About Me

Obsessed with innovation, fueled by purpose

I am a Singaporean national with over 40 years of entrepreneurial experience, working at all levels, from sole proprietor to multinational. 

As a founder, business owner, adviser, and mentor, I have a network in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, and Asia. 

Having founded, advised, and mentored over 100 ventures, I aim to inspire entrepreneurs and help them realize their dreams. Commercial and social entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to solve today’s challenges and create a better tomorrow for the benefit of all of us. They have a vision; they have a drive. 

However, often, they need role models. As an inspirer and firm believer in entrepreneurship, my values are highly distinctive. I am deeply rooted in an abiding sense of community. My ultimate motivation is compassion for others and seeing them succeed.  

How did it begin? Why did I choose this mission as my life’s work?

I was born to a Gujarati family in India in 1964. Many influences came to bear upon my life to help form the unique person I am today. Two such influences derived are from location and family. 

While Gujarat was once one of the world’s most impoverished societies, perhaps partly from necessity, it has fostered generations of hardy entrepreneurs. In the early decades of the 20th century, many such entrepreneurial Gujaratis emigrated to the then-British colonies of East Africa in search of better lives. 

The descendants of these East African settlers have subsequently moved to countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysia, and Great Britain. Today, the Thacker family lives in India, Africa, Hong Kong, the USA, the UK, and – most importantly for me – Singapore. 

So, I have had two crucial influences from the onset: internationalism and entrepreneurialism. By the 1920s, the entrepreneurial drive and the hard work accompanying it had made the Thacker family a thriving business family. Born and raised by entrepreneurs, I grew up in one of the world’s most impoverished societies.  

A Rich Kid in an Impoverished Society

History contains innumerable stories of rich kids and their materialistic excesses. I took a very different path in my life. I was heavily influenced by family principles such as unswerving integrity and community spirit. 

The family mantra was, ‘Be kind, help, accept and forgive.’ 

My family home had three wooden monkeys proclaiming, ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.’ I recall, ‘My early memories were full of people giving me practical and spiritual lessons. They didn’t lecture me on what was right or wrong. They showed me by practical example.’ 

One such practical example happened every weekend. Our family members would buy and prepare food from the markets each Saturday. This preparation continued into the early hours of Sunday morning. Later, hundreds of families would meet for lunch at the community center. 

I would make myself useful by helping older people, collecting donations, serving food, taking away dirty dishes, and cleaning them. I wasn’t lectured on the virtues of community service; I learned about community service by actively practicing it. 

If you want to change the world for the better, you need to take action

The celebrated French writer Gustave Flaubert sagely noted, ‘You don’t make art through good intentions.’ Similarly, good intentions, however laudable, are not enough to change the world. If you want to improve the world, you need to take action. And you need a vehicle. 

As a member of an entrepreneurial family, starting my own business was a natural choice. At the age of 18, I made that dream a reality.

Starting a business at 18 – or any age – requires more than an idea, mission, vision, and motivation. It also requires funding. 

Rich kids in business dynasties rarely have to look far for funding. But as a young Manoj, I was determined to make my way in the world. I dared to courteously refuse my father’s offer of financial support in favor of the funding winter familiar to many entrepreneurs worldwide. 

Many business dreams die in funding winters. This one didn’t. Six years later, when I was only 24, my company, Sky Electronics, had an annual turnover of $50m and employed over 100 staff. 

Few people in any country experience this degree of business success at such a young age. If they do, there are several likely scenarios. One scenario is to become a millionaire playboy and create a life of material pleasure. 

Another scenario is to feel omnipotent – which usually leads to rash business decisions. Many young self-made millionaires have learned that losing money can be much easier and much faster than making it.

Technology serving humanity

Of course, an alternative scenario is to regard one’s first venture as a practical learning exercise and gain valuable lessons that may be applied in various situations. 

