Welcome to Episode 47!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 47 is Lincoln Lee Ming.
Lincoln Lee Ming is a Malaysian social entrepreneur, biomedical science graduate from University College London, UK & founder of a social enterprise called Rice Inc., which seeks to combat the 26 million tons of rice wasted during production every year & help smallholder rice farmers break through the convoluted supply chain.
Here is his journey.
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Who is Lincoln Lee Ming?
In this STIMY episode, we cover how Lincoln’s entrepreneurial streak first came up in his childhood (beginning at the age of 13!) and how he tried to organise a Pokemon Walkathon just before leaving for his university studies.
- 4:43: Losing his parents’ money at age 13 when dabbling in entrepreneurship
- 8:10: Running a past year paper printing startup (by pretending to still be students!)
- 12:17: Organising a Pokemon Walkathon
University College London & HULT Prize
Having arrived at UCL to study biomedical sciences, Lincoln quickly realised in his second year that he wanted to pivot to business / entrepreneurship. And also how he first learned about the most prestigious startup competition for university students: the HULT Prize – which is said to be harder to win than the lottery!
- 19:04: Learning about the $1 million HULT Prize
- 21:52: Finding a problem to solve
- 33:29: Introducing big changes after UCL & regional HULT Prize rounds
- 34:54: Raising $20,000 in funds to visit Myanmar & run a pilot program
- 45:58: Adventures in Myanmar
- 51:29: Girls following Kisum
- 53:38: Attending the HULT Prize accelerator at Henry VII’s former residence
- 55:46: Working & playing (too) hard
- 59:59: Building connections with high-ranking people
Winning the HULT Prize
The HULT Prize took an entire year & came with lots of ups and down. Lincoln shares the experience of being at the finals, how they have used the $1 million investment they won from the HULT Prize, the impact of Brexit & the COVID-19on Rice Inc’s operations, and what drives him to do what he is now doing.
- 1:03:16: How a UN security guard helped Sunrice / Rice Inc win the HULT Prize competition in New York
- 1:13:21: Getting stuck inside the UN building at midnight
- 1:17:33: Balancing winning the HULT Prize with getting a 1st class at UCL
- 1:20:33: What to do with an investment of $1 million at age 19
- 1:22:34: Impact of Brexit on Rice Inc’s operation
- 1:24:02: Getting into the top 5 caterer distribution services & meeting with the Board
- 1:28:47: What keeps Lincoln going
- 1:30:07: When Lincoln knew that there was nothing else he would rather be doing than this (Rice Inc)
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories of people in the startup/VC space, check out:
- Austen Allred: Co-Founder & CEO of Lambda School – a FREE coding school whose graduates go on to work at Fortune 500 companies like Google, Facebook & IBM & pay back only when they earn above $50k/year using the Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) scheme
- Azran Osman-Rani: CEO of Naluri Hidup (formerly CEO of AirAsia X & iFlix)
- Guy Kawasaki: Chief Evangelist of Canva & Apple
- Dr. Finian Tan: Chairman of Vickers Venture Partners – former Deputy Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Trade & Industry who was tasked with creating Singapore’s Silicon Valley of the East & founder of a $3 billion deep tech VC firm
- Dr. Julian Tan: Head of Esports & Digital Business Initiatives at Formula 1
- Sarah Chen: co-founder of Beyond the Billion: a global consortium of over 80 VCs that have pledged over $1 billion in investment in female-founded companies
- Malek Ali: Founder of BFM 89.9 (Malaysia’s top business radio channel) & Fi Life
If you enjoyed this episode with Lincoln Lee Ming, you can:
- Tag us at @Lincoln & @sothisismywhy
- Tweet your thoughts & takeaways from the episode to Ling Yah here!
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If you enjoy listening to the podcast, we’d love for you to leave a review on iTunes / Apple Podcasts. The link works even if you aren’t on an iPhone. 😉
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I’d love to include more listener comments & thoughts into future STIMY episodes! If you have any thoughts to share, a person you’d like me to invite, or a question you’d like answered, send an audio file / voice note to [email protected]
Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- RICE Inc: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn
- Rice Inc: UK Website, Malaysian website
- “Gamifying the Rice Industry: The ‘Riceville’ Paradigm” – with Evangelos Markopoulos, Kisum Chan Ho Fung, Lincoln Lee Ming
- 2018 UN Awards & Gala – to watch the winning pitch by Sunrice
- Link to RICE Inc: eatpaddi.com (UK); paddi.com.my (Malaysia)
- Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic
- Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
- Want to be a part of our exclusive private Facebook group & chat with our previous STIMY episode guests? CLICK HERE.
STIMY Ep 47: Lincoln Lee [Social Entrepreneur & Co-Founder of Rice Inc; winning team of HULT Prize 2018]
Lincoln Lee Ming: So I flew to Myanmar after we won and it was a 20 hour flight from New York to London, all the way to Myanmar. And we visited our very first pilot site and there was someone there who was waiting for us. It was the first person we interviewed.
She was single mother, but she was also a farmer and the whole family was there. And basically what happened was that that year, the harvest was just too wet. it was off the charts. And because it just so happened that we had put a dryer in the village, she could dry it. And for her, it wasn't so much about reducing waste or sending for higher price.
For her it was like, I can sell because it's dry enough that I can sell in a condition that is sellable. For someone like her, who only depends on like two harvests a year. It means that we sort of help recover six months of income. We saved six months of income. I never really understood the impact that we could have until she was there in front of me, thanking me.
and she had brought her children along because she was like, you know, this is what I used to pay for their school and food on the table and fix the house.
And I was like, Oh, wow. Like I never expected that in my lifetime, I would have done that. Like help someone like that.
And I think that, that was, for me, it was the catalyst where like, okay, wow we actually have helped people. Like it's not just a pitch that we're pitching at the UN or something like that. makes a whole world of difference.
And I think it was the stark difference that really drove it home for me whereas like yeah, we can be there and present and everything, but like, this is the point, this is actually real.
And that is something that we strive for.
Ling Yah: Hey everyone!
Welcome to episode 47 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Lincoln Lee, co-founder of rice, Inc. A social enterprise that began as a submission to the prestigious $1 million HULT Prize organized by the UN and former president Bill Clinton, which they eventually won.
In this episode, Lincoln shares his journey from being interested in politics and entrepreneurship, to how he ended up studying biomedical sciences at UCL in London, where he first heard about the HULT Prize, the most prestigious startup competition available for students. And the year long journey he embarked on, that involved participating in numerous competitive rounds to fund a pilot program in Myanmar, what it took to win the HULT Prize and why they ended up being locked inside the UN.
Are you ready for Lincoln's story?
Lincoln Lee Ming: The turning point for me was I switched schools when I was 13.
And I had just entered secondary school. So it's like entering a whole new world, instead of, for example, still using pencils to write use pens.
But then I sort of it felt like I had a group of friends at the end of the year and sort of, not to say found my place. Like who finds their place at 13 years old? But you know, you still feel comfortable in the school. And then suddenly my parents were like, Hey, You're going to change schools next year.
I was like, huh, but I never heard of this school. I don't know anyone. I remember I even asked them, so what sort of uniforms I need to wear? They were like, dunno lah. I just go there. Yeah. Right.
Was like, okay. So when I went to this new school They didn't have any of the activities that I was previously participating in. This is Sri Garden. So I was in KDU before. I mean KDU, I was joining stuff like Scouts and I was in musicals and things like that, but in Sri Garden, they didn't have that.
It was more sport focus and more I guess, CCA focused. then one day someone came in and promoted this program called model UN and I never heard of it before, so I decided to give it a shot. to be honest, when I first entered it, I had no idea what I was doing.
I just thought that, Oh, okay. If I doing speeches. So it would be cool to learn how to give a speech. So I just went and the reason it sort of struck me in politics is because essentially it's about international diplomacy, right? It's simulating the UN and a lot of people who do that also sort of do debate and also interested in politics of the day.
So by virtue of being in the community, I started to really really understand how uninformed I was and how informed everyone else seemed to be. And when I spoke to my family about it and spoke to my granddad in particular about it, he suddenly perked up and he suddenly started explaining to me, Oh yeah, you can do this.
You can do that. Yeah. I've heard of this before. I've done this in real life before, and this is not how it works in real life. And I was surprised because as I was growing up, I didn't really fully understand what it meant for him to work in politics.
He once sat me down and he told me like, Lincoln, this is okay to do for fun in school, but make sure you don't do it in real life.
I said, why? Why not? He said, just trust me. Don't do it now. It's like, okay. Okay. It's fine to do in real life. I know. I'm sorry. It's fun to do in school. I know, but you don't go out and try to do in real life. That was like, okay. Okay. You study. Then I was like okay. Okay. But yeah, so that was how it featured. It sort of stuck with me.
So I do like to listen to news and to be honest in Malaysia, it's quite dramatic. So like, it can be like watching a Netflix series kind of thing.
So it is quite interesting.
Ling Yah: So even from an age of 13, you were already starting to dabble in entrepreneurship.
