Suppose you were a lady aged 45 or above. How wonderful it would be if you could find a serene, natural-approach exercise centre where you could work out away from the critical eyes of the younger, hardcore fitness buffs.
Members of the ‘Thamfit’ and ‘Jexim’ teams, respectively the Gold and Silver Awards recipients of the ‘HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2009-2010’, strike a group pose. From left are: Jeannie Sthavornmanee, Phichaya Pairojsathaporn, Pichaya Angkatavanich, Patcharapa Kitaphanich and Paramee Smittinet.
A business concept of just such a place won a trio of fresh graduates of Thammasat University (TU) the Gold Award at the recent "HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2009-2010", Thailand division. They named their concept "Thamfit", partially out of their loyalty to their alma mater.
"Good afternoon, honoured judges, ladies and gentlemen. Today, we present to you Elements Fitness, a natural way to exercise," said Pichaya Angkatavanich, one of the "Thamfit" members, starting off her presentation confidently.
It was not only Pichaya who came up with a verbal outpouring that sounded like she was persuading real venture capitalists to fund her project. Jeannie Sthavornmanee and Paramee Smittinet, the other two members, also delivered similarly exhilarating performances.
They had 10 minutes to explain their business plan and another five minutes in a Q&A session before the panel of judges.
"They anticipated most of what the judges asked, and they had abundant information to provide, which was impressive," praised Willie Tham, CEO at HSBC Thailand and one of the judges.
"I evaluate how viable the product or service is," said Mr Tham, revealing his first and foremost criterion. "If they [the competitors] were to bring this product or service to market, could they actually sustain it? In the case of the winning team, they certainly convinced me that they could," Mr Tham opined.
"Thamfit" responded gallantly to the judges' queries with supporting documentation, which included 21 critical PowerPoint slides, plus an extra 35 slides as general background material.
Each member of the team took home a trophy and a 100,000-baht scholarship. Truly prize-rich, earlier this year they won a 150,000-baht cash prize at the "Giffarine: The Branding Project" contest and ended up as the first runner-up in the "NUS (National University of Singapore)-DBS (DBS Bank Ltd) International Case Competition" in Singapore last year.
The team signed up for the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2009-2010 late last year when they were fourth-year students. They reasoned that since they were already in their senior year, they needed to beef up their portfolios.
"We saw that most of the winners of this competition had won by offering products, so we decided to propose a service. Ours was a very challenging idea. We had good positioning and a unique target market that no one had paid attention to before," said Pichaya.
"Elements Fitness" is simple but innovative. Pichaya explained that more and more Thais are paying attention to health-related products and services. Thailand's ageing population is also growing and more women have become financially independent.
"One business that can exploit all these opportunities are fitness centres," she said. Nevertheless, she continued, the current fitness centres tend to concentrate on people aged between 20 and 35.
Additionally, although the centres offer numerous activities, they are inclined to have limited private space and are located in noisy surroundings and crowded environments.
Pichaya added that women of median age might hesitate to join one of the current fitness centres because they are not confident of their body, might feel awkward among younger people, and/or have negative perceptions of fitness centres.
The mission of the centre is to help women aged 45 to 69 to sustain their health, create a peaceful and female-friendly atmosphere and convince women that exercising is an enjoyable routine.
Back to basics
"Every product is designed to meet the characteristic of the four elements: earth, water, wind and fire," said Jeannie. The centre avoids using expensive sophisticated equipment, but chooses to concentrate on natural approaches instead.
Jeannie detailed that the earth element, representing "touch", includes an interactive stone-and-sand pathway. The water element, representing "balance", incorporates an indoor swimming pool passageway that is suitable for older people who prefer not to walk or run on treadmills.
The wind element, representing "motion", is made up of private meditation and outdoor activities like yoga and tai chi.
Finally, the fire element, representing "action", embraces more-energetic programmes like private and group dances, for example, R&B moves, hip-hop steps and waltzes.
"Every woman needs to feel young," Paramee said with a laugh.
The centre is expected to open at Bangkok Mediplex on Sukhumvit Road. The fees range from 30,000 baht for a three-month package to 125,000 baht for a one-year membership.
