Asia-Pacific’s Leading Disruptors 2019: Singapore

FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption across the region. Here we look at Singapore.

In line with our mission to shed light on the many investment opportunities popping up across Asia and Australasia, FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption in different countries and across a range of sectors.

Their companies range in size and maturity, but these people share a common drive and vision to compete against established institutions, whether in financial services, retail, energy, robotics, or logistics, to name just a few of the industries featured.

Following our methodology, we have selected five entrepreneurs from each of Asia Pacific's largest economies. Today we turn to Singapore.


Singapore is bursting at the seams with startups. The city has attracted myriad international and regional investors and innovators, a combination that has left Singapore awash in opportunities for savvy founders.


Company: Grab

Headquarters: Singapore

Year founded: 2012

Industry: Technology

Prominent backers: Softbank Vision Fund, Yamaha Motors

Tan is the co-founder and chief executive of Grab, a transportation app that has become synonymous with Southeast Asian entrepreneurship. He quit a position at Tan Chong Motors, his family’s auto manufacturing plant in Kuala Lumpur, and launched GrabTaxi in 2012. 

While the company grew quickly, the concept behind Grab was not conceived overnight. Tan and Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling first floated the idea while studying for an MBA at Harvard. They entered the idea into a school pitch contest where it won them $10,000.

In those early days, his family provided key financial support. “My mum and I put in everything we had and I don’t think we ever imagined it would be the company it is today,” Tan said in a Bloomberg interview earlier this year.

Since then, Grab has gone from success to success largely thanks to Tan’s strategy for growth across the region. The Singapore-based firm bought out the Southeast Asian operations of rival Uber last year.

The current iteration of Tan’s brainchild is a far cry from GrabTaxi. The self-declared super app is used for everything from payment and financial services to food delivery and on-demand video. Grab has a presence in countries across Southeast Asia and is part of a wave of regional financial inclusion through its mobile payments service.

Tan is now going head-to-head with other super-apps in a bid for regional supremacy.


Company: Zilingo

Headquarters: Singapore

Year founded: 2015

Industry: E-Commerce

Prominent backers: Temasek Holdings, Sequoia Capital

Bose is the co-founder and chief executive of shopping website Zilingo. Alongside software engineer Dhruv Kapoor, she pooled her savings and launched the online commerce platform in 2015. She was just 23 years old at the time.

Before Zilingo, Bose worked first at consultancy group McKinsey and later as an analyst at venture capital firm Sequoia India. She was inspired to launch Zilingo after she saw street vendors in Thai markets struggling to scale their businesses.

By facilitating easier connections between vendors and suppliers, Bose is disrupting supply chains across Asia and has helped to bring countless new products to market.

“We said ‘let’s build a platform that is end-to-end’ to help all the players across the value chain create better opportunities,” Bose told FinanceAsia. “We cut away the margins and the middlemen to improve the economics of people who are actually adding value.”

Zilingo sells a range of fashion items for men, women and children, as well as lifestyle and beauty goods. Many of these are the product of partnerships between the website and notable international media groups like Disney.


Company: Trax

Headquarters: Singapore

Year founded: 2010

Industry: Technology

Prominent backers: Warburg Pincus, Boyu Capital

Bar-el is the co-founder and chief executive officer of image recognition company Trax. While other firms have applied similar technology to recognising faces or people, Bar-el has put it to use identifying items in an industrial setting. 

Trax enables businesses easily to find out how many goods are on their warehouse shelves. While headquartered in Singapore, the firm has offices around the world on every continent except Antarctica. Major clients include Coca-Cola, Nestle and Heineken.

Bar-el studied physics in Israel at Tel Aviv University before pursuing an MBA at Henley Business School in the UK. He has founded and led several companies and prior to Trax, the entrepreneur served as chief executive officer at wealth management software company Sentryi. 


Company: Carousell

Headquarters: Singapore

Year founded: 2012

Industry: E-Commerce, Technology

Prominent backers: 500 Startups, Sequoia

Quek co-founded mobile commerce app Carousell in 2012. 

He currently serves as chief executive officer for the platform that enables users to buy and sell items from their smartphones. The entrepreneur showed an interest in business early on and started an online shop at the age of 13. 

Before launching Carousell, Quek gained marketing experience while working at Ogilvy & Mather and DBS Vickers in Singapore. He studied entrepreneurship at NUS and Stanford but dropped out to start Carousell.


Company: Haulio

Headquarters: Singapore

Year founded: 2017

Industry: Logistics

Prominent backers: NUS Enterprises, 500 Startups

Ea is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Singaporean logistics firm Haulio, a hauling company that connects customers with bulk goods to drivers and trailers.

Haulio has more than 2,000 trucks and 20,000 trailers at the disposal of clients. The two parties are connected by the company’s two online systems – Haulio Community Portal and Haulio Connectivity System – where customers can post job opportunities for truckers.

Ea earned his BCom at the University of Western Australia before entering Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s ASEAN CEO programme.



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