Celebrating Singapore's entrepreneurial spirit: Leading light of family's solar energy business

Audrey Tan Straits Times 8 Aug 17;

Having taken over the reins of the family's business in solar energy, Mr Frank Phuan, 40, considers himself a second-generation businessman. But there is no denying his entrepreneurial spirit nonetheless.

Over the years, he has expanded the family's business in solar energy into a group of companies - including the Sunseap Group, which made headlines in 2015 when it got a contract to supply tech giant Apple with 100 per cent renewable energy for its local operations.

In addition, Mr Phuan has been growing his family's vertical farming business, Packet Greens, since 2014, renting more space in an industrial building along Boon Lay Way to grow more crops.

What started out as a test bed for light technologies in growing crops indoors has since grown into a farm which sells over 50 varieties of pesticide-free crops to consumers and restaurants.

But Mr Phuan's "baby" is still the Sunseap Group, which now has three entities - Sunseap Leasing, Sunseap Energy and Sunseap International. The first of the three, Sunseap Leasing, was started in 2011 with just four employees.

Sunseap Group was incorporated in 2015, and set up as a company separate from his father's solar panel manufacturing firm, Compo Enterprises, which was set up in the 1970s. Compo Enterprises was later renamed Sunseap Enterprises.

Singapore is a country famed for its efficiency, honesty and transparency. When we go into these regional markets, our partners regard us as a company which comes with these same traits.

MR FRANK PHUAN, 40, who expanded his family's business in solar energy into a group of firms, including Sunseap Group.
But Sunseap Group, which today has a staff strength of 79, has a different business model from Sunseap Enterprises. It focuses on selling solar energy as a service. Sunseap Group takes care of the installation, maintenance and operation of solar panel systems, and sells the energy produced to clients.

It was a large risk due to the large amounts of capital investment needed, said Mr Phuan, who has a 20-month-old son, Christian.

Charting new territory for a family business was also not easy, said Mr Phuan, who graduated in 2000 with a degree in materials engineering from the Nanyang Technological University. He started a marketing firm and dabbled in the F&B sector before returning to the family business. Said Mr Phuan: "My father asked me why I felt things had to be changed, saying that the traditional family business had taken care of all my needs as I was growing up.

"Instead of manufacturing solar equipment, we now use the equipment to develop our service. Through this process, I became my father's customer... We managed to transform a business that is in the 'sunset industry' into one that is of a recurring model." Sunseap Group is now among the largest solar firms here with a revenue of more than $25 million last year, up from the over $1.2 million revenue Sunseap Leasing earned in 2011. The group has also expanded overseas in places like Malaysia, where it has renewable energy projects.

On the value of the Singapore brand in such expansions, Mr Phuan said: "Singapore is a country famed for its efficiency, honesty and transparency. When we go into these regional markets, our partners regard us as a company which comes with these same traits."

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