How did that even begin and how did you lose your parents money?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Right. This is something I haven't talked about often, but so I think at that time I don't really think I thought of it as entrepreneurship. I just thought of it like, Oh, you know, you read a lot of stories about other 13, 14 year olds who make money.
So why can't I be like them?
But basically my mom was working in estate planning and sales.
She would read a lot of these books, you know, about like, how do you leverage your network? And how do you grow? Rich Dad Poor Dad. And so there are all these stories of all these people inside who take risk and stuff. And so I always thought about when I was young, like, Oh yeah, I can try this too.
I can try that too. I would think it's interesting. And I think funnily enough, at the time I joined some multilevel marketing companies, which is very- before I talk about it, right? it's like very controversial, right.
And there's a good reason why it's very controversial. But that being said, when it originally started, it's supposed to be like a legitimate business model. People who want to get cash fast and made it, unlegitimate, but it is actually very difficult to succeed in it probably even more so than a normal business.
But what happened is that so I would start to dabble in all these sorts of things. For some of the entrepreneurship opportunities I joined, like the people that I spoke to, they seemed legitimately.
And they were people who were not significantly older than me, but they were 20, 30 years old. Actually some people our age now they were making a sustainable income out of it. And when I brought my parents, because I was like, Oh, Hey, maybe I want to try doing it. And I'm 14.
And they were very, very shocked because we are already an outlier because we are like uni students who found a way to make it work where a lot of other uni students have failed because they know multi-level organizations, you get like a lot of people joining very quickly and only some people succeed. And then she comes along this 14 year old kid who wants to try what they thought They've already done it when they're 21, 22.
And that's like, amazing. so I brought my parents across to see whether it was like legit lah and stuff. Cause my parents are not just gonna finance me without knowing it. They specifically told me like, okay, don't work with this guy. Work with this person and this that kind of stuff.
and so I went with that and I tried it. And the thing about entrepreneurship at that age, which I quickly realized was that for me, life got in the way very quickly in terms of school. So it was very difficult. It actually did manage to get some sales, but Very quickly. For example, when you face a challenge and then the exam comes up after you finish the exam, you're not going to think about it because you're just going to remember the challenge.
And then before I knew it like six months when I passed it or like a year would have passed, and that sort of became a norm throughout my how do you say like my high school life, where I've tried to start something entrepreneurial? A couple of years later, I tried starting a marketing company, doing advertisements cause I was really into filmmaking.
And I remember I had a friend who was very good at drawing and storyboarding and a friend was very good at filming and as friend was very good at video editing. So I was like, why don't I bring all of you together? And then we just do something. And I remember it took us three months to try and get a contract from this random FNB shop.
And when we finally find it did it it was more of a relative that finally pushed us through. We suddenly had eye exams, like we had our like IGSs. So like SPM. It took about three months and after three months period We were so exhausted from the exams.
Everyone's sort of like by nature. We sort of forgot about it. Cause we want to enjoy the end of our exams. And after it would be come back to it, like six months they do with the oceans in six months. And even the, client is like, yeah, it's fine. Like, we don't really need it anymore.
sort of became a thing where I started to realize, okay. If I wanted to do something, I would have to do it consistently and not have something come in the way all the time to drag me out of it. Because at that time you can't compromise on studies, right.
Ling Yah: And then you also did this past year paper printing startup?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Yeah. So that was before I went to uni. So what happened?
It's started very innocently. so at that time, my dad and granddad they had health issues. They were both hospitalized for a few months. I was doing an internship in Singapore at the time. And so I stopped and I came back to KL and just followed them to the hospital after they were both stabilized, they came back home, but they couldn't go out.
I had this long period of just being at home. So I started to feel a bit bored, and then I met some of my friends. who had also just finished college and were waiting for university or starting uni. And one of them came to me and was like, hey Lincoln, can I have this brilliant business idea.
I was like, what's up? She was like, I have this friend who is a printing shop owner. And he wants to break into the market. And I realized that when I was in college every single student buys a book from the lecturer because the lecturer tells them, please buy your book from this guy is a textbook.
And the thing about it is that the textbook is the same area and the guy charges students, like twenty-five bucks. But I know from my friend, cause I took the book and I went to my friend, he says, I can print it for 11. I was like, okay. Then my friend was like, so why don't we come in at like 18 and 19, all we have to do is just, blend in with students.
I'm not going to care. Like they're just going to buy the book. So I was like, that's brilliant but did you know that I have an even better way because when we were taking IGS or eight levels or whatever many of the times we would have to do pass your papers to practice.
And most of it, we know it's available online. But many people if they are not so diligent when print online, like every year, because they split it up by years. And so it's like, a whole list of PDFs. What some of the shops do, which is quite ingenious is that they will compile all the PDFs into like a subject and they'll print it out.
So this would be like your 2002 all the way to 2020. And you'll be like this thick ass book. And they'll sell it for like a couple of hundred, like 300, 400 Ringgit. And the thing is that at that time, few years ago, there was only like one or two shops in KL who printing it. So you can only go there to buy those.
Can you go find out the cost of that? Because the cost of that as like RM 30 - 40, so instead of coming at 18, and it costs 11, you can come in, 200, right. Which is half the price on them. And then he was like, let me go home and do some calculations and make sure it's correct.
And he went home. Came back and he was like, yeah, I can actually do this tomorrow. You want to go to our old school and speak to our teachers? And, yeah. So then we started to go into schools. I remember the first time we pretended to be students in college cause we were college age.
We went to the school. We pretended to be students. And then we walked up to the school. I will not say the school's name. we walked up to in front of the class and be like, welcome to so and so class, By the way, guys, if you have a need for this book for your school, you can let us know. Call this number or like scan this QR code, something like that.
And then we'll let you know and then we woke up and a few days later there would be people calling us, if you want message, I'm going to say, oh, hey, yeah, do you have this book? And I remember there was one time, the person that supposed to be collaborating with the lecture, I guess to say, was sitting there.
And one student came up to me and this was actually my back, but they were like, Oh, but the person is selling it for like 18 as well. Like, what's the difference? I was like, Oh, okay. Then I'll give it to you guys. The 17. I just said it very nonchalantly.
And then suddenly, as I walked out, a lot of people started following me and then they were like, oh, hey, the guy said that you're going to give him a 17 second difference.
And then I was like, okay, okay. But sure, like here, here, you guys go here. I do copies of the textbook. And then my friend came, I was like, wait, what happened? I was like, Oh, I told them, I'll give it to them at 17. I was like, why? They're like, because the other guy's doing it 18 times. Oh, that's brilliant.
But yeah, so it was a very fun, I guess project that we did before we went to uni.
Ling Yah: Given all the things that you were doing, why was it that you ended up doing biomedical sciences?
Lincoln Lee Ming: That's That was why I said it was after college before uni, so applications passed. But I think the main reason why I chose Biomet was I am definitely afraid of blood, but I was very interested in the medical sciences. So I couldn't be a doctor. Can't do the Asian dream because I would freeze and threaten the patient's life.
And so I decided that I, wanted to study something in the medical sciences that didn't require me to be exposed to blood on a daily basis. I settled on biomedical science because it was pitched to me as everything a doctor does except the operations.
I was like, okay, that sounds interesting.
Ling Yah: So before you went and did it, you did another big activity after IBM, which was to organize the Pokemon or walk-a-thon.
Lincoln Lee Ming: So Pokemon go was like all the rage, right? When he came out in, I think August, 2016.
And at that time, our printing project was ramping up. So it was still the same team, but we always discussing ways of like, what else can we do? Because it's fun. We like to work together. And we were all sort of free at a time. So we were like, you know, we have this gap, what should we do?
And one day as we were playing Pokemon Go, basically, one guy was like, Hey, what if someone did a walk. Like a walkathon of it? And we all just saw like, Whoa, actually that's a really, really good idea. How would we do that?
And we basically decided that we needed a lot of partners.
And so we basically went to explore, If you wanna organize a walk or something like that, what do you need? And the thing we realized was Pokemon go was only going to be a rage for a month or two? Right. And it was going to die down. So you needed to organize it within that timeframe, which is like nearly impossible, right?
How are 4 kids going to organize a walk-a-thon in the span of two weeks? The thing was that getting people on board was the easy part, people would just join. if you create a Facebook group and stuff, we had like 12,000 followers, that kind of thing. But getting it done in real life now that's the difficult part.
And that was actually the first time I got exposed to social entrepreneurship, which is very innocently enough. We needed to collaborate with someone who's very good at bringing people together, bringing punish ships together. And we approached it more from an event management perspective than a social entrepreneurship perspective, but that exposed me to it.
And then later what we got exposed to was like okay, there's a lot of legal loopholes you need to run through that started us off on this crazy journey as three 18, 19 year old kids trying to navigate and apply for licenses that we had no idea existed that we only heard about in the news that politicians failed to get, when they tried to protest diversity, it feels to get it or something.
had to like navigate law and it was interesting exposure to civil service as well, to understand how do I sort of read between the lines sometimes and to understand what makes them tick?
How do you even fill up the application form, which is 10 pages long? Who do you want somebody to how do you expedite it? Because that is not gonna, it's probably going to be in someone's desk forever.