This is the one I took, building upon my early success with Sky Electronics while venturing into other areas. Sky has continued to evolve by helping traditional cultures adapt to an ever-changing and rapidly moving world. 

To this end, there has been a focus on innovation by simplification – the ease and speed at which one can adopt technology through digital platforms, irrespective of one’s environment. Too often, innovation becomes lost in complexity. 

Innovation by simplification is the antidote, particularly in emerging markets. ‘Keep it simple’ is an excellent mantra. 

Our ultimate dream as founders is to make our high-tech world accessible so everyone can raise their standard of living and quality of life. This involves getting to grips with complexity and doing one’s best to simplify it. I am adamant that the purpose of technology is to serve humanity – and not vice versa. 

One example of technology serving humanity is an AI-inspired patient care system from my company’s latest venture, DS Box. A classic – and highly distressing – problem in hospitals and care homes is patients getting out of bed when they shouldn’t and falling. 

Sometimes, the falls involve broken limbs; for an elderly patient, this can be the beginning of the end. The DS Box patient care system incorporates an alarm triggered when patients leave bed when they shouldn’t. Appropriate help will quickly be at hand.

Conversely, if a patient has been static for too long, it may indicate an adverse incident; again, this will be flagged up. Other information about patient well-being is also available. 

This technology prevents accidents and saves lives. 

Learning by doing

Throughout history, many successful business owners have sat back and enjoyed their hard-earned lifestyles. With ever-increasing social, technological, political, and economic change, such luxuries have become distinctly unwise in the last few decades. 

The alternative is to develop the mindset of a lifelong learner. In business, the best learning is often experiential: learning by doing. Subsequent reflection elicits the hard-won lessons. 

There are always business opportunities. The entrepreneur often discovers them before others and then creates them. 

Victor Hugo astutely commented, ‘There is no idea like the idea whose time has come.’ 

Come to the market too early, and you will expend far too much time, effort, and money trying to educate and stimulate that market. Come to the market too late, and it will be saturated. Timing is everything.

Timing and pivoting  

Timing is everything… 

One of my most spectacular coups involved not only timing but time itself. While working in Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s, I was walking around, and every second person would ask me, what time is it? I perceived a need for reliable yet affordable watches. I embraced this challenge and built partnerships with industry leaders. 

While I could find various enterprises designing and manufacturing the outer watch components, Citizen Japan provided reliable and high-quality quartz movements, all ROHS compliant, which means no harmful substances like lead. It ensured that the watches could be compliant and sold across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

I founded over 20 watch brands, with the Philip Persio brand being the most notable. Between 1990 and 2010, I sold over 100 million watches. Having a watch does not simply enable you to know the time; it also enables you to get control over your time. 

Whether paupers or billionaires, all have the same 24 hours a day; it’s up to us to use it well. If you can’t measure something, it’s hard to manage it. 

Through managing your time, you gain control over your life and make progress. Selling over 100 million watches is a tremendous accomplishment, but helping millions gain control over their lives is far more significant. 

You need a long career if you use business advancement for social betterment. You need to remain in the game. And that means surviving recessions. I have successfully guided each of my businesses through the early 1990s recession, the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the 2000 dotcom bubble, the stock market downturn of 2002, the Dubai debt standstill in 2009, the 2018 cryptocurrency crash and the 2020 Covid pandemic. In each case I managed to pivot in time to avert most of the risk to my companies, saving not only the businesses themselves but also the many jobs they provide. My businesses not only managed to survive but indeed thrived during these downturns and market crashes.

In each case, I managed to pivot in time to avert most of the risk to my companies, saving the businesses and the many jobs they provide. My businesses survived and thrived during these downturns and market crashes. 

Business advancement and social betterment

In 2012, I became involved with the ‘Access to Electricity’ project in my beloved Gujarat. The challenge was to supply electricity to remote villages. I joined the consortium of investors in a public-private partnership project to build my first Solar Plant in a Solar Park in Gujarat. 