"Our competitive advantage rests on the fact that we have a city-centre location. We also offer a unique outdoor experience in a convenient indoor setting and premium services that are unmatched by our competitors in the market," said Paramee.
Lesson on application
One of the scenes that can be witnessed at many universities is students listening to lectures for hours and hours. At the end of the semester, learning materials are usually left on shelves or given to other students, and, occasionally, the knowledge that students have accumulated throughout the semester tends to gradually fade from their minds.
HSBC has provided an opportunity for students to convert their knowledge into action. The HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards was launched in Thailand in 2004. Since its inception, over 1,850 students have joined the programme in Thailand.
The winner of the Thailand contest goes on to compete in the regional tournament against teams from Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Brunei for the Best of the Best Award.
To take part in the competition, students with a bachelor's degree form teams of two or three persons each. They are required to create and submit a business plan for an existing or imagined product or service.
The competition teaches participants to comprehensively cover all the aspects of creating a business plan for products or services, including defining the related problems, generating their business concept and carrying out consumer analyses.
The contestants also learn to formulate a marketing strategy, evaluate the competition, determine their own competitive advantages and provide strong financial justifications.
The six teams that attended the grand final last month were selected from among over 40 teams from 10 universities.
"The competition gives them the ability to polish up a number of skills," said HSBC's CEO. "The first one is their business-thinking skills. This pulls a lot of things together, such as financial and marketing planning," he said, adding that contestants can learn a great deal from judges as judges come from a wide range of backgrounds.
Besides Mr Tham, the bench of judges in the Thailand Grand Final included Julian Fryett, president of Ricoh (Thailand); Sunandha Tulayadhan, country chairperson of WPP (Thailand) Co; and Supakorn Vejjajiva, president and chief operating officer of Post Publishing.
"Second, they can improve their presentation skills, which also instils them with confidence in public speaking in English. Through this forum and the incentives offered, young people are encouraged to try to hone their skills in this area," said Mr Tham.
He said that many Thai youngsters are very competitive but that they need more opportunities, encouragement and training. The CEO hopes that the government will join hands with the private sector to enhance the opportunities that are made available to students. "We are more than willing to assist the government in this regard," he said.
The second place winner's "JX422" security device for luxury handbags sparked a lot of interest among the judges and the audience.
The team, "Jexim", comprised three recent graduates from the BBA programme at Chulalongkorn University (CU): Phichaya Pairojsathaporn, Patcharapa Kitaphanich and Montana Mektavatchaikul.
"We will be the middlemen to help the luxury brands meet their consumers' desire for safety," said Phichaya. "JX422" is a fibre optic sensor that can be installed inside handbags. If there is an attempt to steal a bag by, for example, slicing the handle quickly to remove the bag from the owner's arm, the slice will break the fibre optic circuit, setting off an alarm. The product also integrates GPS technology, which uses the internet to aid owners in their attempt to recover a special bag. The product is aimed at luxury-handbag manufacturers.
"The idea arose from my own experience on a street inside the Siam Square shopping zone, where a motorcyclist rode up and snatched my purse," Phichaya explained.
Although the team was pleased with its performance, Patcharapa said, "We should have prepared more information to support our presentation. The winner was very good at this."
The team won the Silver Award and each of its members received a trophy, a 70,000-baht scholarship and a study tour to Malaysia.
The Bronze Awards went to the "Anova" team from CU and the "Priority" team from TU. The teams presented "eDesign," an interactive Oled (Organic Light Emitting Device) for designers, and "Allergist," a distribution centre for allergy-related products, respectively. Each of their members was awarded a trophy, and each team won a 50,000-baht scholarship and a study trip to Malaysia.
The other two finalists were granted Merit Awards. They were the "Three Musketeers" team and the "La Hoya" team, both from TU. The teams initiated "ConvergP", a device that combines a smartphone and a tablet PC, and http://www.BidByBook.com , a multifunctional website for book lovers, respectively. Each of the members of teams was awarded a certificate, and each team took home a 10,000-baht scholarship.
The HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2009-2010 is an excellent platform for Thai youngsters to show off their skills and to develop them into first-class business leaders of the future.
More information on the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards 2009-2010 is at http://www.asiayea.com.