Give us a little background about yourself?
I am starting the second year of my PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Cambridge. Apart from my day job as a student, I recently founded a technology company, Terawand Systems, and I am also serving as the president of Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, the university’s oldest and most established entrepreneurship club. Originally from Singapore, I did my undergraduate degree in chemistry at Brown University and my interests include pharmaceutics, cleantech and security.
Tell us more about your business:
Terawand aims to provide a one-stop security scanner for personnel screening that can not only detect concealed weapons, but also concealed drugs and explosives. This will be accomplished with a handheld scanner that utilizes a non-harmful source of radiation for the detection process. Currently used security screening systems at airports focus heavily on the detection of concealed weapons, and do not reliably identify drugs and explosives. This was critically highlighted in the attempted Christmas Day bombing in 2009, and presents a technological gap which Terawand can fill.
Who are your customers?
Our initial customers will be governments and firms dealing with security in global airports. The current market for x-ray, metal and explosive detectors in airports worldwide stands at approximately US$30 billion, which we recognize as a huge market opportunity for our product. Moving forward, we will explore secondary markets in areas such as postal security, as well as event security at major events like the Olympics and World Cup.
Where did the idea come from?
The underlying technology behind the product comes from my research at the university. While the technology has been shown to be of use in uncovering concealed items, it has not yet been translated into a commercializable product, which is what we are trying to achieve.
Have you always been entrepreneurial? Where did your desire to start your own company come from?
I think I have always had an entrepreneurial mind set, although I have only recently put that into practice. I chose to pursue a degree in the physical sciences after my A levels because I wanted to uncover and commercialize ground breaking technologies. I believe that this will allow me to make an impact to human lives worldwide, rather than just a localized area. After exploring the commercial viability of various technologies during my undergraduate degree, I am glad that I have uncovered an idea with immense potential.
What do you think of the startup community in Cambridge & how important has it been for you?
Personally, I believe there is no better place to start a business than Cambridge. The startup community in Cambridge is extremely close-knit and supportive, which is invaluable for young entrepreneurs trying to find their footing and establish their own businesses. I have received plenty of advice from many talented entrepreneurs thus far, and this has helped me shape the concept of Terawand into a much better-rounded package. In addition, there are many options available for early stage companies in Cambridge to receive funding to kickstart their businesses. Terawand was recently awarded the inaugural KickStart award from CambridgeElevator, which has provided us with the funding required to move forward with the prototyping of our product. Cambridge Elevator (www.cambridgeelevator.com) runs a social networking website that is targeted specifically at entrepreneurs and allows entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and levels of experience to interact and bounce ideas off each other.
What about Cambridge University Entrepreneurs?
Cambridge University Entrepreneurs (CUE, www.cue.org.uk) was founded in 1999 as part of the university’s effort to encourage entrepreneurship. We run a business creation competition every year, and give out over £50K worth of cash and prizes to the most outstanding entrepreneurs from the university. In the past 13 years, we have awarded over £500K worth of prizes, and our alumni companies have gone on to raise over £67 million worth of additional investments. Alongside the competition, we organize various training sessions led by local entrepreneurs, which give our members more insight into writing business plans, pitching, and other entrepreneurial skills. We also have a mentoring scheme, where our members can seek advice from established local entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are still studying?
I think it is important to focus on three Ts – Team, time management and targets. Having a good team will allow the workload to be split, which will take some of the pressure off an entrepreneur who has to focus on both business and studies. In addition, having a team of members with complementary talents allows each member to focus on their area of expertise, instead of spending time trying to acquire a completely new skill.
Having good time management skills is important for any entrepreneur, but much more so for one who has to focus on studies as well. As mentioned earlier, it is important to keep track of both aspects and never neglect one for the other.
Finally, setting achievable targets in both the short-term and the long-term is important to stay focused and efficient. This should ensure time is spent effectively and make it possible to keep up with both the requirements of the business, as well as studies. These targets will also help with deciding on priorities, for example, if all the short-term business targets have been achieved, the entrepreneur would then know to spend more time working on the academic targets.