To raise enough funds to start his company Cordlife in 2001, Fang sold his $2-milllion condominium and moved to a HDB flat. He even had to take his children’s savings. What drove the 48-year-old — who was convinced by the potential of stem-cell treatment — to such lengths was not just the chance to make some money, but a heartfelt desire to create a service that would give the parents of sick children “hope when there was none”.
Cordlife allows parents to store their babies’ cord-blood stem cells, which can be used to treat various types of cancer and blood disorders in future. The business was so new that Fang had a hard time convincing regulators, the public and even his own peers in the medical industry of the viability of stem-cell treatment.
“The medical industry is conservative, and rightly so when you’re dealing with human life. I’ve learnt from running Cordlife that you need to be clear on why you are doing what you do. You have to ask yourself why you are going through such a challenge and why do you not pick something easier.”
But once people understood the potential benefits of storing cord blood, business grew at a spectacular rate. Cordlife’s revenue hit $10 million two years after founding, and, in 2004, the company was listed under the name Cygenics in Australia, even though it had yet to turn a profit. He moved to Melbourne to be CEO of this Australian entity.
It would be several more years before he was confident that the business would thrive. “The first six years were a lot of experimentation to understand the best strategy… We expanded too fast and we lacked the people or systems to cope with the growing demand.”
Fang and his team finally got the formula right and, in 2010, the group’s Singapore and Hong Kong operations were spun off and listed on the Singapore Exchange. Two years later, he left Cordlife to become a partner at local incubator Clearbridge Accelerator, which invests in start-ups in the biomedical sciences, advanced materials and computational algorithms.
Last year, Clearbridge revealed a new technology using microfluidic biochips that allow doctors to keep pace with the mutation of tumour cells, so cancer treatment could be modified accordingly. This is being tested in clinical trials.
“I founded the business, was group CEO for 13 years and built the company to a stable and sustainable level. The company has good management and good market share, I can’t add any more value,” says Fang.
He is also chairman of Action Community for Entrepreneurship, where he plays a key role in developing Singapore’s entrepreneurial scene.
“My value is in taking new disruptive ideas to the market.
“I am drawn to this challenge.”