Pranoti Nagarkar Israni
Driven by a passion for fixing problems
She has a degree in mechanical engineering and designed and built the hardware for the Rotimatic prototype on her own.
Yet when Ms Pranoti Nagarkar Israni met people to convince them to come on board her company, most assumed the 32-year-old was part of the marketing team, or that she had simply come up with the concept and let someone else do the rest of the work.
It was a frustrating time for her.
"To break the stereotype, I had to do some crazy things," said Ms Israni. She asked her husband Rishi Israni to teach her to ride a motorbike.
"I learnt it in the carpark, I got my licence and I bought a 200cc Honda Phantom, which is a very heavy bike. I rode it everywhere I went for three years, including to meetings," she explained, adding that she stopped riding just before her pregnancy.
It was a strategic move, one among many that Ms Israni has made.
She met her husband while she was studying at the National University of Singapore - she was in her first year while he was in his third. After he graduated, he worked for a few years before starting his own company, and from his experience, she got to see the various steps in starting a company.
Ms Israni, whose childhood dream was to become an inventor, realised that she needed to know how a product cycle works and, following her graduation, she landed a job at Amtek Engineering where she got to work on a project for Philips.
"In those two years, I got to see an entire product cycle, from concept to manufacturing," she said. She soon felt that she was ready to quit and start her own company.
The idea for a machine that can make rotis came from brainstorming sessions with Mr Israni on what problems could be fixed. They discussed possible solutions for everyday problems, like how at the time, there was no way to find out when the next bus was coming. She explained that they kept coming back to rotis, which is "a staple for Indians in their diet".
Originally hailing from India, she and her husband would often miss homemade rotis. Adding to that was the fact that roti-making was a time-consuming and expensive affair: "One guy is occupied just with making rotis, and that's expensive."
Doing some research on roti-makers, Ms Israni found that a lot of them were industrial-scale machines. Her requirements for an automatic roti-making machine, then, were that it had to be "compact and affordable, for home use".
It has taken seven years to design, build and perfect Rotimatic. Along the way, the Zimplistic team, which makes the Rotimatic, has won various competitions including Start-Up@Singapore, and in January, the team took Rotimatic to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where they received the Best Kitchen Gadget Award.
They are now in the process of fine-tuning manufacturing-related issues and carrying out extensive quality-testing to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks when they finally start shipping their product.
It's been a long but fulfilling time for Ms Israni.
"In the beginning, you're fighting your own demons and being brave about it," she said, "but along the way, you start facing external challenges. Everybody's encouraging about the product, but when it comes to concrete contributions, very few people are brave enough to be part of it."
The entrepreneur is all too familiar with fighting her own demons.
She shared that when she was pregnant with her now two-year-old son, she hid her pregnancy for as long as she could.
"It was my own thinking that maybe people would give me special treatment if they knew I was pregnant," she said. "I always had that insecurity. I didn't want them to think that I was weak because I was pregnant, so rather than risk them making that judgment on me, I hid it from a lot of people."
She worked through her pregnancy, adding that she got labour pains while in the office.
Ms Israni has no regrets, though. In fact, she recommends that every woman keeps working till the last day.
"Health is very important for a pregnant woman, and your health is best when your mind is occupied."
It is evident that, for her, bravery is the key to entrepreneurial success. But Ms Israni is quick to add that with bravery comes a certain amount of fearlessness and persistence. "The intention to fix something is so strong that nothing else can come in the way," she explained.
It is this desire to fix something, to pick up a problem and find a solution for it, that drives her to do what she does.
"As an engineer, you are wired like that," she said.
Making parenting easy
Roshni Mahtani was writing for women's and parenting magazines in New York when she decided to learn from hands-on experience what parenthood was really like, by babysitting two children.
As a Singaporean living in the US, she realised that the culture of raising children in Western countries was vastly different from that in Asia.
As an inquisitive person, she used to search for information online, such as "how should children address their elders", "can you feed paneer to three-year-olds", among others, but she couldn't find good content that would resonate with an Asian mother.
That sparked the 31-year-old's return to Singapore in 2009 to set up Tickled Media, an online publishing house. It owns Asian parenting website theAsianparent.com, family activity website Kidlander.sg, and pregnancy portal pregnant.sg, which collectively reach out to six million Asian mothers and generate revenue through market research and advertising.
The main website, theAsianparent, is a community portal where Asian parents can find articles on children and parenting, and mothers can ask others about their pregnancy, babies, choice of toys and sports activity options for children, among other topics.
Ms Mahtani's most recent venture was expanding theAsianparent to India this year, called theIndusparent.
"India not only has one of the highest birth rates in the world but also a high Internet penetration with young people who are tech-savvy, so it presents itself as an opportunity and a market that can be tapped on," she explained.
Since Tickled Media's launch in Singapore six years ago, it has also expanded to other countries within Asia - namely Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia.
One of the challenges the self-confessed workaholic faced was trying to consistently create new content for the different countries she ventured into.
"We couldn't simply copy the parenting content from Singapore and use it in other countries because countries around Singapore are so culturally different. We had to learn the online user behaviour and technology limitations in different countries before providing content for the mothers," explained the former CHIJ Katong Convent student.
In two months, the start-up will launch an iOS and Android application in Singapore, which will allow mothers to ask questions and get answers on parenting and childcare needs. Later, the application will be made available in India and the Philippines.