And then once you've finished, who else do you talk to? Who's gonna like, protect the people as they walk on the street. Where do they go?
I remember I walked through the streets of Bukit Bintang at like 2:00 AM in the middle of night trying to finalise like, okay, if they go here, but look, there's a fence there. And even though they put do not touch this fence, someone's going to touch this fence.
And then like, you are going to have to deal with if they get injured and they're like, okay, how do you have an ambulance on standby . And I went, how did they walk through the malls? And then some malls actually contacted us when they heard, we were going to do this.
Which was very interesting. Like going to meet some of the people like so young, right.
And I think they were shocked. Why are they like the 3 kids walking in, meeting us? When they are like trying to discuss like, Hey, can you walk us through? Maybe we can offer a discount, at like certain stores .Like get people to have heavier footfall in our malls.
And unfortunately at the end we couldn't pull it off. it was just too big of a challenge.
We actually met someone else who wanted to maybe take it on, but maybe moving away to another location and was more experienced like a businessman who's done this before and .
But then we were about to go to university. So we decided, okay, maybe it's not, it's not the best time. Let's try to start something two weeks before were supposed to fly off to uni because you might have to delay a month different university if we do it together.
And yeah, an interesting exposure into the whole world of the civil society, civil service. And for me, my first exposure to social entrepreneurship.
Ling Yah: You went to UCL, And I think it was your second year, when you realized that life sciences wasn't quite for you and you wanted to switch to entrepreneurship, why was that?
Why was that switch?
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think that even before university, I realized entrepreneurship was quite fun. Right. Doing all this. And then in the first year of university, I realized that all my friends were going on internships, right. So they're working at all the big banks, consulting, investment banking, things like that.
And I don't know why I just didn't feel like I would fit in. So I didn't really bother applying. But after a certain point, you sort of feel like FOMO. So, so I, started going to a couple of events to like try and see if I could get a job, get an internship. And I met one of our sister in the UK.
You have like, yo Malaysian societies And I met one of the president there and he was like, why are you doing here? I thought you participated in some of the clubs, which are supposed to get you these kind of industries anyway. It should be easy for you to get it.
And I told him, well, to be honest, I don't really know what I want. And then he told me, well, why don't you try and start up? I have a couple of people who have reached out to me, and I know them personally, and it will be quite fun.
it will be definitely be something that you won't get anywhere else. So I said, okay, let me try it. So I ended up at a startup Smart Bill Asia, and I think that was the first proper, proper exposure into a startup, because what they did was business intelligence in the construction industry.
So it was a lot of collecting data, crunching the data and then pushing it out to clients. a lot of tech and also seeing a lot of the business development side, the non-tech business development side of a tech company. It was pretty funny because apparently I was never supposed to be an intern.
There was a bit of miscommunication in the beginning with us. They only hire 10 interns. I was the first person that they hired for a non-tech role. And what happened was that the company was based in Singapore and they were expanding to Malaysia. And the reason a role opened up was because in Malaysia the data was not as easily obtainable as in Singapore.
So in Singapore you can get it from a lot of web resources, but in Malaysia, some of it still had to be you can't just scrape it from the web. You need to obtain it from physical, basically like construction sites or like billboards.
So I was basically brought in and the pass was like, okay, basically you have to collect all this data and process it, but you take care of all the non tech related ones.
So the ones that you cannot find on the web. So I was like, how'd I do that And at one point you were like, you need to know what that construction, project is happening before they break ground. I was like, how in the hallways it was sneaking into the boardrooms is it?
and so that gave me a first exposure because then every day I'll be working with my counterparts where that the tech side understanding what the process they implemented it and seeing how can I replicate that in real life, but without using tech, because it's not available on the web.
I ended up having to like, coordinate tons and tons and tons of riders. They're mostly freelancers. So I will coordinate hundreds, hundreds of them. And I would like take the information I get from the web and process it into potential like high value sites and, ask them to go and speak to the people there.
So there are like techniques that you can explain to them to get them to be more chill out. I mean it's sometimes pretty well-known when people would speak to them because you don't need to speak to the manager.
You can just speak to the guards there who would know like, Oh yeah, this company comes You can see the trucks painted and the side of the name and all these kinds of stuff you can see. And in Malaysia, there's a board that you have to put all the lists and things like that.
So all these little things taught me business development. And he exposed me to this culture of startups. And that's when in the second year I decided, okay, maybe I want to explore this properly. So what I then began was I began to basically study. Everything I could about entrepreneurship.
I signed up for courses. I signed up for like programs and everything in my second year.
Ling Yah: I suppose you were not just signing up for all these courses. You werealso telling people as well like Kisum, who was in the same h how did you guys end up applying for the HULT prize?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So it's quite coincidence though, because me and Kisum, we felt that we connected because we both weren't life sciences. Even if we were to work in life sciences, we were more interested in a business aspect of it. So pharmaceutical sales, and we wanted to help each other succeed.
So we had these sessions where second year is like the proper internship. That's the culture in studying overseas. So we will basically meet each other every week to try and help each other apply.
Cause we thought like, okay, maybe we applied together. We practice together. We look through each other's things. And we're applying to roughly the same places. Our chances of success would increase. So it's not that off with like a, you don't like these kinds of sessions. And then one day he was the president of the life sciences cup.
So the HULT Prize campus director at UCL was trying to promote hot prices. It was the first year that helpers came to UCL.
This is Marsha Semkova.
Yeah yeah Marsha. So Michelle was also someone who lived in our hall in the previous year. So she knew Kisum and she asked them to promote it. And he was like, he had a lot of posts scheduled or something.
Honestly, I was like, okay, okay, okay.
And then one day I think she asked him while I was there with him. So it was like, all right, dude, have you heard of this thing? and surprisingly enough, one of my friends was actually part of a committee as well. So I had seen it on like Instagram and social media and So I was like, yeah, I sort of seen it, but I don't really know what's about.
And then she, so I remember he said, okay, let's click into it and then click into it. And then like the last that came up and like, do you see Bill Clinton's face there. Than I think it was like, Oh, this looks cool. They're was like, wow, they're getting a million dollars.
And then, we were like, Oh, it's social entrepreneurship. That was like, all right. Yeah. My friend told me about his wines. It's like, business plus charity somewhere in between. And at the time that, you know, that was my understanding. and he goes like, Oh, okay.
Then he was like, Hey, you want to join? It would be good for us to introduce yourself. I was like, yeah, sure. Why not? We left it at that. And then like I think a couple of weeks later I was taking a nap and he caught me. And then he was like, let's go for the HULT Prize talk right now and I was like, why? Because I live like 25 minutes away from university.
So I was like, Oh, it's cool. It's raining. Kisum, why do I have to go there now? And he was like, dude, just come. Like, I'm sure it'll be fine. Like, I save you a spot. They just covered them concrete. Okay. Fine, fine. So I went there and we listened to the presentation and we were like, this actually sounds like quite exciting.
It sounds very, very low chance.
And I think that we would, get to the next round, but why not, right. Like what do we have to lose, right? Me and Kisum, this the mindset I had. I heard Kisum won quite a bit of competition before. So maybe if I joined with him we'd win. Few months later, he told me that she had thought the same thing about me, so, well, it all turned out well.
but yeah, so that's how we started off, innocently enough, we just sort of like, Hey, let's just try and explore it. and that's how we started.
Ling Yah: I mean to put it in context, the HULT Prize is quite a huge thing, right? It's the world's largest startup challenge for student entrepreneurs. And you said there were very low chance you were competing against 200,000 other students around the world for $1 million.
So very, very, very exceptionally , low chances. I think it was someone who said you have a higher chance of winning the lottery price. That's amazing. So your particular year, the official challenge was build a scalable, sustainable social enterprise that harnesses the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.
That's very, very ambitious and also very broad. So how do you begin to think about that question and build a team around it?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So we began by building a team around it and we decided that because most of our teams were from our friends and from Southeast Asia, we want to do something in Southeast Asia.
And so we did what a lot of teams do in that situation, which is we started throwing out ideas, which ones we like, which ones we don't like, and we will spend days on ends arguing about it, not arguing so much, but like, you can't really find the one that fits, it's just sort of like, okay, this feels right.
And we didn't really find something that fit. We had like a lot of interesting ideas, like vertical farming, urban farming solar-powered lamp post, composting things like this. Solar powered machinery. But nothing really stuck. It was only when we decided maybe that's just scrap this, right.
Let's just look for an issue that we can solve it. And that was actually really powerful. We never really understood. We sort of made that decision, but never really fully understood what sort of decision we're making, where we were actually telling ourselves. Let's look for problem instead of searching, find you.
And that's actually much more better because if you look for a problem, you know that a problem is grounded in reality. Your ideas can change, but the problem, if it's properly a problem, it won't change because it's still there. So it becomes something easy to base your, your enterprise around. And we went to search for a problem, right.
And HULT Prize had like this huge challenge document that detailed like six key areas. And one of them was agriculture. And so as we were like researching, I still remember that it was like at some, dormitory common area. And we were all like on our laptops.
I was like, 2:00 AM. When I was like reading about agriculture, this article popped up in Southeast Asia. And when you said like 80% of rice is wasted before it gets to the plate. And I was like, what? no, that's impossible.
