Pushing the limits of innovation globally, from Singapore
Motorhead Peter Ho may not come to mind when you think of firefighting. But Ho and the company he co-founded, HOPE Technik, are actually helping to douse fires all over Singapore and beyond. This homegrown engineering company has been so successful in their endeavours that they have been designing and building the last four generations of the Red Rhino emergency vehicle and are now embarking onto the next phase of exporting the vehicle to other Asian cities.
Yet putting out fires is not the only problem that HOPE Technik can solve. The sheer diversity of the company’s next-generation innovations and solutions is breathtaking. From exoskeletons that teach stroke patients how to walk again to sky-surfing drones and even a space plane prototype, the company has delivered some 400 projects across 18 countries over the last 11 years.
Drive and passion
After bonding over a common interest in race cars, Ho and his three former university schoolmates pumped in S$10,000 of capital to form HOPE Technik in 2006. Starting out as a developer of race car pit equipment, business was hard to come by initially.
“No one said it was going to be easy, but no one told us that it was going to be this hard,”quips Ho.
He himself went without a salary for 18 months and racked up hefty bills on his credit cards. At that point, the co-founders decided to take on any project they could get their hands on.
“It might have been difficult and challenging, but that didn’t mean we walk away from it,” says Ho. “We kind of like the thrill of going against mission impossible.”
When asked what drives him, he says simply that he enjoys coming up with solutions.
“I actually enjoy the challenges,” says Ho. “But this is just life as we know it. I just don’t think I know anything other than pushing and growing the business, in terms of our capabilities, our products and our team.”
HOPE Technik has come a long way since its humble beginnings, proving just how far one can get fuelled by pure drive and passion. Emblazoned across their office wall is their “10 rules of engagement’’ with the motto right at the top: It is a passion and a career, not a job.
“We are a very fortunate generation in that we can afford to be passionate, to choose what we want to do and how to do it,” Ho explains. “Previous generations have built all these possibilities for us.”
Describing HOPE Technik as a “Singapore-proud” company, he added that the opportunities and synergies that the country presented was an important factor to its growth.
One example is the plane prototype HOPE Technik designed to reach the edge of space for Airbus. The demonstrator plane, a quarter of the size of the real space plane, was released in mid-air to see how it glides over the sea.
Airbus got in touch with HOPE Technik to build the prototype through Singapore’s Economic Development Board, as part of its plans to fly a commercial plane into space by 2024.
It is a clear illustration of how the network and collaboration between the authorities and Singapore-based businesses creates new opportunities.
With Singapore being a natural hub, many companies have chosen to build their regional and global headquarters here, remarks Ho, hence opportunities go beyond the city-state’s shores, opening the door to new possibilities worldwide.
“Networking [in Singapore] is just amazing,” says Ho. “We’ve got a culture where we speak freely with each other across different languages so it’s easy to communicate.”
The sheer number of relevant exhibitions and conferences Singapore hosts also helps to build a network of contacts.
“The exhibitions and conferences that Singapore hosts are world events. The quality of these events is extremely high in this little country and through these kinds of events, you start to understand how big the ocean is,” says Ho. “Take the Singapore Airshow as an example – it’s the third largest air show in the world and it is held in Singapore.”
But it’s not all work and no play at this engineering company. Walk into their factory in Jurong and a rock-climbing wall stands in place of a reception counter while a giant steel slide connects the second floor to the lobby.
“We want the team to be passionate about the job they do,” Ho explains. “It’s a very technical business and if you love what you do, it’s also a hobby. If you don’t enjoy it, you will not be able to be at the cutting-edge of the industry.”
Cute little dot
Although Ho says he emerges from his office as late as 3am, when he has the time, he visits the local hawker centres in Toa Payoh or Ang Mo Kio for a bite, or to Dempsey Hill for something a little more upmarket.
When guests are in town, Ho brings them to the top of Marina Bay Sands® for a view of the Flower Dome and the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay on one side, and the cityscape on the other.
“They [Supertrees] look like something from a Hollywood sci-fi movie - it’s that insane,” he says. “The concentration of energy, of development, the sheer density – it shows what Singapore really is.”
Other favourites are the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari. And perhaps due to his own affection for the area, Ho thinks that visitors should see the factories in Jurong.
“When you compare it with other places in Singapore, it’s obvious that we are a very capable country with a unique layout.”
In many ways, Ho sees a parallel between Singapore’s ambitions and his own.
“As a growth technology company, we create unique solutions here and then export them around the world,” he elaborates. “Similarly, as much as Singapore seems like a cute little red dot on the map, its influence past its borders is huge. Singapore projects itself to be much bigger than its physical size.”