“Everything can be done better, even something as mundane as cleaning,” said Elise Hong, who counts among her inventions, a cleaning system boosted with artificial intelligence (AI) for trains.

The co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of cleaning solutions provider JCS-Echigo is always looking for new ways to improve the cleaning process to make it less laborious, faster and more accurate

You cannot have the mindset where once something has been done by someone else, you don’t have to think about it any longer. Just look at Dyson,” she said, referring to the British technology company whose cordless vacuum cleaner revolutionised an unwieldy and often unattractive household appliance.

She, too, has been driving a cleaning revolution. Three years ago, her company worked with the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) to develop a cleaning system for trains – taking the guesswork out of cleaning assessments. The team no longer relied on visual tests to determine the cleanliness of the train. The cleaning system uses a camera to take snapshots of the train before and after cleaning and uses AI to evaluate the photos.

Today, the system can also track which train and the time it entered the cleaning dock and the number of washed trains.

A self-confessed fast yet fastidious worker, Ms Hong said the journey with A*STAR has been smooth despite her high standards. She credits the passionate individuals within the agency for the fruitful tie-up.

She was introduced to A*STAR and SIMTech close to 10 years ago by former SIMTech’s Executive Director, Dr Lim Ser Yong, whom she met during a business trip organised by then SPRING Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore).

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“He struck me as a very passionate person. I feel that with passion, the rate of success will be much higher as it gives you the energy to get things done,” she said.

FORGED FROM A CRISIS

JCS-Echigo is now a well-known local cleaning specialist, but its success was born out of crises. The company started in 1999 as a manufacturer and supplier of precision cleaning machines for the hard disk drive industry before the stiff competition and the 2008 financial crisis forced it to diversify.

As the global crisis put a freeze on capital investments, JCS-Echigo decided to change its course. It boldly stepped out of the precision manufacturing industry and into cleaning for the food and beverage (F&B) sector. But when COVID-19 struck, the company had to pivot again, expanding its centralised dishwashing business for food courts in the Central Business District to coffee shops in the heartlands.

Despite these setbacks, an upbeat Ms Hong believes that they have helped her innovate and think more strategically. “When you face a crisis, it forces you to think deeply about what you want to do in the next few years,” she shared.

While it is still unclear how the COVID crisis will unfold, she believes the perseverance developed as a sportswoman in her younger days will come in handy.

As a sportswoman, you never give up; you never say die until the last shot. And when things are bad, when everything seems to collapse at the same time, recharge and move forward

 

60 SECONDS WITH ELISE HONG
Co-Founder and CEO, JCS-Echigo

Q: How would you describe your approach to innovation?
A: I remind myself that there is always someone who can do better than me, not just in terms of products but also services. Just an internet search will show you a ton of options. Customers have a lot of choices these days, and they can buy from almost virtually anyone. Therefore, we must keep improving and innovating, be it our software, reporting formats to clients, and even workflows or more to stand out.

Q: What is your key to success?
A: One significant factor is my incredible team. Most of them have been with me for many years. Having started with just three people – me and two engineers – we now have about 60 people. It’s important that there is trust and that our goals are aligned. Discussions are essential to facilitate this.

Q: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
A: When you encounter a problem, always look at the big picture. You will realise that it might not be as overwhelming as you think. Also, know that the journey will be bumpy and that it varies for everyone. We should feel blessed that we have good health and always think positive. Above all, make sure you surround yourself with positive people who support you.

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