Mention Jewel Changi Airport or The Helix at Marina Bay and most people would express their appreciation for these two architectural icons. These beautiful icons would not exist without the light installations done by Technolite. These light installations, coupled with cutting-edge structural design, have created architectural feats that Singapore has become known for.
Coming a long way since 1991, Technolite first started out as a company that distributed lighting products. Thereafter, Mr Michael Chia realised that he had to lead the company into branching out by growing the business globally with its own brand and products. Armed with the vision of creating Smart Cities of the future, Mr Chia started Photizo Global to take on the new challenge of internationalising the business.
“Many countries dream of building smart cities and this was a golden opportunity for us to realise our aspiration of being the forerunner in our industry internationally. I wanted to form a team of dedicated specialists to focus on this important development. To take on this new challenge, I started a new company, Photizo Global,” said Mr Chia.
Vision of creating a Smart City
In order to create a strong brand and unique products, Photizo Global started its own Research and Development team. This led to the eventual creation of a smart Internet of Things (IoT) pole that consists of an innovative design concept, known as the I-Core. The I-Core has an internal core that acts as a main support for the pole structure. With that, the I-Core allows the incorporation of compartments that can house various IoT devices and cables. Based on what is required, these compartments can be customised.
The idea of the IoT pole was birthed after Mr Chia noticed an increasing trend of modern cities adding multiple surveillance cameras to street poles or lamp posts for security needs. He felt that the addition of such cameras should not be treated as an afterthought and sought to create a pole that could accommodate the additions internally. This would enable the poles to look more aesthetically pleasing, as wires and electrical systems can be concealed in the interior of the pole, rather than strapped on to the exterior in grey boxes.
“12 years ago, after we installed the smart pole in Orchard Road, we received a lot of requests from government agencies a few years later to install more equipment on the pole. Drilling holes in the pole weakens the structure, and government agencies had to contact us each time they wanted to make a change to the poles. We realised that there was an issue of having to integrate the new equipment to existing poles and decided to solve the problem by coming up with a solution,” recounted Mr Chia.
Mr Chia believes that any invention must first address a need in society and cannot be an obsolete product. Hence, he seeks to develop products that are sustainable and will remain relevant even in a fast-changing world.
“Sustainability is a very important aspect of our business. In the IoT world, everything is constantly evolving and changing. It is hence important for products to be sustainable and we should consider possible issues prior to creating products, instead of having everything become an afterthought,” shared Mr Chia.
The importance of protecting Intellectual Property
Before inventing the smart IoT pole, Mr Chia learnt a valuable lesson in the importance of filing for patents and protecting the company’s Intellectual Property (IP). He had been the first to develop the LED exit light in Singapore. Nonetheless, when it was first developed, it took time for the idea to be implemented. However, when the idea finally took off, competitors copied it and drove down the price of the product drastically.
“It was a regret that we had to stop manufacturing the LED exit lights as many competitors copied the idea and mass produced them at a low cost. This rendered it inviable for us to continue producing it. I took it as a valuable lesson learnt and understood that filing for patent rights is crucial,” expressed Mr Chia.
Moving forward, Mr Chia knew that he had to prioritise the filing of the patent for the smart IoT pole in order for the business to remain competitive and sustainable. The process of filing for an IP for the smart IoT pole also allowed the company to evaluate and review the quality of the product that they have created.
“When we invented this pole and filed for a patent, we asked ourselves if we could create another product around our patent. I’ve always asked my staff if we could ‘reinvent the wheel’. When you cannot ‘reinvent the wheel’, then I think you have a foolproof product,” added Mr Chia.
Moving towards the future: Internationalisation
Mr Chia understood that it was important for businesses in Singapore to look beyond its shores and aim to reach the global market. Hence, he braved the challenges ahead and pushed the company onwards to a new frontier.
“There is a limited market size in Singapore. Eventually, we will reach the saturation limit for market share. Therefore, the only way to grow the business is to expand our market beyond Singapore’s shores,” said Mr Chia.
After the smart IoT pole was successfully created and a patent filed, Mr Chia focused on bringing his idea overseas. He knew that he could not manufacture the pole physically in Singapore and ship it overseas, as the high shipping costs would make the business financially inviable. Hence, Mr Chia focused on selling the IP of the smart IoT pole and sought reliable business partners who could help turn his idea into fruition.
“With a good global network and reputation, the path to reaching the global market will be faster. The next important factor is to have the ability to scale your products quickly when manufacturing it. Lastly, it is important to create something that will bypass trade barriers,” explained Mr Chia.
Mr Chia believes that one key challenge SMEs will face is Human Resource as it is difficult to find a suitable contact who can engage with global markets. Citing the example of how Photizo Global managed to sign a significant deal in the Middle East, Mr Chia shared that it was a Danish employee who had undertaken the task successfully. He added that cultural barriers could be a challenge when entering certain overseas markets and companies may need to source and rely on overseas talent.
Nevertheless, Mr Chia is not one to rest on his laurels. Continuing on its innovation and internationalisation journey, he intends to continue expanding Technolite and Photizo Global.
“For Technolite, we started with functional lighting before moving to architectural lighting. In future, we will be expanding to other areas like the interior and hospitality sectors.”
“Photizo Global will be going into other areas such as Europe and the US, where IP will be respected,” added Mr Chia.
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