He's just 19 - but he owns two budding businesses

Westwood Secondary School alumnus Xavier Tan sowed the seeds of entrepreneurship in 2015 when he went through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) programme as a Secondary 3 student.

These "seeds" have since grown into not just one, but two businesses. Mr Tan, 19, owns Typographic Apparels, a T-shirt printing company, and Typoholic Apparel, which sells T-shirts featuring designs by budding artists.

The printing firm was established in January last year, and Mr Tan started selling printed tees under Typoholic Apparel in January this year.

But it was not what he had planned when he was thinking up business ideas for NFTE. He originally wanted to start a "mobile cafe" in the central business district.

He envisioned operating a bus that would serve coffee and breakfast to busy executives on the go, as it ferried them from MRT stations to various locations within the financial district.

He came up with the idea while observing people rushing about during the morning peak hour in Raffles Place.

That was the idea he took to New York City in March last year, when he was there to attend the NFTE global showcase .

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On his return, Halogen Foundation - the charity that administers NFTE in Singapore - paired him with a mentor, Ms Ming Yow, 43, who is vice-president of global enterprise at a telecommunications firm, China Broadband Communications International.

"Xavier was keen on starting a business, but I urged him to consider other factors that would affect the business set-up and operations," said Ms Yow.

He took her advice and considered factors such as the cost of starting the mobile cafe. The project would involve bidding for a certificate of entitlement for the bus, and applying for relevant permits.

"I'm a student with little capital, so the mobile cafe idea did not seem very feasible," said Mr Tan, who starts school this week at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where he will study product, design and innovation.

Even so, as an only child, he was determined to start a business that would help reduce the financial burden on his parents.

His father is a masseur, while his mother is a supervisor at a restaurant.

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He soon discerned another opportunity in the T-shirt printing business after seeing many of his schoolmates designing and printing T-shirts to wear as a class, or for a club or society.

"I thought that if I started a T-shirt printing business, I would already have a support base made up of my classmates and schoolmates," he said.

He established contacts with companies that sold basic T-shirts and with printing firms as well before starting to take orders from his schoolmates.

"I am very grateful to my schoolmates for supporting me," he said, adding that his first order came from classmates at Westwood, who printed 45 T-shirts with him.

To expand his clientele, he printed fliers and distributed them outside other schools.

Today, his monthly revenue ranges from a few hundred to as much as $2,000.

"Since I was already printing my own T-shirts, I thought there was room to start another new business that would also give my friends a chance to display their artwork," he said.

The designs for Typoholic Apparel are done by his friends, whom he pays on a commission basis. To date, 125 T-shirts have been sold.

In the process of starting the two businesses, Mr Tan, who had always struggled with the English language, found that he became more articulate.

"NFTE was a turning point in my life. It gave me the mindset that, if I wanted to do something, I should try. Even if I failed, it would still be a learning experience," he said. "But of course, I hoped it wouldn't fail."

Audrey Tan

This article was first published on Apr 17, 2017.
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