People to watch in 2014

SINGAPORE - They are developing mobile games, blazing the runway, designing keyboards for paralysed people and breaking into a cut-throat music market. These are the people to watch in 2014.

Things can only get better

Category: Modelling

Who: Poojaa Gill, 22

Why: Secured Asia-wide ad campaign and is a finalist on the second season of Asia's Next Top Model

After a string of small modelling assignments, Miss Poojaa Gill may have finally hit the jackpot.

She was cast for a Levi's ad campaign that was shot in Shanghai.

The confident, leggy beauty proudly declares: "This campaign in July was my big break. When I went for casting, I knew it was for a big brand and did not think I would be successful. So when I actually got it, I knew things could only get better from there."

"Now I'm not thinking small anymore. I'm just thinking big. Only the big brands will do for me."

Miss Poojaa, who was from the Singapore Sports School, started modelling after an accident crushed her dream of becoming a sprinter.

She recalls: "My family pushed me to join The New Paper New Face competition and while I was inexperienced, I learnt a lot and started to take modelling more seriously."

That was in 2006, when her modelling career comprised of bit jobs that paid about $500.

But with the exposure she gained from the Levi's ad campaign, Miss Poojaa now gets paid a few thousand dollars for each assignment.

It also opened doors to the second season of reality television show Asia's Next Top Model, now airing on Star World.

"I want to learn from the best so I can grow, and more importantly, gain exposure to bigger assignments," says Miss Poojaa, who is represented by Phantom Model Management Agency.

"The campaign and the television show helped draw more local designers and bigger brand names to me."

The new year is already looking to be a bright start for her, starting today, where she will be shooting for Singapore womenswear designer Vikas Dayal.

MediaCorp actress Zhou Ying was noted as one of the best dressed at the Star Awards when she wore one of his creations from the Cruise Collection 2012.

Miss Poojaa will also have a shoot for Dior make-up.

Her ultimate goal this year: To get on international runways.

Miss Poojaa is 1.7m tall - which is short for runway shows.

She says: "It's a challenge, but my television experience has taught me that it should not be a hindrance.

"I've learnt how to use my long legs to make me appear taller. And I am confident my personality can win over designers. After all, this is my year and I've got nothing to lose."

More games to play for fans

Category: Entrepreneur

Who: Don Sim, 28

Why: Singapore game developer looks set to capture more of billion-dollar market with hot new release.

You could say Mr Don Sim and his two partners struck gold when they launched their first mobile game, Reign of Heroes, in December 2011.

The game, played by more than two million users, attracted the attention of gaming monoliths Konami and Electronic Arts. Both companies approached the men for a collaboration.

This year, the three 28-year-old entrepreneurs are leveraging on the fast-growing mobile game market, launching the sixth mobile game title under their company, Daylight Studios.

This development, announced last year, comes on the back of $839,000 worth of funding from seed-stage venture capital firm, Red Dot Ventures.

While he refused to reveal too much, Mr Sim says that it was “co-developed with a strong Chinese game company” and was designed for fantasy game fans.

“It will feature a well-known Viking god who wears an eye patch and rides a six-legged horse,” adds Mr Sim.

According to a report published by technology research firm Gartner last year, mobile games are the fastest-growing segment of the video games market, estimated to be worth US$22 billion (S$27.8 billion) by 2015, up from US$13.2 billion in 2013.

Mr Sim met his partners Alwyn Lee and Yappy Yap when they were students at the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing.

The trio struck out on their own in 2011 by going the unconventional route and targeting the developing world and feature phones for their games. Feature phones, predecessors to the smartphone, have Internet connectivity on top of call and texting functions, but not the app capabilities of smartphones.

Within three weeks of its launch, Reign of Heroes had 180,000 players and clinched top spot on social entertainment platform mig33, which has 70 million users worldwide.

Another of their games, Conquest Age, a free mobile role-playing game for the iOS mobile platform, has been popular in countries like Singapore, Philippines, and Malaysia. It has proven lucrative, with players spending money to purchase goodies in the game.

“One of the highest-spending players has spent more than $2,000 in a few weeks,” says Mr Sim, who emphasises the game can still be played without spending a cent.

Daylight Studios has grown to a staff strength of 20, and receives applications from job-seekers every day.

Mr Sim, who claims that “sleep is a foreign concept” to entrepreneurs like him, says he and his team will be working hard this year to fulfil the vision of the company: “To make the best games the world has ever seen.”


Singer a surprise hit in Taiwan 2014

Category: Show

Who: Issac Dang, 28

Why: He may not be your cute boy-next-door, but Dang has picked a surprising number of nominations and awards for a newcomer. 

It is no mean feat when you manage to sell more than 3,000 copies of your new single in Taiwan in just a couple of weeks.

Especially when you are a rookie singer from Singapore.

But Issac Dang (right) has done just that. And his music video drew more than 570,000 views in less than a week after it was launched.

The single, which climbed several music charts in both Taiwan and Malaysia, will be released in Singapore soon.