Today, the electrification of Gujarati villages is virtually complete, focusing on renewable energy, particularly solar power. 

Electricity in Gujarat; Internet in emerging markets. Through my involvement with the Access to Internet by 2020 project, I worked with governments across emerging markets to increase Internet access and speed. 

As a systems integrator, I designed cost-effective and energy-efficient computer devices. These devices were installed in public sector buildings like government offices and educational institutions. When I started working on the project, only a few people had access to the Internet. However, now most people have access to it.

The deep connectedness of life

In the West, we distinguish sharply between first-world and third-world countries and between technology and traditional lifestyles. But there is ample room for integration. 

For instance, as an advisor to Airway Medical, a medical equipment supplier, I assisted the founder in developing a sustainable, nature-based solution to manufacture a biodegradable and recyclable device. 

I met a community of innovators whereby devices can be manufactured with a medical-grade biopolymer created using castor beans from Gujarat, my ancestral home. This initiative involves some 3,000 castor farmers and contracted workers in the supply chain process. 

It enables them to improve their livelihoods by helping them to optimize yield while reducing environmental impact. With the requisite insight and will, sustainable, regenerative practices are eminently possible; this example demonstrates it. Yet again, it was an instance of ‘coming home.’ It allowed me to combine my passion for a healthier planet with my love for the Gujarati people. 

Ultimately, we all inhabit the same world. If it will work sustainably, it needs to work for the benefit of us all. As John Donne wrote, ‘No man is an island.’ I believe firmly in the deep connectedness of life. I aim to devise sustainable solutions to business problems while helping needy communities. 

Beans from Gujarat; wood from Indonesia

As an angel investor, I became involved with Wodd Design, which makes teak furniture without using harmful substances like lead and chemical polish. Traditionally, the furniture and fashion industries have significantly contributed to our climate crisis. 

By using only repurposed wood, Wodd Design takes a radically different approach. The result is a range of high-quality products manufactured in simple designs in harmony with nature, sustainably, and without environmental harm.

The success of Wodd Design is proof that a business can behave in a highly conscientious manner while still enjoying great commercial success. Wodd Design’s customers proudly display its teak furniture in their homes, knowing it is environmentally friendly. 

A Vision for the Future

The Intel Channel Board of Advisors provides a forum for appointed members to contribute insights and advice to Intel regarding product technologies and programs. Intel Technology Provider handpicked me to serve alongside fellow Board Advisory members as a valued partner representing the Middle East and North African regions (MENA). 

My vision for the future perfectly aligned with Intel’s ambitions and a growing sense of urgency to work with others and address world challenges that no single entity can tackle successfully. 

Using a best-in-class industry model, a two-way dialogue emerged. This included insights from partners on market industry trends, what the channel was experiencing, and opportunities for strategic technology investments. 

It provided insights to partners on Intel’s direction and further plans. With my fellow advisers, we worked collectively on engagement and collaborated on marketing and PR activities to drive alignment and visibility for targeted initiatives.

Technology serving people

In representing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the biggest challenge was communicating to Intel the need to simplify its processor names and entry-level range and make the brand more relatable to local computer assembly. 

I identified the need for a do-it-yourself PC, independent of brand names, and connected Intel with smaller companies that could use standardized and validated components for benchmarked performance. 

This move helped grow local champions, which kept partner businesses healthy and relevant to the needs of local users by responding with meaningful benefits and initiatives. 

With the fast development of emerging technology, my role was to educate partners to phase out older systems. New technology replaced these, which had to be phased in for the end-user. This was instrumental in negotiating upgrades and better warranties to address issues experienced by local distributors. 

As a result, Intel was positioned to enjoy much better access to emerging markets. Customers could buy older-generation processors that were perfectly adequate for initial needs. Marketing and educational material was provided in local languages. The product line processors were consolidated into three categories: Good, Better, and Best, designed for low to high-demand tasks.

