Patrick Goh was 45 years old when he and four partners, all of whom are older than him, decided to start bedding company Intero Enterprise. His age, instead of acting as a deterrent, spurred him to make the move.
"I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. In life, you should do something while you still can, and not regret it when you can't do it anymore," he said of his decision then. "After working for others for so many years, I wanted to do something on my own and chart my own destiny."
Working in the bed-linen business then, Mr Goh and his partners decided that they should put their expertise to good use. Together, the five put in $150,000 to start a wholesaling and distribution bedding business, with $58,000 coming from Mr Goh's own pockets.
Starting out was tough. Said the chief operating officer of Intero: "No financial institution wanted to support us because we had no track record. So we had to be very, very careful with the limited resources available. We had to keep our creditworthiness, otherwise the ripple effect further down the road would be worse."
It took a while, but Intero managed to win the support of a bank to provide financing. "They believed in our forecast and our plan, and up till today they continue to give us support."
Mr Goh said Intero was the first in the industry to bring in designer and luxury brands, such as French designer label Balmain and British luxury towel brand Christy.
This is what sets Intero apart from its competitors. "We don't sell commodities. We sell fashion. We sell concept."
Mr Goh and his partners' late foray into the world of entrepreneurship has not affected Intero's growth one bit. The seven-year-old company has seen its sales grow from under $1 million in its first year of operations, to more than $10 million now. There are now 117 employees working for Intero, a far cry from the seven it had at the beginning.
For helping the company grow to where it is today. Mr Goh, who is 52 this year, clinched the Young Entrepreneur award from the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) and the Rotary Club of Singapore.
He is one of three winners of the Young Entrepreneur award - a new award category under ASME's and Rotary's Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The new category was set up to allow the leaders of younger firms with at least two years of audited financial statements, and revenue of $20 million and below, to compete among themselves.
The other two winners are Neeraj Sundarajoo, CEO of web and mobile applications firm Comwerks, and Sky Tan Keang Leng, CEO of interior design, project management and renovation firm Sky Creation Group of Companies.
The more established entrepreneurs leading SMEs with revenue from $20 million-$100 million competed under what is now called the Established Entrepreneur category, where nine winners were recognised.
Two of the nine are Rasel Catering Singapore's managing director, Alan Tan, and creative director Chris Loh.
The duo were colleagues at an insurance firm before they started Rasel, previously known as Rasa Selera Food Service, in 1997. While at lunch at a Clementi hawker centre, they saw many people packing lunch for their colleagues back to the office. Some even bought 20 to 30 packets of food. Seeing this, Ms Loh told Mr Tan: "This is the business to enter."
So they ventured into the catering business, despite having no knowledge of the industry.
They endured mocking from chefs, started small and slowly picked up industry knowledge and skills.
Their effort has paid off. Last year, Rasel's revenue was about $5.5 million. The group has plans to go regional, and is eyeing cities such as Yangon, Shanghai and Beijing.
Joining Rasel Catering's two head honchos are Kim Wah Boon, managing director of Dickson Auto Group; Brian Seow, managing director of interior designer L&Rui Concept Group; and Winston Chia, managing director of furniture and interior design firm Serrano Holdings.
Then there is Sally Chua of Q'son Kitchen Equipment, which started out in 1996 as a three-man outfit but has a staff strength of about 130 today. In FY2012 it posted revenue of about $16 million and profit of $3.8 million.
Albert Oon of Shun Zhou Hardware, Sun Lai Fong of Sunhuan Construction and Jacqueline Lim Wei Kheng of Tai Hing round up the list of winners for the established awards category.
All winners will vie to be the Entrepreneur of the Year, the result of which will be known in December.
Said Stanley Low, the award co-chairman: "The top entrepreneurs ... have undertaken extraordinary efforts and initiatives to bring their businesses to ever greater heights."
During the judging process, they "were confident, composed and held a burning passion for their businesses", he said.
Linus Goh, head of global commercial banking at OCBC, a long-time partner of the awards, noted that rising cost pressures from a labour shortage and higher land costs were "significant concerns".
"Perhaps our theme of Shifting Gears is a timely reminder to rethink, review and re-energise your business models, both to address the increasing market challenges that face businesses today but more importantly, to capitalise on the new opportunities that will come."