Green tech advocate makes good

PHOTO: Green tech advocate makes good

CHANGI Airport Terminal 1 & 3, Marina Bay Sands, the Dubai Mall Hotel in the United Arab Emirates and Kuala Lumpur International Airport are landmarks that share something common - products of Singapore-based Rigel Technology.

It is likely that most homes have used Rigel's products before, since it commands the lion's share of Singapore's commercial sanitation market.

Among the accolades the firm has received are the 2011 Singapore Prestige Brand Award for Established Brands and Regional Brands double awards, as well as the Enterprise 50 award, for which it was a first-time winner last year. It has also been awarded the L5 certificate by BCA, making it the first in its field to receive such certification.

This allows Rigel to be eligible to tender up to $10 million in supply contracts. PSB Corporation has also classified Rigel under PSB Product Listing Scheme Class 1A - a premium quality testing standard to provide sanitary ware for government projects. More recently, Rigel was the winner of the Singapore Sustainable Business Award for 2011.

From revolutionising the sanitary market with its flagship sensor equipment to becoming the industry leader, Rigel has captured more than 50 per cent of the local commercial market.

Reaping the fruits of two decades of intensive research and development, Rigel's product range includes integrated sensor flush valves, manual flush valves, water closet suites, urinals, hydro-powered taps and sensor soap dispensers.

Founded in 1991, Rigel had very humble beginnings. Starting out in an office space half the size of its present-day conference room, Christopher Ng and his team assembled prototypes, which were then marketed to potential buyers on a cold-calling basis.

What prompted Mr Ng to give up a stable career in an MNC for the highly unpredictable life of an entrepreneur? "I wanted to challenge myself to do something more than just the normal stereotype. I wanted to start a company," he says.

There were many obstacles along the way but a winning combination of business acumen, excellent management and innovative products helped him to overcome such challenges.

An advocate of green technology, Mr Ng's passion for environmental sustainability is reflected in the company's core values. "Every drop makes an ocean and every litre of water saved is a gift to the planet," he says. Given Singapore's water-supply situation, Mr Ng wanted to contribute to water conservation efforts by offering green restroom solutions.

An example of the cutting-edge green technology employed by the company is hydropower technology that uses energy from water flow to drive its faucets and Light Emitting Diode (LED) Series.

Without compromising hygiene standards, Rigel's sensor tap is able to achieve up to a 54 per cent reduction in water usage and 30 per cent less water discharge frequency upon detection of high traffic flow.

Excellent ratings

About 90 per cent of Rigel's restroom products have excellent ratings in water efficiency under the PUB's Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme.

Its products have achieved some of the highest international quality standards, including ISO 9001:2000, International Certification Network, European Commission Declaration of Conformity, Dutch Board for Accreditation, the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design system by the United States Green Building Council, China Quality Certification Centre and Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, among others.

The company has helped many building owners win prestigious green building awards under the Singapore Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark Scheme.

"We are always thinking of better products to offer our customers," said Derrick Lee, Rigel's head of R&D. The firm invests $1 million annually in R&D to spur improvement in green restroom technology. To do this, the department keeps itself abreast of the latest trends in sanitation, clean technology, green architecture market and intelligent building management.

Excellent staff management is a factor behind the firm's success. "Staff members are loyal and willing to work their socks off. You've got to trust them," says Mr Ng. He emphasises the importance of placing his staff in bigger roles to help them hone their management skills. "The company can basically function without me," he quips.

Rigel occupies a five-storey building at Kaki Bukit Techpark, which houses its headquarters and a walk-in showroom. It also has two factories in Luzhou City and Ningbo in China as well as a flagship store in Hangzhou.

Efforts intensify

As water conservation efforts intensify and more buildings go green, the demand for green restroom products will increase exponentially, notes Mr Ng. He expects the company to achieve a turnover of $100 million in five years' time, a more than five-fold increase from the $18 million in sales it recorded last year.

Asked about the possibility of taking the company public, Mr Ng says Singapore would be his preferred listing destination. "Singapore is my home. It gave me an opportunity to start Rigel and I want to contribute as much as I can," he says, adding that an ideal listing point would be when turnover hits $100 million.

Having conquered the commercial market here, Rigel is keen to focus on the local residential and hotel sector as well as the international market. It has established an international distributorship network that includes Chile, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, Philippines and Hong Kong, and has plans to expand to Indonesia and Brazil.

The writers are students of NUS Business School