Singapore Woman Named World Entrepreneur of the Year

We thought it fitting to end the year with a success story about the first woman to be awarded the Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Olivia Lum was adopted at birth and grew up in a hut in Malaysia without running water. In June 2011, she was the first woman to be awarded Ernst & Young’s World Entrepreneur of the Year for her Singapore-based water-treatment company Hyflux.

Her path began when she moved to Singapore at age 15 and supported herself with sales jobs and tutoring so she could attend school. In 1986, she graduated college in with an Honors degree in chemistry and immediately began working as a chemist at a pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline.

During this time, she became aware of the scale of industrial water pollution, and after three years, quit her job to tackle this problem by entering the world of desalintation. Only 28 years old, Lum sold her condo and car to get the start-up capital she needed ($20,000), hire three employees, and start her company: Hydrochem. Later, the company became became Hyflux, as it is known today.

According to an article in NewStraits Times, Lum credits growing up in poverty, as well as her experience selling goods on the street when she was a teenager, as creating the guts she would need to become a successful entrepreneur.

“…It is a matter not just of vision and talent, but of relentless collaboration and systematic networking that helps entrepreneurs, women or not, to transform ideas into real businesses.”

Lum’s company now has 2,300 employees in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Singapore is a world leader in water management, and their national water agency recently chose Hyflux as the preferred bidder for the country’s second, and largest, desalination project.

Read more about Lum’s impact.

Sources: Asian Scientist,, FT Times, Money Week

Erin Risner

Director of Community Engagement

Writer. Creative. Brand Strategist. Content Curator. Social Media and Marketing Maven. Passionate about connecting with women around the world and telling their success stories.