budding entrepreneurs had the ideas and found the means to realise them, stepping up to make a change and help other members of the community survive through their struggles during the pandemic.
Whether it was to educate our future generation or to help job-seekers and local businesses struggling to keep themselves afloat, these young trailblazers rose to the challenge and created start-ups which provided solutions for various members of the community.
Here are 5 of the most promising initiatives by local university students that we should keep a lookout for:
This year, as social interactions went online, young children were relegated to their screens and have had to experience school and socialisation online at home. Many parents also found it difficult to divide their time between their children and their jobs as they worked from home.
When home-based learning became the new norm, Jenine Koh Jia Hui, a recent recipient of the Startup SG Founder Grant by Enterprise Singapore founded Nino News to be Singapore’s very first content platform for preschoolers. The goal was to engage them with bite-sized news stories and relieve some stress from parents.
Ms Koh, a full-time Year 3 student from Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS)’s Bachelor of Early Childhood Education, believes that children should be empowered to be independent thinkers, developing perspectives of their own. As such, the initiative covers a wide range of topics not typically discussed in schools, allowing children to discover new knowledge beyond the classroom, becoming active readers at a young age. By innovating news reading for young children, Nino News helps young children develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, nurturing their interest in learning.
Interested parents and readers can visit their website for more details on their work.
Ever heard of edible cutlery? Founded by 29-year-old Anna Lam Kar Yee, Crunch Cutlery is a start-up that is riding the waves of the rising sustainability trend, filling the demand for zero-waste utensils.
Once a student under the Alibaba-Cloud-SUSS Entrepreneurship Programme, Anna met her current business partner Sean Neo, 26. Their journey to the launch of Crunch Cutlery, however, was not always a smooth one. Earlier this year, Anna’s first startup, a digital platform called COOKI which teaches Singaporeans how to recreate and customise heritage dishes failed to take off. Mere months after, she decided to take the plunge once again with Crunch Cutlery.
Stuck at home during the circuit breaker, Anna first tried manufacturing her edible cutlery out of interest. And after two months of trial-and-error using baking ingredients such as flour, coconut oil, flax and chia seeds, she perfected the recipe to crunch cutlery. Their product range has since further developed to feature a selection of different flavoured spoons, from Matcha Fibres to Butterfly pea Lychee.
Now, with the growing success of Crunch Cutlery, Miss Lam hopes that she will be able to see her edible cutlery as a viable option in more cafes and restaurants in the next year.
The epitome of a modern hawker, a bee hoon cooking session among friends in Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s Hall 13 inspired Lee Ray Sheng to recruit school friends to set up Raydy, selling bee hoon during supper hours right in Hall 13’s canteen. But as with many other businesses, mere months after their opening, Raydy was forced to shut down in Phase 1.
Undaunted by this setback, the Raydy team saw an opportunity to give back to the community by providing meals for the needy during the circuit breaker. Their online crowdfunding campaign garnered quick support from the public and the team managed to raise a total of $163,273 as well as $5,150 from offline donations and 1000kg of bee hoon donations.
In collaboration with the non-profit organisation The Food Bank, the team recruited volunteers and distributed packs of their bee hoon and masks donated by the public to the lower-income households they visited. By the end of phase 2, they had given out 56,400 packets of food, as well as 34,600 masks to the less-fortunate community.
While the Raydy Gives initiative is currently on hold during the school term, the team has confirmed that plans for the initiative are well on the way. Raydy has now expanded its business to sell prawn noodles in the day, and their signature bee hoon for supper at their Hall 13 canteen stall.
Unemployment and pay-cuts were one of the public’s main concerns in 2020. As COVID-19 hit, our society became more open to flexible work arrangements, Bryan Chan, the founder of TheNightMrkt observed a growing prevalence of employees taking on side-hustles as freelancers, to fuel their passions and bolster their income. TheNightMrkt team now consists of Bryan, as well as Samuel Chia, 23, Koh Jin Jie, 23, Nigel Pua, 23, and Nigel Cheong, 24. Together, the five co-founders set out to create a reliable platform that promoted fair trade of skills for wages, both for clients looking for freelancers, as well as the freelancers themselves.
Unlike other freelancing platforms, actively building relationships with their freelancers is a priority to TheNightMrkt team. The platform mainly caters to skilled students and side-hustlers looking to find freelance jobs, who apply for the jobs they are interested in. TheNightMrkt team’s experienced analysts will then recommend suitable candidates to client companies.
Alternatively, TheNightMrkt also groups freelancers with complementary skill-sets, combining their talent pool to form temporary teams to match the client company’s needs. The element of accountability to each other creates stronger communication and transparency, allowing for a higher success rate in their projects.
During COVID-19, TheNightMrkt’s Instagram page also featured various hawkers in Singapore. Bryan explains that they had noticed that NEA’s 2020 statistics show the median age of Singapore’s hawkers at 60 years old.
“These hawkers have not only served us, but also our parents, and even our grandparents,” said Bryan. “But with the ongoing pandemic, they lack the ability and knowledge to adapt, with food delivery options or market themselves through social media. With access to hundreds of youths skilled in digital marketing, naturally, we thought it was our social responsibility to rally these youths to help and thank our seniors for the hard work they’ve put in serving us with delicious food at affordable prices all these years.”
TheNightMrkt recently celebrated the launch of their new website on 30 December, and they also plan to roll out a mobile application in the future. In the meantime, freelancers and Companies interested in their platform can also check out their relevant social media sites for further updates.
Our Brewing Stories
Next to our hawkers, local cafes also took a heavy hit during COVID-19. The interruption of the global food supply chain and limitations on businesses during lockdown resulted in a plunge in revenue. Many cafes also had to move online within a short period and a large number of cafes that failed to garner enough support had to close down in 2020.
The first question that Our Brewing Stories posed to their audience was what if after COVID-19, the only cafes left in Singapore are Starbucks outlets? Upon noticing the crisis that cafes were facing, Justin Wong, 23, the founder of Our Brewing Stories thought of creating a connecting platform for local cafes. He convinced three close friends to embark on this passion project with him and together, the quartet reached out to various cafes islandwide. Thus, Our Brewing Stories was born.
The team’s initial idea was to provide a hub to link local cafes with one another, and rally support to push through the pandemic. During the circuit breaker, they interviewed various cafe owners via Zoom and visited the cafes later in Phase 2. Our Brewing Stories then promoted their brand stories and signature dishes on their platform to reach a wider audience.
OurBrewingStories is available on a variety of platforms, from their website to a telegram channel, making it easily accessible for all users. They are also looking to launch a mobile application soon, to allow consumers to browse for and make reservations for cafes in collaboration with them. Further updates are available on their Instagram page.
Every start-up comes with its risks. So cheers to those willing to take the plunge and choose a road less travelled by, to help our community through such tough times. We may not all be Nam Do Sans and Seo Dal Mis, but we can do our part by being aware of the good causes that businesses represent and supporting our local entrepreneurs in pursuing their innovations.