Heartfelt ventures

Date: 14thMay 2005
Publication: The Business Times, Singapore

Some enter into business because they eye profits to be made. But others go into it for more altruistic reasons. PARVATHI NAYAR and CHEAH UI-HOON meet three such entrepreneurs who make stimulating children’s minds their top priority.

Anitha Thomas

Co-founder of singaporeforkids.com, a website that brings together all the information a kid – whether resident or tourist – could possibly want to navigate Singapore.

‘WHO is more interested in the future of the orangutan, Michael Schumacher or Mickey Mouse?’

This is the sort of ‘thinking’ game that Anita Anthony Thomas would like to set up for kids on singaporeforkids.com (sfk), the website she co-founded with Asha Ramakrishnan – with their own money. Their partnership, called The A & A Workshop, has taken sfk to stage one of a larger vision, as an information website that allows kids and parents to make ‘informed choices’ – a key word in Ms Thomas’ vocabulary.

The germ of the sfk project – unsurprisingly – arose from a personal need. When Ms Thomas first came to Singapore (1998), she could not find ‘one integrated source of information that was both relevant and simple’ on what was available for kids here, be it day care, classes, sports, entertainment, new attractions, or updates on places of interest.

Listening to other parents express the same needs, Ms Thomas got serious about sfk, just for fun. The prototype they had in January 2003 comprised a reservoir of kid-related information for both residents and visitors. Overseas web design firm Rage India eventually took on the project; initial work, appropriately enough, was done through the Net without actual contact.

‘They thought we were nuts (to fund this ourselves),’ chuckles Ms Thomas, ‘but they are people with heart, who understood and responded to our needs.’ The results can be seen in the up-and-running site completed in September last year; to-date it has cost Ms Thomas and her partner between $25,000 to $30,000.

The website offers lots of user-friendly and time-saving links – eg, if you want admission rates to the zoo, the link from sfk takes you straight to that particular page on the zoo website. The sfk project has both a social aspect – ‘opening up children’s minds and building them a mutually supportive network, a resource of information and opportunity’ – and a business aspect.

In terms of the latter, ‘our goal is to expand sfk’s e-commerce capabilities and advertising revenues, and grow it along the lines of ebay – to become the portal of choice in the region for anything to do with activities, products and services for children. Right from the start we agreed it didn’t matter if we did not make money, but that we would not take shortcuts, that we would do it as a viable business proposition.’

But now is the time, she believes, for investors to come in. Sfk has a loyal community that keeps coming back – last month, the website averaged 14,500 hits a day. Moreover, according to a 2004 Infocomm Development Authority survey, online services are becoming more popular in Singapore, growing from 20 per cent in 2003 to 30 per cent in 2004.

Ms Thomas came to the sfk project via a long line of achievements – from setting up a production house in Calcutta for documentary, commercial and corporate films, to publishing a book in Singapore, You’re Dancing on my Footprints; she now has plans for other projects that will benefit children through The A & A Workshop.

She says: ‘I believe tremendously in childhood, about not policing children but helping them make informed choices. With sfk, in a very small way, I improve the quality of experience of childhood.’

It sounds like the best kind of value-add, if a kid leaves the sfk website with a little more information on – or curiosity about – the world he/she lives in.