Two-time Imagine Cup Singapore winner Sunny Singh hits National Service snag in startup journey

imagine cup singapore sunny singh

Sunny(second from left) with his Imagine Cup teammates in 2011.

The first time I met Satrughan Kumar Singh — or Sunny, as he prefers to be called — I was surprised by his height. Towering almost a head above me (I’m about 178 cm), he greeted me with an easy smile as I looked up to meet his gaze. We headed to a nearby coffeeshop for lunch, seeking refuge from the scorching Singapore heat.

Sunny Singh stands tall in many ways. A two-time Microsoft Imagine Cup winner in Singapore, he represented the country in the Grand Finals in Poland in 2010 and then in New York in 2011. The Temasek Polytechnic alumnus is excited about solving problems with  technology. To that end, he has turned his idea from the student technology competition into a startup called Eynteract Labs.

As we settled down, Sunny sketched out his days as an Imagine Cup participant, how it fueled his passion for entrepreneurship and public speaking, and his current predicament — a military stint that able-bodied Singapore males must serve.  He took only occasional pauses to eat his lunch.

“For a long time I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I realized I was too tall for it,” he says.

But after entering Temasek Polytechnic, he discovered Imagine Cup, where he got involved in working with a team, finding a problem, and then conceptualizing, developing, and pitching the solution. He got hooked on the process.

Seeking a way to relive such experiences again and again, he discovered entrepreneurship and began reading about startups.

“I decided that, this is exactly what I want to do: I want to build stuff that creates value,” he says.

Eynteract Labs’ first product is the Therapy And Rehabilitation Assistant (TARA). While the name sounds generic, it is essentially a system that helps stroke patients regain mobility through a series of Kinect-controlled games.

imagine cup microsoft singapore

The team at Microsoft Techdays, a technical workshop for IT professionals.

TARA recommends games after assessing their condition. It then adjusts the sensitivity of the game’s controls on-the-fly to match the seriousness of patients’ conditions, challenging them to yield a better rate of recovery as their mobility improves. The system opens up possibilities for tele-rehabilitation, where stroke patients can carry out activities to help them recover at home.

For Sunny, TARA, which is still a prototype, is not just a cool toy. It solves a problem close to Sunny’s heart. While working on this project, his dad suffered from a Transient Ischemic Attack — essentially a mini stroke. Fortunately, he made a full recovery.

“So right now, my main goal for myself and the company is to get TARA deployed in at least one hospital first and watch it benefit the people who need it,” he tells me.

But an obstacle got in the way. Although he already has a place in computer engineering at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, he has to serve two years of National Service beforehand.

The stint has been tough-going for him since he is bootstrapping on this project by himself. He only has time to work on it on weekends due to his NS commitments. That’s about 6-8 days a month for TARA.

“It has definitely has taken a large toll on the progress of the project as compared to working on it every day,” he says.

Sunny doesn’t want to waste his youth. Turning serious, he speaks with urgency about how the student years are the best time to start a company.

To keep his project alive, he is seeking an opportunity to talk to his commanding officer to request for a transfer. He hopes to be posted to a military camp where he can leave after office hours and spend more time on his startup.

He says he can’t afford to wait, since he isn’t anywhere near concluding his full-time military stint, which ends in November 2013.

The stroke patients can’t wait either.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) could not respond to our queries by publication time.

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