That is a fake article. We later found out it was fake, but I was like, how can this be? And then I sort of like turned it around I'm like, guys look at this. And Kisum was like, huh, no. Like he was like, I eat rice every day. How could this happen? Like, you know, as Asians, we do eat rice every day. So how can 80% of rice be wasted before it gets to catering?
And later on we found out that the number is much lower. It's closer to 30%, but that's still significant. After 30% of it can be wasted. Why does it happen? And that sort of sparked that Eureka moment. And I think that's sort of, when you know, you're on the right track, you've got to look for these moments where there's a reason why you feel shocked about it.
So dig into that, dig into your shock. And that's what we did. we tried to find out what was this problem? Why did it happen? What was causing it? And then we realized that actually we had stumbled upon something. We can actually, develop into a viable business for the HULT Prize, for our presentation that was coming up in a week.
And we also realized that suddenly 10 million people. What's achievable, because think about how many people eat it everyday. And it definitely, sort of sparked off like this journey innocently enough, it honestly just started off by like, okay, let's, find out why, is it a problem?
Ling Yah: S o what was the problem?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So the problem was that we first realised there's a lot of problems and it's all interrelated. You cannot just click one and think that everything was supposed to be it.
But mainly the problems come from the market conditions with which 70% of the world's racist group, right?
70%, 70 to 80% of it is still grown by small holder rice farmers and is the circumstances and the conditions surrounding their, I guess, communities and likelihood and their way of life. that is the thing causing a lot of this to happen. And it's not just calling waste and right waste was how we entered into the ecosystem.
We realized this was a problem. You also have poverty. You also have malnutrition, you have food security, you have climate change as well, Rice is a leading everything factor. So you have all these problems and like the main problems that we at a time we wanted to tackle was we realized that, okay, A lot of the waste happens because the small holder farmers, they don't have access to proper agricultural technologies because they are poor.
They kind of fought it. The technology is out there, but they don't have access to it.
So what is the technology that we could implement quickly that would have a large impact? And we found that, okay, in the supply chain, after harvesting, many people are ready to work on harvest. You know, you have tractors and all these kind of things.
The next stage was drying. And many of them still sound right. And this actually causes a lot of the waste to happen in the drying process, but more so downstream when you start to mill it and transport it. So we were like, okay, how do professional companies dry?
And we realized that that's actually a lot of technology out there and innovations out there that was not getting into the hands of the farmers.
So then we decided, can we be the person that brings it to the farmers just by innovating the business model of the technology itself, which technology should we use? Can we pair it up with the region and the needs of the farmer specifically in a way that they can access it in a way that's affordable?
So it was a lot of business model innovation in the beginning, not really so much tech innovation. and that was that. That honestly formed the first basis of idea where we were like, okay, can we get like an off the shelf technology, open source technology and adapt it for a region we choose needs and make it accessible to the farmers, the people who need it.
Ling Yah: So at the time when you were first tackling this problem, and you realized that this drying issue was something that small holder farmers were facing, I imagine this is a problem that farmers all over the world will face wherever they are planting this rice. So how did you decide on focusing initially on just Vietnam?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So we initially decided on Vietnam because Kisum was from Vietnam and I'm sure he's not from Vietnam. He said, I will ask that you not focus on Malaysia.
Right? Right. Got it. Got it, got it. I answer both. So we initially focused on Vietnam simply because when we were doing our research, we realized that the Mekong Delta was sort of like the rice bowl of the region.
Like that's where a lot, a lot of the rice came from and a large portion of it was India now.
The logic was we should go where there's the densest concentration of departments. And we based our research on that initially and why we weren't in Malaysia in the beginning was that we actually did try.
So later on, we actually did explore fields in Malaysia. We actually spoke to the farmers in Malaysia But I think what we soon realized was that in Southeast Asia, each country's rice industry is unique and it has its unique challenges.
So the problems that we were projecting onto all like the problems that we were designing, our model tackle might not have been suitable in certain countries because in certain countries for example, in Malaysia, farmers don't need to dry their rice because they sell it.
They already started wet and there someone who would dry for them already The farmers have not like sundried or dried their rice personally. And these majority of the farmers in Malaysia for, I guess the past 20 to 30 years. It will be more difficult for us to ask them to restart doing it again.
And for us to dislodge the incumbent because it doesn't make sense. and the same for Vietnam. So we quickly realized that, the technology we wanted to bring was actually already accessible to the farmers there. The farmers had gotten to a point where they were willing to take the investment.
And the manufacturers of technology had gotten the barriers low enough that a lot of farmers could access it. then we decided that we don't need to go into Vietnam. Or we can't go into Malaysia.
Ling Yah: And how were you getting all of your information or research?
Because I imagine a lot of these things, you can only get it from people who are on the ground who have seen it in real life. It's not just available online. So how do you get those good solid Intel for you to build your business model?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So, in the beginning, we used online information cause we went London halfway across the world.
we used a lot of resources online to craft to get a idea of what was going on. And then what happened was that we started to realize that all of the resources was done by like one or two organizations. So we then decided let's contact these people. We contact the international rice research Institute, which published, which is basically like the UN of rice.
And they know everything about it. And after spamming, a couple of people with clickbaity emails, a couple of them got clickbait and replied us. And after bouncing around to a few of them and taking very early morning calls because our time zone is way behind in London. We finally got two people who were on the ground was working specifically like the guy who developed the technologies.
That would be the point of view.
And that's when they told us, okay, so this country is like, this is countries like that. This is how you are helping them. This is how you can help them. And this is where you should go.
Ling Yah: And I think that UCL also provided a lot of support as well, like before your first round, which is the ECL round.
You actually went to Bao Tiow, who I believe is the business advisor. And he basically gave advice on what you thought was an amazing pitch at the time. What was it like?
Lincoln Lee Ming: our first met Bao I was very interesting. We had practice our presentation for the campus round of the HULT Prize with all of our friends every single night for the whole week.
And we had changed it every single day, so improve, improve, improve. Okay. And the last two nights people have been like, this grid is amazing and we got it. I'm going to get some real good feedback from this before we go in and Bao destroys us. He rips apart our presentation by asking us a couple of very, very pointed questions that really reveal the weaknesses of our business.
Ling Yah: What kind of questions was he asking?
Lincoln Lee Ming: At that time, we had no answer to why do we need more rice? why reduce the amount of waste in rice industry? how many people are hungry? And we have no answer to that.
honestly, all we needed was actually a Google search on how many people are actually hungry. And this one they're actually like 800 million people hungry every day. So it's actually a really big issue. Not having enough food is not just a concern now, but a concern in the future as well, because our overpopulation will like outpace production right, by a certain year.
And there's a real concern of whether we have enough food to eat by 2050.
And he was basically trying to get that point across to him, but he wanted us to understand why he was asking that because he was like, if you're just presenting about reducing waste, reducing waste, reducing, we've no idea of what the waste is going to tackle then like, what's the point.
and I think what happened was when we realized that, Oh, no, this is a big change that we're going to have to redesign the whole reason for why we exist. we thought that it will be impossible. And he was like, you guys should just change the whole thing.
And then I was like, wow I'm not going to listen to you. I don't want to listen to you. We, we went back, we were so dejected and we're like, oh, maybe we should just not listen to him. You know, he's just being mean.
But when we realized that he had a point. And then we had two choices. Either we continue what we had, which was like a very good well-polished presentation with some flaws. Yes. But maybe not everyone asks us that question. And we just practiced until we became really good at presenting it.
Or we took his advice and sort of revamped the whole thing in certain new information and tried to redesign the thing within two days.
Eventually we decided to do the latter. And well, it turned out well because we won by a very, very narrow margin.
But a couple of months later we met again and he told us that actually he did that to every single team who met him and nearly every single team did meet him. And the point is, it's not difficult to do that to a early stage team. Cause it's so early stage, it's always very easy to find the flaws.
But what he wanted to see what he wants to actually pose that team with that exact problem. I just talked about. Do you do what you do without any risk because you're afraid to take the risk or do you take the risk and try to make it better?
And he was just happy that we took the risk and made it better and he was happy that that's where we were at. And that started off a very good relationship. And we still talk to him today and he still helps us out. Advises us. Even to this day.
Ling Yah: So you said that most teams went to him. Did most teams take on his advice or decide to just continue?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Most teams just decided to continue and just not take the risk.
Ling Yah: Wow. So you went through the UCL round. And after the UCL round, you changed a lot as well. One of it was that you switched your operations from Vietnam to Myanmar.
So what were those big changes? How did that come about?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Well, our switch happened more precisely after the regional rounds, but how the change came about was because we spoke to the international rice research Institute.
And it was very funny because we knew that they know more about rice than us. It would be funny if we pitch to them what we want to do. So we told them in the beginning, like, okay, before we present our idea to you, we'll go for a disclaimer that we definitely have some information wrong, Or some information that's not up to date because you guys have to leave this information. You definitely know about this more than us.
I'm going to skip the pack of where we're going to pilot this app, because what I'm going to do is I'm going to present an idea to you. And at the end, I hope you tell me two things.