Aside from Tickled Media, Ms Mahtani co-founded the Female Founders Network, a non-profit organisation with CEO and founder of App Strategy Labs and Quality Time Dr Meri Rosich.
Launched last month, the organisation focuses on research, policy and advocacy action to support women entrepreneurs and aspiring business leaders. It "aims to increase women-led organisations in Singapore from its current 5 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020". She is also launching the organisation in India and Japan this year.
Ms Mahtani, who has a go-getter attitude, believes that women who are keen to start their own company should trust their capabilities. "If you've done an analysis and the market size is big enough, believe in yourself and don't hold yourself back," she said.
Public relations her first love
Sonya Madeira built up her career in public relations in Mumbai before moving to Singapore in 2002.
As an employee, she was deeply committed to building long-term relationships with clients and interested in leading a team of communication professionals.
That led her to build her own pool of clients by setting up Rice Communications in Singapore in 2009. The PR firm provides public relations and marketing communications services.
The move to set up her own firm came after she spent five years with Eastwest PR in Singapore.
So why the name Rice Communications? Explained the 42-year-old: "All the good ones were taken so I got creative with it. The name represents our corporate values - Respect, Integrity, Creativity and Enterprise, therefore making up RICE."
The company, which has 25 employees, deals with local and regional clients such as DBS, Hilton Worldwide, Inmarsat, Mobile Marketing Association and Palo Alto Networks, among others.
"We deal daily with clients, try to understand their business objectives and construct a strategy that enables them to move the needle in communications," she said.
Ms Madeira also expanded the firm to Yangon, Myanmar, late last year, which she believes is an "exciting emerging market in Asia". Having ventured into a third-world country, her challenges include "an unstable infrastructure, power cuts in the middle of a working day and a slow Internet".
However, these difficulties have not deterred her as she vividly recalls that when she worked in Bengaluru in 1998, the electricity would get cut at 2pm, causing her to use the computer in the morning and read the newspapers in the afternoon.
As she faced the same situation every day, she learned from it and adapted to it. Said Ms Madeira: "Hard work builds resilience so I hope this attitude bears fruit for the company as we expand into new markets like Myanmar."
Her steadfastness also won her the promising entrepreneur award from the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2011, which she felt was "great recognition" for her efforts in setting up the company.
Among her other accolades, she was recently named in the PRWeek's Global Power Book 2015 that features the top 300 PR professionals in the world.
The avid reader and traveller firmly believes that the keys to entrepreneurial success include having a clear vision, a team of dedicated professionals and the ability to learn from mistakes.
Away from work, she makes sure she catches up on her favourite American drama Game Of Thrones. "I get so hooked on it I can watch five episodes in one sitting," she said.
Looking for new challenges
Status quo was never good enough for Ms Sanjna Parasrampuria. The 35-year-old has a restless streak in her, something that her bosses would comment on.
"All the bosses I've worked with said that I need change and I need to always be building something," she said.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Ms Parasrampuria came to Singapore eight years ago to set up India's biggest housing finance company HDFC's regional office. She cites that as her first exposure to the entrepreneurial life.
After 10 years with HDFC, she felt it was time to move on to the next thing.
"I had a frank and open discussion with my senior colleagues and mentors. They threw up a lot of things that I could perhaps get on, but that didn't seem challenging enough," she explained. That was when she decided to go back to school to get her second MBA.
While she obtained her first MBA in Mumbai, she enrolled in INSEAD for her second one, where "the course is designed in such a way that if you want to look at entrepreneurship, you can drown yourself in it".
"It was a very supportive environment and I had classmates from 80 different nationalities, with many of them being seasoned entrepreneurs and seasoned venture capitalists," she said, adding that the alumni network that one could tap into was also vast.
Ms Parasrampuria spent her time at INSEAD talking to everyone that she could, bouncing ideas off them and getting honest feedback. She also learnt the more practical aspects of entrepreneurship, like term sheets, how to negotiate with venture capitalists and how valuations should look like.
It was during her time in INSEAD that she conceived the idea of Newcleus, a company that uses data analytics to help companies analyse consumer data by searching open media sources like social media to make real-time predictions on consumer behaviour.
Going from heading a regional branch of HDFC to starting her own company was tough, with hiring being one of the most challenging.
"I wanted to hire the top 1 per cent of tech geeks, wherever they were," she said, but the problem was that they were not used to discussing cutting-edge technology with women, "because there aren't many women in that field".
People suggested that she send one of her male team members for interviews, but Ms Parasrampuria wanted to be part of the hiring process. So she learnt coding.
"To get these people to work for you, you have to share their passion about the technology. If you don't talk their language, you've absolutely lost them," she explained. "When I'm talking to a potential hire, I have to show that I'm tech-oriented, because he's not expecting that of me."
Her gung-ho nature paid off.
Today, Newcleus boasts a team of eight key people, made up of technologists, data scientists and creative folk who manage the platform. It also takes on interns who have an interest in analytics.
Working with clients in various sectors like the car industry, the education sector, financial services, luxury goods and real estate, Newcleus is seeing that the data predictions its software makes, which has an 80 per cent success rate, "are actually true, actually adding to companies' bottom lines".
It's an exciting time for Newcleus, which was officially launched in July 2014.
"We have already received acquisition offers, which is rare for a company as young as ours," said Ms Parasrampuria. "My philosophy is to just focus on our product and its relevance to our clients and make adjustments along the way based on the new information coming in."
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