New social enterprise startups in Singapore

New social enterprise startups in Singapore

There's no end of exciting new problem-solving startups popping up in Singapore. Focusing on alleviating social issues and providing solutions to age-old problems with new technology, these social enterprises are set to change the fabric of Singaporean society in the best way possible. From training underprivileged local women, enabling them to build new skills, to environmentally focused brands which promote eco-friendly initiatives like plastic use reduction, there's no shortage of new companies to support.

The Kint Story (photo)

Set up by millennial superwomen Yushu Huang and Elisa Goh, The Kint Story tackles a huge issue in Singapore - the amount of textile waste that's thrown away. In 2018, only 6% of all textile waste was recycled, so the entrepreneurs took this into their own hands. They founded e-commerce startup The Kint Story, which brands itself as an online thrift store, selling second-hand clothes with a twist - the donors are fashion influencers, creating a unique story behind each of the items sold. Using a unique narrative in order to increase the appeal of second hand fashion, The Kint Story is set to expand to include regional markets in the near future.

Bettr Barista

Merging together the growing demand for artisan coffee with the needs of marginalised communities, Bettr Barista is a coffee academy and roastery which offers three to six month barista training schemes. With women attending the course ranging from age 15 to 50, social workers refer potential trainees to the programme, who then build up their coffee-skills, as well as participating in therapy sessions, a paid internship with the scheme's cafe partners and around 52-hours worth of organised physical activities, from yoga to canoeing. The scheme also operates using the government's SkillsFuture training scheme, which offers all Singapore citizens credits to use towards gaining new skills, in everything from IT to engineering.

SDI Academy

A huge issue that recent migrants to Singapore face is the language barrier. With English as the main language used in businesses and in offices, many blue-collar workers and recent regional migrants face difficulties in finding work due to their language skills. SDI Academy is a social enterprise that aims to solve this issue by running free English classes and courses in other employment and entrepreneurial skills in order to help new citizens integrate into Singaporean society and increase their wellbeing. Founded by Sazzad Hossain, who initially arrived in Singapore from Bangladesh without English skills, this startup has changed the lives of thousands of people, and is set to continue to empower its participants in the same manner that Sazzad experienced himself.

hello flowers!

The rustic bouquets and wreaths that hello flowers! produces are made in a special way. Describing itself as a social enterprise floral studio, the founder Annie worked previously as a social worker, helping families who have experienced violence, and this opened her eyes to what she could achieve through her work. The florists she employs and trains are those who are unable to work fulltime for various reasons, including poor health conditions and lack of education. A firm believer in the therapeutic effects of nature, hello flowers! kills two birds with one stone, empowering women and helping to improve their wellbeing, while also improving the wellbeing of the people who purchase their beautifully crafted products.

Seastainable Co.

Small business Seastainable Co. is an award-winning social enterprise and start up which promotes ethical textiles, fashion and jewellery. Supporting marine conservation efforts around Singapore and Southeast Asia, the company also works in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They push their initiatives in multiple ways, from channelling their profits into local grassroots environmental organizations, and encouraging people to reduce their plastic consumption. The company produces eco-friendly products only, from metal straws to plastic-free utensils sets. Founded by Samantha Thian, who had previously worked in the marine conservation field in Singapore and the Philippines, the company has contributed over $30,000 to conservation programmes across five countries.

Heritage Food and Beverage

Heritage Food and Beverage

Singapore is renowned around the world for its incredible food scene. From humble hawker centre fare to the growing number of Michelin-stars awarded in the city, there's no end to the delicious and unique goodies on offer here. However, in recent years a number of potential problems that could affect the hawker and street food culture here have been identified. The demographic of hawker sellers reflects the island's aging population, with younger generations choosing office and service jobs instead of the hard craft of plying your wares from morning to night. Facing up to the challenges in the years to come, Singapore's food and beverage industry aims to preserve local food heritage with a variety of initiatives.

At the helm of this is local organisation Slow Food Singapore (image) which aims to safeguard the cities food culture. One of their celebrated initiatives is the Heritage Heroes accolade, which awards Singapore's best loved restaurants with a special status, allowing them to display labels with ‘Heritage Hero' on their stalls. This helps to advertise the restaurant and keep new customers coming, helping the business to thrive amidst a climate that includes rent rises and issues with staffing. The organisation's panel of eight foodie experts dined incognito at restaurants all over the city, awarding their favourites the accolade, with cuisines covering everything from Cantonese and Peranakan, to Malay and South Indian.