First is you're telling me which of my information is wrong and give me the correct information. And the second is you tell me, where can this be implemented? And so I did that. And at the end, he, told us, yeah, you should go to Myanmar.
Ling Yah: And why Myanmar?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Because he mentioned that the market was ready for it, meaning that the farmers were aware of this problem.
They were aware of the benefits. They just didn't have access to it. So they were like, add that customer, where you have awareness and education, but you don't have access yet. So all you need is someone to come in with access. And that was not the case for Vietnam.
In Vietnam, they were already had access.
So it would have been too late. We'd just be coming in like a competitor.
Ling Yah: So once you have decided that it was going to be at Myanmar, then I suppose you had to start planning to actually go to Myanmar rather than just doing everything.
Firstly, you had to raise funds because I don't imagine anyone gave you any money, right? You had to support yourself and go there, run the pilot. Tell us about how you firstly, raised the funds.
Lincoln Lee Ming: So there's this very famous, entrepreneurship thing where like you can raise funds from the three F's. Friends, family, and fools.
We didn't go down that path. So what happened was well, we turned to UCL first, right? And we realized that we essentially had nothing, right. No money. So what, what we had Was we had a pitch. That's it. Like, we just had a good presentation. Cause how presses I guess one of the nerve-wrecking parts about HULT Prize is it's winner take all. Every single round.
So like one winner images from the campus round to go to the regionals. One winner from the regionals goes to accelerator. And in six teams go home, et cetera, to finals. And one winner. Like second place gets nothing. So we had a good pitch right after the regional rounds, but we had no money.
So we went to UCL, we told them that, okay, we funds, this is why. We had gone further than anybody expected at that time. But at the same time, there's still a long way to go to the finals. So it's still a 50 50 on that. Okay. Are they like, you know, I do like going to do it or not.
Can they go the distance?
and I was like, all right, since all you guys have is a very good pitch, right. Go ahead and join another pitch competition that gives you money. If you win on that round yourself, smaller one. He asked when does your exam end. Because this was right before exams.
we told him, okay, the exam ends on one of the Fridays. Right. And he was like, okay sorry. on the Tuesday that y'all exam ends in the morning, on the Thursday, the Friday, there's a competition that's coming up. And I was like, okay, okay. And then he was like, if you want, this is a interesting competition.
Cause it's with all the other London unis. And what they do is it's a bit like a poker game. Each uni is only able to submit one startup to enter. And this startup has to have won something else. So that was fine for us cause we won the HULT already. So they enter and the uni will pay a sum of money for that person to enter.
And what will happen is that the entry fee will be pulled from all the universities that we put together and the winner would take it all. So it's a bit like focus and so he was like, if you want, we can pay for you to go. And then it's up to you to let do was proud. Well, okay, let's do it.
So we went and then we only realized that after we finished our exams, we realised that the competition format was totally different from home. It was like for how we, at six minutes it went into two minutes. And so, you know, can you imagine like six minutes presentation, you cut down to two minutes.
It's nearly impossible. And so all the rules changed, if you example is like many people say that if you pitch right, try to use as few words as possible. Use more pictures, more imagery, be more interactive for two minutes, it's flipped because you need them to read more.
so you need to put a little bit more words and say less so that they have time to fill in the gaps. So it's very tricky and this is where our relationship probably with Bao sort of started being crystallized more because he actually came in and, I remember I think on the Thursday, when we met him the day before, he was like, okay, like this is actually the way you guys have been doing, like cutting it down.
It's a bit wrong. We have to like go the other way. And so he sat request until like, it was like one 20 at UCL, the Henry space just the three of us around the table. This white board. And it was just like, right. SiteOne, it's like two, I can't think. we really worked late into the night.
Next day we started practicing it. We delivered the presentation. And then we found out that they will only let us know one, one later, who won, even though they had decided on the spot, I was like, what? But okay. It doesn't matter. But throughout that process, right. UCL saw how hard we worked and how good our presentation was.
And they also said at the end, they were like, okay, we'll give you a bit of fence in the beginning. Like a couple of one, 2000 pounds that you off so that you have something you don't have a zero, but you have something and maybe you can use this, something to get more. I think that is sort of like the trick you show them how serious you are.
And, and so whatever we decided, but once we did that once, right, we went back and I was like, okay, maybe we should just scour the net for any sort of like parliaments like this, and we can join and see if we can get our pilot funding from winning all these. And that's what we eventually did.
Ling Yah: How much funding were you supposed to raise?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So we estimate estimated that we will probably need definitely more than 10,000 us dollars because the machinery itself that we were going to would cost that much. So if you added in the other costs, we will probably be looking at something close to about 20,000 to do a pilot.
And we eventually managed to get to that figure.
there was a moment where the mental was high and we were actually winning quite a few. We joined Thought For Food in Brazil. We joined like UCL entrepreneurs, venture fund UCL. We also joined like some in Malaysia. everyone would give like 1,500, 2000, And then you all pulled it together that became enough for us to basically run off a pilot.
Ling Yah: What do you think was the a reason if you will that you guys stood out and you managed to win all these competition is because you hadn't even gone to the country yet. You had nothing beyond pure research to show for. And that very polished pitch.
Lincoln Lee Ming: to be honest, it depends on which sort of competition you're trying as well. there are some that do want to support people like that. There are some that where they know that we want to support ultra early stage startups where it's just an idea.
And the reason is they need that a bit of that funds in order to make the ideas a reality. And I think people invest in people, not in the idea itself. So it's really about whether they believe that you would execute it or you would take that money and just spend it because they're, at that stage, they have no control.
They're not asking for something to return. It's just like a price. so you have to really believe that this person will actually take the funds and utilize it for something that is meaningful. I mean, we didn't have to hide it.
We could really show people that we were sincere. We were excited to do this cause we wanted to pilot it. And that sort of rubbed off on people.
And we would find interesting ways to stand out. for example, because we haven't piloted, right. So how do people get a concept? One of the thoughtful food in Brazil, right?
They had this challenge where you had to submit a video application describing your idea. Now, ideally when you describe the idea, you get to show your idea, how is it's supposed to show them? We know we are farmers, we are in London. So what I told my friend was like, you know how we always describe that?
At a time we had a machine called the solar bubble. That'd be one to two that we were hoping to implement in the field. we always disciplined, but didn't understand how it worked. We would describe it is imagine a solar panel connected to a hairdryer connected to a plastic bag.
And then the plastic bags where you put the rice in and you just put a head writer and say, since we always tell people this, I was like, what if we actually do it in real life? we go and find a hairdryer, make something, look like a solar panel, get some rice, wait on a plastic bag. And right while we are talking about the big and that's all we did.
So I remember one fine day in Russell square. We went down there with people having picnics. We laid out our mat and put some rice there and we stopped the dry years ahead. Right? When we actually pilot a head writer. and in my case I had this brilliant idea where she was like, cause we were talking about improper drying methods, right?
So when you flashed the deck, he, he made the what's coming like improper drying method. This is what we want to change. And it was so fun. It helped us stand out and it helped people remember us. And I think sometimes most people underestimate the power of being memorable.
If you're memorable, then people remember what you do. And they're more likely to actually like pick you for an opportunity.
Ling Yah: Incredible. So you raised 20,000 pounds and you were ready to go to Myanmar. What was the plan? What were you telling people? I believe you reached out to Vani, who eventually became one of your teammates and you said, Hey, want to spend your summer planting rice?
So was that the idea? What were you planning to do?
Lincoln Lee Ming: That statement actually came from Havani herself because when I described it, it sounded, I wanted her to be a farmer. So ask them before exams. And then I messaged her again after exams. I remember. And she was like, why did you want me to black Betty for you?
It's like, yes. But I think the plan at that time we just really wanted to get into the communities and we wanted to speak to the farmers. We wanted to do our customer service. We want to understand our work understand market and getting to, it was a challenge, right. There were costs would be involved getting their coordination was, had to been more getting there as a country.
We don't know, must be the language. We need to get people to speak the language. And we tried all sorts of ways. We actually found students at UCL who like Hey, I from Myanmar and like a follow up, like, it sounds cool. that we'd be like, yeah, sure. Maybe like, maybe just stay with us.
So we pay for your like accommodation and food and they're like, yeah, sure. It's fun. Like, I also never visited some of these communities before. and that's how we started. Like, we honestly went there and we were like, the only goal is to get there. And get the, international rice research Institute staff to bring us there.
So that the farmers would trust us because they trusted emphasis them before. And then from there, that's where we started to explore. We would ask questions like, okay, so who do you sell to? But you buy this from, can we meet this person? Can we meet this person tomorrow? We go to his house now. Do you have a friend?
Who's also a farmer. Can we meet him now? All my brother's a farmer. Oh, my bread. Oatmeal. Oh, can we go to the apprentice? No, no. we just kept doing that for like, I think four or five days. And then after a week of doing that, we sort of got an idea of the situation on the ground. And then that helped us because then we can go back and then we can analyze.