I was also involved in developing the NUC – the Next Unit of Computing. Small form factor PCs are made with low-powered processors to save electricity and are used for many applications with simple and repetitive tasks. 

Today, billions of devices are connected for real-time communication and insights, saving lives and enabling timely action to protect people and assets.

The Singapore connection

With my long-abiding fascination with using technology for social progress, I am proud to be a Singaporean. The prestigious Bloomberg Index has ranked Singapore second in the world regarding innovation. 80 of the world’s top technology companies are represented there. Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) is an Entrepreneurship Centre for nurturing startups and catalyzing innovation and enterprise. 

As a mentor with the prestigious SUTD program, I worked with young minds on a highly structured entrepreneurial learning process. I have worked with very talented founders at the German Accelerator Southeast Asia (GASEA) scheme as a mentor to founders and CEOs moving into Southeast Asian markets. 

While technology can undoubtedly enhance social progress, sometimes there are more immediate needs. My passion for Gujarati roots excited me to serve for 10 years as a committee member for the Singapore Gujarati Society (SGS) and eight years as an elected trustee of the Singapore Gujarati Hindu Endowment Trust (SGHET). 

Gujaratis’ history in Singapore is long and enterprising. Early Gujaratis, mostly merchants and traders, first came to Singapore (then Singapura) in the late 19th century. The Gujarati community formed the HINDU PAROPKARI FUND in 1908, now SGHET.

During my term with SGS, I initiated a program that acknowledged professional experts in medicine, law, finance, investment, and education and provided mentorship services for society members. 

I was elected as a Trustee of SGHET, where I worked to formalize and simplify the processes whereby the welfare fund provides discreet assistance to Singaporean and Gujarati families in need.

As Trustees, we also helped establish awards to encourage deserving students in their studies and chosen careers. Recipients of these awards have pushed themselves beyond expectation; many success stories exist. The Singapore Gujarati Society was established in 1956. 

Its first logo was ‘Love, Learn, Labour,’ symbolizing love for the community, continual learning, and tireless labor. A later logo of ‘Harmony, Unity and Progress’ embodies the ever-evolving vision of the society. 

I sensed a purpose: “I love Singapore’s multi-racial and multicultural diversity. Our Gujarati tradition, culture, and values are ties that bind us together while we all work to progress to greater heights.”

In the 21st century, business has no boundaries

In the 21st century, there truly are no boundaries in business. It doesn’t matter where you live, what race you are, or what gender you are. What matters is your burning desire to engage in business and your ability to translate dreams into reality. With over 40 years of high-level business experience, I dedicated my time to translating dreams into reality. 

Although the present generation of founders is young, ambitious, sometimes impatient, and increasingly entrepreneurial, with global ambitions that set them well ahead of the curve compared to previous generations of founders, they start with the potential to scale. I often find them mission-driven, trying to solve too many other issues before considering commercialization. 

In the process, they can easily scare away potential investors – potentially fatal in the ‘funding winter’ that virtually all startups experience. They are excellent listeners; I help them bridge their gap to become more investable by introducing investors to the most suitable founders. It’s all about finding the best fit between founder and investor.

Working through many channels

As a seasoned startup adviser, I work through many channels. For instance, I am advising a Seed Stage Tech Fund from Seedstars Capital, which is focused on emerging and frontier markets. Seedstars has been incubating emerging market tech talent and accelerating ecosystems through hundreds of programs and events in over 90 countries. I help screen the hottest seed-stage deals. I also advise entrepreneurs on accessing funding opportunities and scaling their businesses. The mission is to invest in pre-seed and seed-stage startups in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

The Institute of Blockchain® (IBS) was founded to advance blockchain education and drive its adoption. As with most emerging technology, the adoption of blockchain depends on the extent to which governments and other relevant stakeholders take the lead in supporting and unveiling market-creating innovation. Governments of emerging economies must stimulate awareness and adoption of these technologies to facilitate effective service delivery. I advise IBS on business strategy for instituting partnerships and examination board best practices.During COVID-19, IBS swiftly converted from face-to-face training to online classes, massively increasing accessibility. In Jan 2021, it successfully transitioned into a social enterprise committed to creating social value. In a world where trust is hard to establish, blockchain’s consensus-driven approach and decentralized governance offer a refreshing alternative. Blockchain, AI, cloud computing, and data science initiatives will catalyze the fourth industrial revolution.