The rise of acclaimed fine dining restaurants all over the city have also allowed heritage buffs to support the foodie heritage that Singaporean's know and love. Top Singaporean chefs - and international cooks who are inspired by the rich gastronomic heritage of the island - have started to infuse their menus with local flavours and cooking techniques. Previously, the fine dining offerings in the city focused on French-inspired Western food, so this welcome change is allowing Singaporean cultural heritage to reach new audiences and to be interpreted in new and exciting ways.

At the forefront of this is chef Willin Low of Wild Rocket, a highly acclaimed fine dining restaurant that brands its unique cuisine ‘Mod Sin,' or modern Singaporean. Low takes the spirit of his favourite hawker classics, from chicken rice to laksa, and re-interprets them, taking inspiration from Western cooking techniques and food culture from all over the world. His take on Hainanese chicken rice, deconstructs the traditional dish, filling boneless chicken wings with chicken broth soaked rice and deep frying them with liver pate. His version of Katong Laksa is equally renowned, and merges Italian and Singaporean cuisine, using linguine, prawns and quails eggs, and creating a pesto inspired by laksa broth.

2019 saw Singaporeans across the city celebrate Kueh Appreciation Day, another highly successful initiative run by Slow Food Singapore. Kueh, which are sweet treats and savoury baked goods, are interpreted in varying and delicious ways by many of Singapore's cultures, from Hainanese and Nonya to Malay and Eurasian. It's therefore the perfect slice of foodie culture worth celebrating islandwide. As well as an incredible array of kueh for sale by artisan vendors, there are also heritage food classes held around the city. It's the perfect way to celebrate Singaporean food heritage and promote some of its best-loved traditional vendors to new audiences and the younger generation.

Despite the issues the heritage food industry faces, the many initiatives run by passionate Singaporean chefs, entrepreneurs and social enterprises mean the future is still bright for the unique blend of influences that make the food culture on this tiny island so spectacular. The efforts of Slow Food Singapore, and the natural leanings of homegrown chefs towards the food they grew up with and love, mean the food culture is bound to develop and be embraced by new generations of Singaporeans. The totally unique blend of regional Chinese, Malay, Peranakan, Western and Indian cooking is too good not to celebrate, and Singaporean's natural passion for sharing food and appreciating culinary creativity mean this city is bound to stay on the map as a global centre for gastronomic innovation.

Future food industry trends in Singapore

Future food industry trends in Singapore

The food and beverage industry is one of the biggest sectors in Singapore, and highly creative entrepreneurs are innovating new ideas constantly. The power is still firmly in the hands of consumers, a growing trend globally, and food companies should continue to be very attuned to their needs. It's likely that consumer's concern for healthy foods will increase in the next few years, as well as a desire for ethically produced food - both of which increase the demand for plastic-free products and farm-to-fork ingredients. Consumers also prefer restaurants with smaller menus that focus on a few signature dishes, along with companies that have a strong online presence, so that food can be ordered at the click of a button from an app or website and delivered to your door.

Health and wellness

The consumer focus on health and wellness and the desire for healthy products is likely to grow in the next few years. In particular, non-alcoholic drinks, like kombucha and agua fresca, are increasingly popular as customers focus on improving their gut microbiome and taking care of their health. Restaurants would do well to focus on this trend, and as well as matching alcoholic drinks to menu items, there is an opportunity to provide complimentary mocktails and alcohol-free drinks to attract customers. Consumers are also demanding ethical products and plant-based proteins, with veganism and clean eating still a steadily increasing trend. Generation Z want transparency and to understand where food is made and what it's made from, so clear labelling is a good focus to have.

Plastic-free and zero-waste

Consumers have a heightened awareness of the importance of biodegradable packaging and its impact on our environment, so a trend that will continue is the plastic-free, zero-waste movement. People demand products that minimize packaging and innovations that address this need are sure to flourish. Restaurants can offer plastic-free straws, such as metal or bamboo items, and present food in biodegradable packaging, made of cornstarch and compostable forms of plastic. Operating a food and beverage business from an environmentally friendly standpoint will create a good reputation and increase customer interest, especially from Generation Z and Millennial consumers.


In Singapore and all over the world, consumers are increasing their demand for locally sourced products. The farm-to-table movement promotes ingredients grown within a small radius of the consumer, and in Singapore includes products produced island-wide, offshore and in Malaysia. The increase in farm tourism in the Kranji area and desire to educate children on the importance of organic produce shows consumers interest in buying locally grown food from ethical farms. Restaurants can promote ingredients sourced locally, which will increase interest from a range of different customers and also support the city's economy and livelihood of local farmers.