All right. So what sort of business can we develop? What sort of model can we develop for it? And there's been a pharmacist is what about what was not sort of, I was not what they wanted because the capacity was too low. They wanted a biomass problem, which is much bigger, which we had heard about, but never really studied.
So then we were like, okay, Who manufacturers it. Can we meet the manufacturer? Alright, can we meet someone who has used it before? And they're like, yes, you can meet that's this region in the world region in our country, which uses it, it's like 12 hours away. And I'm like, okay, the next time we come back, we're going to visit that.
and that's honestly how we started. That's how we changed the technology we were using that we also changed. We also had to stop the business model. we went from a buy and sell model to a paper use, like a laundromat model.
And we changed the technology from the swallowable to a biomass power. Try it. And yeah, so a lot of things were fluid and changing, but it only, we could only be confident on the changes because we had a picture of what was going on.
Ling Yah: Yeah. I believe you were also charging them for storing the rice as well as taking a percentage off.
Lincoln Lee Ming: So that actually came at the end when we went after subsequent visits as, Oh, okay. I think you dry and store. And people do stories. Farmers do want to start. so it's like every time we visit, there'll be new information coming up. And I guess that's the point of engaging with them, engaging with the stakeholders to understand the challenges they face, not just the challenges, but to understand their day-to-day lives, we realized that.
Education is super important. Why? Because every house we went into, the first of all, those, you see a huge, full pictures of their kids graduating. So we know that that's deeply relevant to them. So maybe we would be to speak to their kids first because we spoke to some children are farmers and they were like, yeah, it's like, I want my dad to have this.
If my dad doesn't listen to you, tell me I will speak to him. And then asked him, but how should you listen to you then.
If I want the award, that kind of thing now, is that okay? I was like, okay, that's interesting. but you know, you don't see this, you know, a lot of people with designing policies might not notice, it's normally a gap that's overlooked. Children of farmers, women, farmers, even it's overlooked in policy research.
It's the Wilmington.
Ling Yah: Well, I imagine just even getting to these places must have been an adventure and it isn't the most straightforward the ways
Lincoln Lee Ming: yes. So the 12 hour journey I talked about.
So what would happen was that there would be two options either we fly to the Capitol city and take a 12 hour drive, or we fight the capitalist city, fly to another city and then take a five hour drive.
So we were like, we might as well just take the total off the drive. And let me tell you, if you ever took 12 hours on the road, it's a very funny feeling between being tired and not tired because you are simultaneously exhausted and rested at the same time. Thankfully that toilet breaks along the way.
But what happened was that we landed, I think in the morning and we were due to arrive at midnight. So with breaks in between. we were driving along the roads and everything was fine, but at about like 11:00 PM, suddenly the person who was driving us started checking the dashboard and then like started, pressing button here and there.
then they thought that was the first red flag. And he started speaking to the scientists that were following us in like a worried tone, a hushed word. And then like the second red flag, third red flag was that he stopped the car. As you walk out, opened the Barnett, she dealt with something, closed it back and then started driving again.
And then later did that again. And then after the third red flag, I was like, Hey, is everything all right? basically what happened was the car was overheating. there was a coolant that was the had run out.
So. What he was trying to do was to see how far he could push the engine without the cooling. But it wasn't very far because it gets overheated very fast. And so then what he tried was he goes that, okay, we have to put water. so he basically brought us to this well.
And this is in the middle of the night at 11:30 AM. And it's not even in like the capital city. Right. It's like jungle. it's like, you know, country Rosa, if you're traveling and like going up to Penang, like like all these very rural areas that where the plantations it's like that.
And so we went to a well, and he basically dropped, walked on glass, empty water bottles, and he was like, you go Paul inside this thing. Then I was like, okay. So we point he's like, Oh, okay. We closed it. And we drove now the thing is that okay? I'm not expert by coolants and not like water.
It's like something else that has, I think, a hot and very much higher boiling point. So the water bottles damn fast and it runs up damn fast. I think like within Five minutes. It will be gone. So how far can you get in five minutes? Right. And so all we had to do was he would be like, okay, five minutes to the next well.
And then if we know that it's going to be more than five minutes to fill up a lot empty bottle so that we can keep on filling up with water. And I think we did that for 30 minutes. And after that, he was just like, no engine there. Like he sort of gave up because as we were going out with you, I remember as his ground here, the engines at the sputtering, he just turned it off because he was like, it's not gonna work.
We're not going to be able to cross the seal. And then he turned around as we went up the Hill and just sort of like slowly, like roll down. And he just stopped at the side of the road in the jungle. And he was like, jungle on both sides.
There was like this one house that was that I don't think it was a house. I think it was a shop or something and it was, but it was that it was closed. It was made out of wood and he was like, okay, we just maybe stop here since that's a chair so we can sit down. And we got to call for help. Okay. So let's call her help.
we call it the police. We called the Erie international rice research Institute. We call it the Sodi. Ha we have rented a car. So we call it the rental company. We call it the hotel were supposed to go to at 12 and they all responded that the hotel and the police couldn't come and get us they didn't know everywhere.
And the people in the capital city, so like the eerie and the rental company, they were like, yeah, we can get to you, but we have to send in America and it's going to take them like 11 hours to get to you. Cause it took us 11 hours to get here. Right. And I was like, do you have like a
And I'm like, I know like cities and do that. Oh no, we don't really have anyone who can help us. Not at this late hour. I was like, Oh, then we were like preparing to sleep in the car. and it was quite horrible. Cause I remember I was like, wow, it was practically a horrible for me because I remember I wanted to use the toilet and I was like, this is a bad idea. And I was like, Oh my God.
It's everything is like dark in jungle. it just feels like anything had happened. And for the first time, right?
I think one of the scientists who were following us was like, I've done it all a few bits, but this is the first time I'm stuck in the middle of the night and no one can help me. So I was like, okay. Okay. But not only what happened in turned out was that she called the sister. And her sister actually worked in that region before.
So she knew a, Hulu or a village, like the leader of the village of a farming village actually, who lived only like an hour away. And so the guy was like, okay, I'm going to take my four wheel, drive my truck, and I'm going to drive to where your sister and her friends are. And so they actually, thankfully they came out later and we basically piled on and they drove us the last hour back.
And it was very surreal because it was like an open air truck. So we would sit in the back and it was like midnight, right. And it's like jungle all around. So it's nature sounds all around. And would just be looking up to the sky and I would be what do you call that?
I'll be like looking at my teammates and be like, can you imagine, a couple of months ago we are like in university. And like now we're traveling in like a forest that awful country. We only visited twice. And for some of us the first time and now we're on our way.
You know, we're not stuck. We don't have to sleep the night in the van. with people we don't know. And like we've never met before and who could be taking us to I'll do my, I don't know, but but we trust them, implicitly. And it was very surreal and it was a bit of a moment I'll never forget.
Ling Yah: And I imagining the kind of people that you were meeting. So they will also very fascinated with who you guys were. And there were girls following Kisum as well?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Oh, that story. it was quite unique to us because they don't get as, so they don't get as many visitors.
But what happened was this funny story, this actually happened in our third visit. So at a time in the accelerator where we went to help price, half of us went back to meet to go to the farms. And half of us stayed in London. So I stayed in London. apparently when they went to the village, this time round, there was a local university who happened to be in town.
And there was like a festival that they were having.
So what happened was that they actually ask our team. do you guys want to give a speech? You wanna talk about your work and then do what? Like yeah, sure. Why not? And they were like, Ooh, Oh, just a couple of, a couple of university students, so, okay.
Okay. They said, yeah, we'll contact you tomorrow morning. The next day they go there and they see this stage built in front of the farmer's house. I was like, what is going on? And they see like four chairs on the stage, like what that's, Lee's rows and rows and rows of chairs in the audience. And it's how did they hit?
They see these massive, like motorcycles, coming in and like trucks and the van and like pop man. They're like, everyone starts crowding in and it's like a full-on event. so did they come up and I wasn't there, but the story that van you taught me was like, Oh, you know, she said like, there's this bunch of just girls sitting in front of them.
and I think there was a question where they asked, do you have a girlfriend? And he was shocked by it, but he didn't know. And then they started to laugh. And if any, apparently to him under the bus, because she walked over to them after that one, his Facebook and they all said, yes, yes, yes.
And they started like taking photos of his profile to add him. And we had a prank call once actually someone called him once and he picked up and it was a hello. And then there was like silence and it's honey giggles. And then the end of the call, she was like, what? And we were like, Oh, wow. Like, this is interesting.
I remember like our Facebook likes jumped significantly, but it was just like a funny side story that happened in our journeys. Yeah.
Ling Yah: That's brilliant. So after you did all that, you know your visitor, I mean that, for the first time you came back in the summer, you had this global accelerator that you've mentioned before, and he was at the former residents of Henry the eighth.
What was the purpose of gathering? All of you, I think around 200, you guys there as well. So what was the purpose?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So the accelerator, in our year was the first year they actually hot price expanded the accelerator around. So previously it would have been, everyone won. The regionals would go to the finals. Cause there were only six regionals.
And they had an accelerator, but the accelerator was really only two for those 60 days. To accelerate their growth basically. But that year they decided, you know, since we had a lot more regionals and we had a lot more teams that they felt could also benefit and could also be a contender, it doesn't just have to be the winner of the regionals.