At the Swiss ICT Investor Club (SICTIC), I am part of a community of business angels who help entrepreneurs take their projects to the next level. At the Royal Society of Arts, I work with like-minded people to find solutions to the pressing problems of our age. The Sloane Club provides yet another avenue for building relationships with kindred spirits. In the Singapore FinTech Association, I am part of the community that shows how technology can aid financial inclusion. 

I was invited to join as an Ambassador of Innovaud, an innovation and investment promotion agency for the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva region. The Canton of Vaud stands at the forefront of innovation in domains such as AI & Machine Learning, Agri-tech, Aeronautics & Aerospace, Cybersecurity, Drones, Energy Efficiency, Immunology, LabTech & Diagnosis, Neurotechnology, Oncology, Robotics, Digital Health, and EdTech.

It is the nucleus of innovation, offering an appealing tax regime, top-notch education, advanced infrastructure, security, stability, and accessible institutions, creating an environment conducive to connecting investors and entrepreneurs. I encourage dialogue among startups, corporations, investors, academics, institutions, and other stakeholders.

Lifelong learning

I am not content with helping others to learn; I am learning each day on my learning also. Of course, much of the best learning in my life comes from reflecting upon my own experience. Other learning comes from meeting fellow business and social entrepreneurs to discuss common challenges. Still, other learning is the theoretical underpinning of practical experience in 2020. 

My MBA from the London School of Economics and Political Science helped me polish skills in the core pillars of business: strategy, finance, and people. It helped him make more informed business decisions and lead with confidence and influence. 

Above all, it helped me deepen my understanding of my role as an authentic visionary leader. 

Inspiring entrepreneurs

In the past, businesses were often viewed simply as economic engines. Today, they are more likely to be viewed as vehicles for solving pressing real-world problems. Fiercely passionate entrepreneurs always initiate businesses. Such people need guidance to survive their funding winters and valleys of despair successfully and scale their businesses.

As a founder and technology enabler, I have lived 90,000+ hours of passion for ‘innovating by integrating’ and providing revenue, profit streams, and enduring social value. 

My mantra is ‘Passion, Purpose, and Potential.’ Passion underlies my purpose to realize the potential for outcomes that will benefit society. In the past few decades, the international business world has changed. 

My ethos perfectly aligns with the corporate motto of ‘People, Planet, and Profit.’ The value created should not be merely financial; it should also have a lasting social benefit. 

You don’t facilitate social progress by dreaming about it. Dreams need to be translated into action. There is always a need for sage guidance and mentorship. Economic activity can be a crucial driver of social progress. But many hurdles must be overcome. To be an entrepreneur is to embrace a life of challenge. 

Surviving a challenge and thriving upon it requires a commitment to lifelong learning – and connection. I firmly believe in the power of connection.

‘In a highly connected world, success comes from making connections that truly matter – connecting people, young ideas, and impactful technology.’

It was a day of awakening for me on the ‘Day of Eight Billion – 15 November 2022’, as the world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion people, a milestone in human development; countries with the highest fertility levels tend to be those with the lowest income per capita. Global population growth has, therefore, become increasingly concentrated among the world’s poorest countries over time. 

In these countries, sustained rapid population growth can thwart the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which remain the world’s best pathway toward a happy and healthy future. 

Entrepreneurship is contagious. Today’s entrepreneurs will become tomorrow’s business and social leaders. Let us collaborate, innovate, and share our experiences to create beneficial social change.

Manoj Thacker


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