Startup O Stars is a series that captures stories of authentic tech entrepreneurs from Asia, to share their insights, learnings, tips & resources with the community. It aims to foster a deeper understanding of these journeys, direct from the trenches.

Dr. Oh Ser Wah
– Co-Founder

Take a selfie on your stroll through Singapore’s iconic Gardens by the Bay, and reach your Instagram audience on the spot courtesy “super Wi-Fi” – the innovative use of TV White Space to operate networks. This development, with its life-changing advantages for underserved populations, is the brainchild of Dr. Oh Ser Wah and Pankaj Sharma of Whizspace.

Ser Wah and Pankaj launched Whizspace in June 2016, following a 5-year working partnership based on mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s complementary skills.  The two met while working together at A*Star, where Pankaj says Ser Wah was one of the best managers he had ever worked for.  Both partners refer to the other being at the “right frequency”; both feel a sense of fit on a technical and professional level.  So, with minimal hesitation, they took the plunge in 2016 to launch their product, with the vision of providing internet connectivity to the roughly 3.9 billion unconnected people globally.

1

Derive motivation underpinned by purpose

Ser Wah and Pankaj continue to derive motivation from the positive feedback about the impact their product has. The success of their technology speaks for itself and is a source of pride for the team. “We were able to make our technology work at a shipyard, where no other technology had worked before. When the client saw it working, they were amazed that our technology was successful under such extreme conditions”, says Pankaj, of one his proudest moments as an entrepreneur.

Pankaj, who is originally from India, was keenly aware of the lack of connectivity in underprivileged areas and the huge costs of providing bandwidth – for him, Whizspace is a means to give back and help such populations. Validation was particularly gratifying when their first order came from Myanmar, the second from India, and finally the third from Singapore.

In fact, Whizspace received their first order even before they had completed the process of handing over at their previous jobs. This was a very welcome endorsement that they were on the right track with their product and gave them the confidence to proceed.

“We were able to make our technology work at a shipyard, where no other technology had worked before.”

2

Be a lifelong learner

Both Ser Wah and Pankaj completed MBA degrees while working at A*Star, with Pankaj having focused on the world of startups. Ser Wah, in particular, was motivated by the personal growth that comes of exposure to running a business in its entirety and envied founders and entrepreneurs the opportunity to do things differently.

Ser Wah himself is no stranger to entrepreneurial ventures, having tested his mettle on ventures while at secondary school, which he says helped prepare him for this journey.

“An entrepreneur’s days never quite pan out the way they envisage. Budding entrepreneurs should remember to ‘expect the unexpected’.”

3

Expect the unexpected

Ser Wah’s biggest moment of truth came when he resigned from his secure job at A*Star and embraced the uncertainties ahead. Soon after he resigned, his wife was retrenched from her job, further adding to the uncertainty. For Pankaj too, resigning from his job of 15 years was a difficult decision, especially in view of the high failure rate of start-ups.

Nearly three years into the Whizspace journey, both find themselves working long hours, dealing with all operational aspects of handling a business; Pankaj points out that they both routinely work until 2 am. Both are mildly amused that their days never quite pan out the way they envisage, and caution budding entrepreneurs to “expect the unexpected”.

Ser Wah defines success as, “when peoples’ lives change for the better because for you.”

4

Have your vision of success

Says Ser Wah of his definition of success, “it is when peoples’ lives change for the better because for you. Earning a lot of money from a business is a short-term success – it could do very well for a time but fail at any moment. But if you are able to change the lives and behaviours of people, for example, in the manner that Facebook has changed lives by connecting people, this is what I would define as success.”

Pankaj views success in his unique context, having come to Singapore from a small town in India and developed a unique technology that, in turn, helps connect the unconnected back home in India and beyond.

“The gap a startup is seeking to fill has to be defined very clearly.”

5

Know your strengths

The basic building block of any successful pitch is a clear identification of the problem to be solved. According to Ser Wah, “The gap that you are seeking to fill has to be defined very clearly. Many start-ups share the benefits of their solution, but without grasping the problem, a listener cannot always appreciate what the start-up is trying to achieve.”

The duo also prides themselves on having built a team that includes motivated interns who return to Whizspace to repeated internships. For this, they credit their willingness to hand over ownership of a task, a win-win where they are available to guide and advise, but where the member of staff feels empowered.

“A platform like Startup-O was a great help to us. I strongly encourage all entrepreneurs to look for Startup-O!”

6

Identify your gaps and seek help

Many technology-focused entrepreneurs are highly skilled, confident and adept at their technology but many lack the skills and the time needed to seek out business mentorship and funding. Pankaj and Ser Wah advise fellow entrepreneurs to seek out a partner that can provide inroads and guidance in navigating this often-complicated journey.

Says Pankaj, “the VC cycle is long and onerous, with a lot of scrutinies, meetings, and potential travel involved. A platform like Startup-O was a great help to us, as the process of partnering with them took just six weeks. In addition to funding, they gave us a lot of visibility, for example, they told us about several relevant conferences. I strongly encourage all entrepreneurs to look for Startup-O!”

Startup-O is South East Asia’s leading platform for startup assessments, investments, and venture building. It was created with ‘Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs’ ethos at the core of its design. The assessment platform coupled with venture funds helps with systematic discovery & investing in high traction tech startups. These promising growth startups are selected through a transparent process which is a blend of multi-stage online evaluations conducted by seasoned global experts & proprietary ranking algorithms on the platform.