So they decided to open the accelerator to about 40 teams. So they had 25 regional rounds because they were expanding More people are participating. And they're like 10 people came into online applications from the pool of people who didn't win. And then like, I think another 15 from another like special like national rounds or something.
So what happened was that all these people had one already like eight regional. So they were like the best of the best. And what they wanted to do was that they wanted to make the accelerator in itself, its own like run as well. So they wanted to create out of the 40 teams only six would go to the finals.
which was why UCLA is also like, can you guys do it? can you guys go to distance? It's going to be very intense because it's like a six week long tournament. but the idea was to accelerate us, to give us a live work, play environment where we could just focus and the reason they chose.
Eh, look, station away from everything. It's a bit like how are the WEF does that was they choose that people secured a location. So you're forced to focus on women. And they will fly in experts from all around the world to come and give talks to come in time and office hours, mentors from all over the place.
can you just sit there and you just work with, and you just meet these 200 other people, some of which are still our friends today. And it was really an experience that you cannot replicate. we will never be able to relive it, even if I go back right now because you can't participate in it.
it's just a different experience.
Ling Yah: I imagine as Asians, you must have really worked very, very, very hard. And was that the life at the place?
Lincoln Lee Ming: so we, we were actually known as like that super Asian team that works super hard or something like that because we were one of the only Asian teams or like the only Southeast we're definitely the only service agency or the only East Asian team there. And we. basically, I guess we play into the stereotype about working super hotties.
We would spend most of our days in our room working and, we would book the time with the mentors that we wanted to meet because we really wanted to focus. So like, we went for the talks there. We wanted to learn something from, but there were some talks. Yeah. We would like, it would be good to know, but we don't need all of us to be there.
So we send one person to write notes. Just take the notes, like so Asian. And they were like, you guys just come here and just like smoke all the information. Yeah. I was like, I was like, but that's the point when you're trying to give us the info then. And we would basically try to, attract the mentors to our rooms instead of going out so that we don't waste time.
we've had this corner, we put a chair for like tables. We bought snacks, fruits and things like that. So that's how the mentors actually come through the room and like, Oh, wow, yes, next you have fruits for me. And they just sit there and they just start doing their work and chatting and then they will overrun that time.
Give us more time but they really partied a lot. And we actually missed out on a lot of parties because we were so busy working with so tired but we will be decided, you know, we can party too. And we honestly wanted to show everyone like a good time.
Cause we also want to remember, right. we were lucky enough to be one of the only team. We were actually the only team from London, Or who had lived in London before. And the other UK team was from other parts of the UK. So we thought, what if we true a house party in London, there's so many parties in the castle, but like there's no party in London.
they always take every opportunity to get to visit. And because for most of them, it's their first time being in the UK. So I was like, one of our key members had a place in London, which was quite big and quite nice. And we could host a small like Houseparty day. So we actually did that on like the fi the week, right before the accelerate, the end that before the final week in the weekend.
And I would say we partied too hard.
At one point some guy walked into the apartment building, following our crowd that I don't think was supposed to be there. I think it was like a, stranger or something like that. We found out later that he broke something and then they blamed it on us, but it got a bit too crazy at one point, I think, because I think it was like 3:00 AM. she was still going and it's strong, like dancing in the living room. And we were like, okay, maybe it's time to like clear people out.
And the thing is that I think everyone was too tired that they couldn't actually get to the castle back because the castle was out of London, right. So it's an hour away. So not everyone can actually make it back.
So everyone basically started finding their own digital space on the living room to sleep in the couch, underneath the tables on the sofas, mats mattresses. But it was a really fun night and that had actually had the unexpected effect during the final rounds of the presentation.
HULT Prize has this very good concept, where when the judges debate or like deliberate, before they go into the deliberation room, they will turn around and the audience will be so how it works is like this. They will always get you into groupings when you present.
they always select one or two best from each grouping. And what will happen is that you will be the audience for the grouping that you're not in. So that you don't feel you need to say, because what will happen is that they were asked for peer feedback.
so the judges will always activate as a peer feedback. And the reason they put it like that is so that you don't give them that feedback. Cause you feel checked in by like, Oh, this team's very good. So then you probably should talk to them. So but because it's like different rooms, you know that they have no implication on, you.
So they ask for peer feedback and in the regionals or campus round is very quick, but in the castle they can actually ask a lot more, be like, look, you guys have different than for literally six weeks.
If they invest in them, who do you think is going to invest? How are they like as people? So that party had an inadvertent effect where everyone would say, look this rising team, they work super, super hard. They're definitely gonna put it up and then do it. But how they ask people, Oh, that's super fun as well.
And like, you know, they're super nice and super fun, but it also works super hard. And so it started to actually tick some boxes that we weren't aware of, because we already just started like, okay, like we also want to have some fun. I want to remember it. it was a very fun experience that we'll never forget.
Ling Yah: That's so funny. I love that you've managed to build such strong ties as well, being the most hardworking team. And the whole connection thing is so important, what you do, right? You guys start it, you have no connections with the country with agriculture, but you had to start building the connections with people.
a lot of people who are just starting on a problem, that'd be like, how do I even start to get connected with those who work in the industry? The really high-ranking very knowledgeable people. what was your advice if you will? How did you reach out?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So how we reached out was to be honest, I think you have to be smart about how you reached out to it, how you do it.
You have to also sort of understand what appeals to that person. Everyone will have an interest. It's about how can you appeal to their interest, right? It doesn't have to be that job. It can be that job that you're interested in, but it can be something else that maybe they like the sport, or maybe they like this particular kind of food, or they are also from the same university as you or they are scientists from the same university or something like that.
You need to find a similar point. That's the first.
And the second thing is what we were quite lucky because HULT Prize they have developed a platform that is very easily marketable because they have like UN bill Clinton, 1 million. So if you leverage it properly, you actually get into a lot of rooms and, you know, because you say, Oh yeah, I'm about to present to I'm participating in, I don't bill Clinton's competition that he's looking to give a million dollars to one of us and we're one of the contenders.
So if you help us, then, you know, you can be part of the journey, that kind of thing. And most of the time people might not care, but they might, some people actually will open the email and they'll read it at worst. They would just direct it to someone.
And that's how we started.
I think honestly the secret is just to be brave and I like to have this mindset to think like, okay, this person is behind the door and in this building, but the main entrance, isn't the only way you can get into this building.
Yup. The purpose is just, you want to get into this building, so that's your mindset. Nothing will stop you. You're just going to find all different ways, the fire escape that we know, the main entrance, the back door. And once you get in and you speak to that person , that's all you want to do, right? You will get in eventually.
So I think that is something that I learned. you just have to have that mindset of nothing's gonna really stop me. I'm not going to be deterred. I really want to meet you because I know what value I can bring to you and I know what value you can bring to me.
And I think it would be great if we can collaborate. So I want my opportunity to tell it to you.
Ling Yah: I think you also looked at your own personal network, right? your grandad helped to reach out to his friends who were farmers, 30 years back and connected to you.
Lincoln Lee Ming: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that was very surprised. Well, my granddad spoke to one of his friends who owned a mill and was in the rise of business for the past, 30 years. one day he just called me in like Lincoln, Oh yeah, the guy said he can meet you when you want to go.
And I was like, Oh really? It is like, yeah. Yeah, we can drag together. okay. I think it's also about making it known to your friends and family, what you're doing who you want to meet, because you never know who might know someone or who might know someone who might know someone and just be diligent on following up on that.
And don't be afraid to explore because even some of my friends, right from the president of the MSOC got me the internship, I asked him and then he was like, yeah, I share it with family friend who sells machinery in the agriculture space. Let me go and ask him, eh, call this cousin. And I called the cousin's friend and we did actually meet him.
We actually went there specifically and saw the, machine being produced. And then things like I still keep in touch with him today.
Ling Yah: You also have very surprising connections as well. So this happened just before the UN final presentation in September where you were all practicing your pitch before going onto the final pitch.
And then you met security guard who basically helped to win the competition for you. How did that happen?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So I always feel that if I could write a book of a long day on my life, it probably be that one day about the UN finals. Because so many things happened in that one day.
Ling Yah: Share that day with us.
Lincoln Lee Ming: All right, to really give context, I have to give context about the day before. So the day before we had the rehearsals before we presented it to the finals, one of our mentors, she told us that your presentation that helped you get into the finals is great. It's a good presentation is a solid presentation, but do you want to present a solid presentation to the used finals?
Cause you only have one shot at it. You want to present it to your content or do you want to present. The most audacious, most boldest plan that you can think of that will like, I dunno, will literally change the face of rice forever. Whether you can execute it or not in real life is not a story.
But if you can put in the work to show how you're going to do it and have sufficient evidence to convince me that you can actually do it, then you actually be able to do it because then they will believe in you and give you the resources to do it. And so do you want to present the boldest plan you can.
So we decided, okay. Yes, we present the boldest most audacious planet we can ever dream of. That also meant redoing everything that we did in the past two, three months when the accelerator in one, two weeks. So our presentation was totally new and totally revamped was crazy, but we were still seven minutes long.
