Cross-country angel investor

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In 2006, Rina co-founded Mercatus Capital, which she describes as a “homegrown incubator and venture accelerator”.In 2006, Rina co-founded Mercatus Capital, which she describes as a “homegrown incubator and venture accelerator”.

Many entrepreneurs focus on building up businesses within a specific domain or skill set. However, there is also a breed of entrepreneur who invests in a whole range of businesses instead of focusing on just one or two. These are the so-called “Angel Investors”, private individuals who invest in companies they believe in.

One such person is self-described “serial entrepreneur”, Rina Neoh, who divides her time among three countries where she has investments: Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

“My first work experience started at the age of 14 when I helped my mom run her hair salon and got paid as a shampoo girl,” she said. “This is where I learned the rudiments of running a business, the importance of managing cash flow and the art of creating customer delight.”

At university she studied computer science for her first degree, then got an MBA to bolster her business skills. This combination allowed her to work in multinationals like Microsoft where she was exposed to solutions selling, complex tender bids and managing A-list accounts.

In 2006, she co-founded Mercatus Capital, which she describes as a “homegrown incubator and venture accelerator”. With its network of angel investors, it has to date seeded and incubated more than 40 start-ups in the region, including Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, India, China and Hong Kong.

Mercatus

The company’s diversified portfolio ranges from technology, online education, personal care products, intimate wear, food distribution, pharmaceuticals and international pre-school licensing.

In terms of the qualities she looks for in a company or entrepreneur to invest in, she has some guidelines: “Based on my experience, there are four things to look for: i) Intelligence or intrinsic knowledge about the product ii) Inquisitiveness or willingness to learn quickly iii) Intensity or high level of commitment iv) Integrity or ability to deliver on promises. For me, the last one is the deal breaker.”

With her diverse portfolio of business investments, Rina’s typical day is anything but typical. “I wake up around 6am to check on my e-mails and business correspondence. I would normally have three or four business meetings in the morning. I go to the gym during lunchtime and take a light meal afterwards. I don’t like power lunches because they tend to be protracted and unproductive. I meet my business partners for tea or coffee in the afternoon. In the evening, I do my own cooking and then I do some business planning, strategic thinking and project monitoring for a couple of hours before going to bed.”

As an angel investor, she is usually not involved in the day-to-day running of the company. “I’m involved mostly during the pre-operational stage where my experience and expertise is most useful,” she says. “I play the devil’s advocate and ask what-if scenarios.”

Rina has managed to make angel investing work for her and she has three pieces of advice for those who are thinking of investing in start-ups: “The first rule is not to invest in start-ups as a main source of income. Only invest if you have disposable income or extra savings. The second rule is to invest only in projects you feel passionate or are familiar with. Investing in start-ups is not the same as investing in equities. The third rule is to have the intestinal fortitude to survive the unexpected ups and downs of the business. Given its volatile nature, don’t expect every startup investment to make money and deliver return on investment instantly.”

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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