21 October 2016
Manoj Bhargava rides the electricity-generating bicycle he invented. Photo:
Manoj Bhargava rides the electricity-generating bicycle he invented. Photo:

Billionaire inventor ditches Detroit for Singapore

Billionaire Manoj Bhargava made his fortune selling 5-Hour Energy drinks in gasoline stations and convenience stores across the United States.

Now Bhargava, 62, is turning to Asia to commercialize his latest inventions in health, power and water, Bloomberg reported.

Renew Group Pte, the startup owned by Bhargava and partner Ravinder Sajwan, will produce machines to make saltwater drinkable at a new US$120 million plant in Singapore, as well as massage bed-like devices aimed at enhancing blood circulation.

In India, Bhargava will begin to manufacture and distribute an electricity-generating bicycle in March for poor households.

He plans to sell the bike for as little as US$200.

Bhargava’s decision to move most of his inventions from his laboratory in suburban Detroit to Singapore reflects the city-state’s all-out efforts to attract global technology firms and build its own version of Silicon Valley.

He  began discussing the move with officials about three years ago and ultimately agreed because of their ability to get things done quickly.

“They had this facility built, up and running in eight weeks,” Bhargava said, referring to the Singapore plant.

“In India, it could take a year. In the US, we would be waiting for the fire marshal.”

The billionaire’s decision follows investments by other entrepreneurs in the city-state.

Roger Egan, a former investment banker from New Jersey, co-founded online grocer Redmart in Singapore.

US entrepreneur Razmig Hovaghimian and his two South Korean partners in Viki Inc., the global TV streaming service with fan-translated subtitles, chose Singapore as its base, in part for the proximity to key markets.

Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. acquired Viki in 2013.

“The entrepreneurship ecosystem in Singapore is slowly and steadily growing towards a scenario which appears to be attracting entrepreneurs from outside,” said Arcot Desai Narasimhalu, director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Singapore Management University.

“Such success stories will help position Singapore as an attractive eco-center for entrepreneurs.”

Bhargava established Renew in 2013. The business now has 35 employees, with plans for an initial public offering in two to three years.

Singapore Prime Minister Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this year that an “entrepreneurial culture” is needed to make what he calls the “Smart Nation” initiative work.

“The places which have succeeded in doing this, it starts a virtuous cycle -– talent attracts more talent, more ideas and startups are established, the excitement,” Lee told an audience in April that included Facebook Inc. co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who relocated to Singapore.

In October, Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of the Smart Nation initiative, told a conference: “If you have got a crazy idea, bring it here and test it.”

Bhargava was born in the northern Indian city of Lucknow before moving to the US at the age of 14 with his family.

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