Dang, who is promoting his latest single in Taiwan, tells The New Paper on Sunday: “We are working on a new packaging for the single that will be launched on Jan 20. This includes a 130-page coffee-table book shot in Paris. There will also be a bonus track, Starry Sky, written for all my fans who have supported me since I started a year ago.”

The new release is a limited edition of just 1,000 copies.

The Singapore permanent resident was a graphic designer when he was discovered by local TV host Dasmond Koh, who spotted him singing in a karaoke lounge two years ago.

The youngest child and only son of a businessman father and a housewife mother says his parents are so supportive of his work that they “even travel from Johor Baru to Singapore to take the budget airline to Taipei” for the launch of his debut album last June.

“Whenever I have gigs in Singapore or Malaysia, they are always the first to arrive and the last to leave. I’d say they are my ultimate fans!” he gushes.

Last October, Dang picked up the Most Potential New Artist Award and was also named Best Dressed Artist at the 13th Global Chinese Music Awards in Malaysia.

In under a year, he has seen more opportunities knocking on his door for appearances on most of Taiwan’s television programmes.

When asked to rate his achievements on a scale of one to 10, Dang says: “I think I give myself a three. I have just started on this journey.

“I’m thankful for the many people who have supported me since day one (including) my fans, my parents and especially my investors.”

He added: “I’d consider myself successful only when I have made my first million.”

Miss Grace Lee, who is in her 50s and set up Seventy5 Management to manage Dang, says: “Issac’s sincerity and passion for what he is doing touched me when I first met him. He will be a good example for the youth today – that if they believe their dreams and work hard, they will fulfil what they hope for.

“Issac was an ordinary boy with no music background but the love of singing. Today, he is one of the most sought after new artists in Taiwan.”

Letting his talent speak for itself

Category: Sports

Who: Irfan Fandi, 16

Why: The eldest son of Fandi Ahmad has his mum’s good looks and his dad’s talent. He has more than 15,000 followers on his Instagram account.

The eldest son of Lions XII coach Fandi Ahmad and former model Wendy Jacobs is hot.

His Instagram account sees a following of more than 15,000 – not bad for someone who is only 16.

On the field, Irfan shows promise of filling his father’s shoes. He stole the thunder for the Singapore Under-16s against the Arsenal Under-15 team on the opening day of the 25th Canon Lion City Cup at the Jalan Besar Stadium last June.

His 61st-minute goal, however, was not enough for the Under-16s as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat.

More recently, he was voted one of the Top 20 South-east Asian Rising Stars by online football fan site Goal.

Irfan, and his brother Ikhsan, 14, are in the midst of a two-year stint at the youth academy of AC Banerchea, a club playing in the second division of the Chilean league.

They left for Chile three months ago but are back in Singapore for a short break.

In an interview with Goal, Irfan says of his dad: “I would like to replicate his good performance and play as well as him.”

He admits there is “pressure on me, as people have expectations of me”.

“I want to show that I deserve to be in the team because of my abilities and not because of who my father is.”

She wants to be source of inspiration to other women

Category: Academic Do-Gooder

Who: Associate Professor Ong Soh Khim, in her 40s

Why: She will be part of a UN project to get girls-at-risk from low income families into engineering. 

This globally recognised professor will be in the thick of preparing the next generation of power women.

This year, Prof Ong Soh Khim, who teaches at the National University of Singapore, will work with girls from low-income families to inspire them to pursue careers within male-dominated industries such as engineering.

She recently accepted the invitation from the Singapore Committee for UN Women, which organised the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programme.

Under it, students will take part in workshops comprising challenges that require technology, design and construction, research, strategic planning, and other skills.

“I have been going back to my secondary school at Ang Mo Kio to give talks and frequently speak at career conferences as well as the National Youth Council. I am keen to help inspire other females to get into engineering and be a role model to them,” she says.

Prof Ong says she was approached after members from the Singapore Committee for UN Women saw a promotional video she did for the school’s engineering faculty.

“They felt that I might be a good fit,” adds the jovial and cheerful woman.

Aside from the coming venture, Prof Ong is also a board member on international association Engineers Without Borders, which aims to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged communities worldwide through education and implementation of sustainable engineering projects.

Her tone rises with excitement when she talks about how engineering concepts can be applied so that they make a difference to the regular lives of people.

For the past few years, she has been developing a range of devices that improves the lives of the physically disabled.

“My team and I have developed a virtual keyboard, so that those who suffered a stroke or are paralysed from the neck down don’t have to use a rod held by their mouth to prod away at the it,” she says.

“This device allows for slight head motions to be detected, and for the keyboard to be activated in this way,.”

Prof Ong laments that although companies interested in the technology have visited her laboratory, the device has yet to be patented.

“We have yet to find a good fit. In the meantime we are developing other prototypes, such as a virtual keyboard, toy car, and books that can be used by those who suffer from cerebral palsy,” she says.

Her efforts have been recognised not only here, but overseas.

Prof Ong has been elected as a fellow of the International Academy for Production Engineering.

Selection is a lengthy, rigorous process, and the number of fellows is capped at 175.

“There are only four women on the list of fellows and I’m one of them!” she says with pride.