Smaller menus

Many customers prefer restaurants that have signature dishes, and are willing to go out of their way to try them. In a world where increasingly people are bombarded with information and infinite choice, consumers naturally favour this decision being made easier for them, and will pick restaurants with trimmed down menus that sell a few dishes that the venue has perfected. This is also beneficial to the food and beverage establishment as they are able to cut running costs by reducing the amount of ingredients purchased, and are better able to estimate supplies needed. Having a smaller menus allows customers to pick a favourite dish, which makes them more likely to return multiple times.

Online presence

In 2018, the e-commerce trend really hit the food and beverage industry, and this is set to increase further in the years to come. Apps are an excellent way to grow your customer base, as online retail enables you to reach a wider market. Even though demand for fast food and restaurant deliveries is increasing thanks to apps like FoodPanda, Uber Eats, HonestBee and Deliveroo, this doesn't mean brick-and-mortar stores have to miss out, as any business can easily make the switch online, either hosting themselves on one of the apps above or by creating their own, or creating a payment system on their website. Digital forms of payment also decrease labour costs and time spent processing payments on the companies end.

Up and coming Singaporean women in business

Up and coming Singaporean women in business

Due to the government's grants, the high number of international investors and a series of high-tech co-working spaces and business schools around the city, Singapore has proved itself a great location for would-be entrepreneurs and up-and-coming startups. In particular, the island is renowned for its fertile environment which nurtures female entrepreneurs, ranking third in the Asia-Pacific region. Here are some of the boundary pushing women who are building an exciting startup ecosystem in Singapore and opening doors for the next generation of creative leaders.

Rachel Lim & Velda Tan

Shopping mall favourite and online success Love, Bonito was originally founded as BonitoChico at the humble age of 18 by best friends Rachel Lim and Velda Tan. Starting off as a blogshop, a small retail business hosted on platforms like Livejournal, this unique Singaporean endeavor (popular with teenagers in the 00s due to its low startup costs) was skillfully transformed into a popular retail chain. Now, the duo have 16 stores across the city and the region - with branches in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. They've also gone on to lend their magic touch to other endeavours - Velda launched a food and beverage business, lobster bar Pince & Pints, with her husband Frederick Yap in 2014, and then founded two different womenswear labels, Collate The Label and Our Second Nature.

Lyn Lee

Those with a sweet tooth will be familiar with popular food and beverage store Awfully Chocolate. Now with 15 outlets in Singapore and more in China's biggest cities, the brand has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Former lawyer Lyn Lee opened her first cake shop, a small outlet in Katong, in 1998, aided by a group of friends and spurred on by her desire to find a simple but perfect dark chocolate cake in the city. After months spent melting chocolate and experimenting in her kitchen, she nailed the perfect recipe and set up her first store, bringing customers on pilgrimages from across the island. Now, the brand has grown its repertoire while focusing on sinful chocolate goodies, and also opened cafes Ninethirty - focusing on comforting savoury food and their famous desserts - and cosy cafe Sinpopo, for those who want a relaxed place to meet friends for a sweet treat and drink.

Cynthia Chua

Many of Singapore's most iconic brands owe their success to the vision of the CEO of the Spa Esprit group, Cynthia Chua. From beauty and lifestyle stores to food and beverage outlets, Cynthia developed the umbrella company from a small office in Holland Village in the late 1990s, having worked previously in the banking and property industries. Since then, the group has developed and managed many quirky local brands, from cafe favourites Tiong Bahru Bakery, 40 Hands and Common Man Coffee Roasters, to farm and community centre Open Farm Community. Most impressive are her global grooming brands Browhaus and Strip, which now have outlets in major cities across the globe, from London to Mumbai.

Krystal Choo

There are few female entrepreneurs as inspiring as Krystal Choo, who started as a self-taught coder at the age of 15, designing websites, and moved onto the helm of numerous successful businesses, including two travel businesses - Wander, a travel app for singles, and ZipTrip, a travel organisation app. Her latest work is on Tickle, an incredible venture that's motivated by her desire to dispel loneliness and create connections in Singaporean society. This was motivated by her own experiences of depression and her observations of how social media perpetuated this, which inspired her to conceive of a technology that did the opposite - fostering real human connection by organising community-driven experiences.

Dr Ayesha Khanna (in photo)

Multi-talented entrepreneur Dr Ayesha Khanna has grown both for-profit and community-driven businesses in Singapore. Moving to Singapore in 2012, Ayesha was born in Pakistan and educated at Harvard University, and since moving to the city has set up Addo AI, a highly successful artificial intelligence firm used by high-profile clients like SMRT and SingTel. She has also founded a ground-breaking charity, 21C Girls, a non-profit venture that provides free training to girls in Singapore, creating the next generation of coders, artificial intelligence experts and businesswomen.