Biz Alumni 16 September 2019

From student to specialty coffee shop owner

The Coffee Roaster’s co-founder and Managing Director Ang Swee Heng (BBA 2017) made waves when he was featured in The Straits Times.

Together with his mother, the duo learned to make coffee from the Internet, started The Coffee Roaster at a small shop in Tanjong Pagar in 2014, and moved to NUS Block AS8 where they serve some 300 students, staff and faculty daily. He was still a student at the time.

The Coffee Roaster has since set up The Coffee Roaster Academy offering coffee-making workshops and a baking unit called The Baker’s Gallery. Swee Heng is also looking to open up more cafes.

Swee Heng remains close to NUS Business School and even helped make a commencement video earlier this year. Outside-In took the opportunity to catch up with the young café owner.

Question: We understand you started the business even before you entered NUS Business School. Is being an entrepreneur something you have always wanted to do?

I always wanted to do business-related activities. When I was younger, I went door-to-door to sell handcrafted cookies to my neighbours and friends, and I enjoyed this process. Still, it took a massive leap of faith to get to where we are today.

The most valuable skill I learnt from my time at NUS Business School is the art of an effective presentation. Initially, my classmates and I struggled with awkward presentations in our first few modules. However, as we were given many to practice in modules such as Business Communication and Principles of Marketing, we became eloquent, confident speakers over the four years. The presentations prepared me to be an engaging speaker as a coffee workshop instructor at The Coffee Roaster Academy.

Question: In what other ways has the School helped in your entrepreneurial journey?

Unlike most of my peers, I did not take modules to fit into a specialisation. I took modules across the marketing and management fields that would be helpful to me as a business owner. For instance, modules such as Customer Asset Management and Services Marketing left a deep impression on me because they opened up my perspectives on marketing.

The module that resonated with me most was Social Entrepreneurship.  I learned about business and social impact, as well as concepts such as social impact measurement. This is an area that I am interested to explore in the future for my business.

I want to acknowledge three lecturers who have guided me on my journey – Ms Regina Yeo, Dr Chia Ho Beng and Asociate Prof Albert Teo.  Thank you for teaching me to be positive in life and the importance of empathy in society.

During my first semester, I attended a networking session organised by NUS Business School Alumni Association (NUSBSA). I met Greendot CEO Fu Yong Hong (BBA 2014) who was speaking at the event.

As he shared his entrepreneurial journey, I was fascinated by his resilience.  The parallels in our experiences in starting a business made me relate closely to the challenges he had faced in the past, as I was experiencing them at that time!

We kept in touch after the event, and a friendship grew from there. He has become my mentor and readily shares business advice when I seek it.

Swee Heng has even dived into crafting latte art. Here he is in action at a latte art competition

Question: What advice do you have for your juniors?

Find out what works for you. Everyone has a different yardstick for success. Some see investment banking as a goal; others see social impact as a goal. We are all running our own races.

The best time to start is now. If you have ideas to start a company or to contribute to society, don’t put them off to the future – start working on them now! I started my business even before starting university, and I found my education experience to be highly complementary to what I was doing. It gives us a longer runway to find success.