I remember I was sprinting was seven minutes long and we had to be six minutes for the finals. So when we went for the real, so the day before there was like this team, which is supposed to help do our mix because you are not allowed to mess up. like there can be no technical errors at the UN because you just can't like, you cannot be like, oops, let me flip back back my previous slide.
So actually what happens is, is that cool? You don't actually have a kicker. You have a quick gut that sends a signal to a person and that person then changes the site. So now you cannot accidentally flip back and forth. And you have to go through with that person, your slides, so that he knows exactly when to change it for you so they can tell if it's like you're making a mistake.
I was talking to personally, they were like, yeah, they do it for the Olympics and she was talking like, yeah, you know, and I helped Mariah Carey run her concert or Rihanna ran a constant thing that I said, okay, well so we were practicing with them and all the teams had their slots right, to practice.
Everything was well polished, super bang on six minutes. And then we came in and we practiced and we were like, stop it's time. And then we're like, oh, we still have minute to go. And then they were like, what?
You have seven minutes. Then I was like, yeah, check.
Than we asked them, do you have any suggestions that they know that maybe talk faster and can we try it again? And then they were like, okay. So it became like a pitch practice session when it was supposed to be like them just doing a tech run.
And they were like, okay, good luck. You guys have a lot of work to do. Then we were like, yeah. We know, we know. Than they were like, yeah, good luck. Okay. Tomorrow.
and we went off, So we would continue working, blah, blah, blah.
The next day, I remember we woke up and the first thing that happened was we have been practicing late into the night and we've finally got it down to, I remember six minutes, 15 seconds. And we would act that this stuff in 15, it won't go away because I really don't know what else to cut. And we'll okay. No, don't worry. We have the whole day 15, but we have to get to the UN on time because there's a lot of security procedures.
So went to our morning routine and it's only some messages us. And he said, look, Hey guys, the first trial has been built and they're going to have a soon. So we're going to have that first customer either today or tomorrow. And then I was like, Oh wow. We actually looked at the machine that, 20 K that we raised and went into building it for the first time.
We could actually see it on the very day were going for UN, sorry, I give you all this good go. We walk into the UN and in the UN because it's where a lot important diplomat score. Right. And how press happens the week before the UN global goals week. So there's a lot, a lot of diplomat.
So like even Matthew was there. I think he was there about three days after the finals. So a lot of people were flying in, so security was very tight and it's always very tight. So you it's like airport like that. You have to, go through multiple body scans, they will scan your bags, everything.
You're only allowed to bring a couple of things and everyone has to be registered before. So that means that they need to do background checks on you. And then we walked in and he realized that venue's name was spelled wrong. So we were like, Oh no. And then they were like, stop She cannot move past this point.
What, and then she cannot do, how was the present treat people? Like, we can't just have fun. It's only become three. Right. And then the organizers was like, okay, okay. we'll we'll talk to them. And then they basically said that they're gonna have to do like a background check on her, like emergency and make sure didn't do a terrorist or something.
And I was like, no, he's not. And then we were three men in basically at the UN. and according to her, I don't know the full story about Clinigen. Has she had to go to this room, a brand new actually solid central place, whether I do a typing in, and then she was with the undersecretary general, the, that section who was like that, he was like, chat, like became like buddies throughout the day, because they were like, Oh, why are you in your fault?
She was like I think you guys got to do a background check on me. I was like, ah, he was like, you know, it's kind of like New York. And I was like, Whoa,
But what happened was so then we went in. Okay. We didn't panic, but we had to do like a bit of formatting on the like, okay, what if she actually cannot present?
Like, what do we have to do? And then we did the tech run, and we were cutting off script. I remember in the dressing room. Right. All the other teams were like, are you editing your slides? Like, aren't you supposed to have them already, yesterday. And they were like, Oh yeah, they're giving us a final chance to submit it right before the tech run.
So we submitted it right before tech run . And then when we did the tech round and I remember we were six minutes, one second. But the tech person was like, I don't know how you guys did it, but you guys managed to cut it in with still roughly the same story. And then I was like, yeah, a lot of work.
And then suddenly we were like, Oh, actually we just realized we missed up our team's side. So like, we would not introduce in our team, which was like a major thing that we also can, we put in another very new ignore. You can't anymore. We've already given it to them. Like, there's no way you guys just gonna have to deal with it.
We were like oh, crap. So we actually present it. Funnily enough, Amanda, we actually presented our second lead. not only dislike. So with nothing else to do, we practice, we practice practice, practice. And then you actually came in a couple of hours before we went, Oh, thank God.
And then as we were practicing we in a dressing room, there was this security guy at the UN that you spoke about.
He watched it, he was like, why are these two Asian kids that you're speaking to a wall or speaking to each other? And then we basically told him, would you have to listen to our presentation? And then he was like, yeah, sure. So we brought it up tops. We presented to him. And then we asked him if there are any questions.
And he asked us a question about what we do is the Ash from our biomass power dryers. Because it basically was powered by a rice husk, waste the by-product of the milling station, the rice supply chain. So we told him, Oh, we had sort of heard that it could be useful for other uses, like maybe fertilizer.
And as he was like, exactly, and he explained to us, this is why it's a good source of potassium is a good source of this chemical. This is how you convert it into fertilizers. and it's been done in blah, blah, blah.
And we were like, wow, how do you know all this? And he was like, I'm a security guy here at the UN but back in Nigeria where I'm from, I have a master's in agriculture science.
And then we were like, wow. Okay. I remember rushing back to my teammates. I'm like, please write this down now in case they ever ask. And they did ask at the UN later on. Like I think one of the second or third question that came up and we just recited word-for-word for that presentation and never saw that guy again.
I would love to, I never saw it. we didn't even get his name. I can't even remember what he looks like now, which is quite sad, but yeah, so you really don't know what's going to happen.
Ling Yah: That is a wild story. I watched that final presentation and I was just stunned. You could see the sheer amount of work you guys did. You had a huge panel of judges and the FAQ was just judge after judge after judge, just throwing all these random questions at you.
After you won, what was the feeling like? What did you guys do?
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think simultaneously it was extreme amounts of joy and surprise also disbelief. And at the same time, that was also a little bit of relief because it was finally after a year, it was finally over. and we couldn't believe it.
I think there's a photo of us. It's very funny when we were shaking hands with Bill Clinton, where I'm like bowing to him And like, one of my friends she actually looked shocked that she'd put her hand on her heart while she was shaking hands here. So it was really just raw, emotional, glee and joy.
And it was just like photo after photo. And you're just sort of in disbelief, right? When you were walking around and everyone was congratulating you and we were thanking a lot of people, I mean people always want to take advantage of the networking, but honestly, we were in a daze and we were walking around and people were talking to us and I remember answering them, telling them, thank you.
And shaking hands with them. And at one point I remember the trophy actually got a bit heavy and I had to keep holding it because people want to keep taking photos. So I would tell them, want to hold it? And then they were like, yes, yes.
So it ended up, you passing it to the next person and I suppose to the next person. And, And on that note, right, the QA that you watch, right? there's actually a padded in film where after the judges deliberate that, right. There's the callback. So while everyone is eating dinner and everything, or they call us back and that's where they would go at you in a room.
Ling Yah: or the questions for you?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Oh yeah, there was a lot, I think it was half an hour. I remember cause I was in the washroom and then suddenly, someone came in to the washroom and Lincoln, Lincoln, are you here?
And then I was like, yeah, what's up?
We've got to go down. Oh, okay. Okay. Why? the judges are asking for us. I was like, huh, really? They're like, yeah, they've got to good. Professor answered a lot of questions that, okay. Okay. And then we went in and it just question off the question of the question.
It was like a fiery squad. But I think that the judges they can ask a lot more because it's like a closed room, right. And then demo, you get judged at walking around the room and like throwing questions at you. and that's where you really, really make the decision because it's part of integration.
They want to find out more that's when people are everywhere now having seen well, so joining as well, I think remotely.
bill Clinton would come in at the end or something like that. So we didn't get to meet him in that QA session, but we got to meet him after that.
Ling Yah: And so you had all this craziness you're running on adrenaline. How did you end up getting stuck in the UN?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Ah, right. So after the whole thing ended we were going back to the dressing rooms and we were with another team, a team that we were eventually going to share accommodation with.
We went back there, we packed up all of our stuff and everything was like all over the place. And I remember we picked all this stuff. How's that? Oh, it's funny. Over congrats guys, you know, good job team and our team. And that team was like sitting down and we fell asleep on the table there, literally like that.
And we woke up later and it was an hour later. And so it was like midnight. And we were like, Oh crap. It's dark.
I don't know why, but apparently no one thought of going to the desk to check Maybe cause they thought everyone had already cleared out.
Cause everyone was coming down from them where the reception was. So I think they were more concerned with carrying out the reception and everyone thought we had just gone. So we walked out and we were like, okay, this is some lights on. So maybe it's, still okay. We saw some people way in the distance when we're coming down the elevator and they were pushing something like those are maintenance people. Okay.
Huh. Anyway, let's just go. Okay. That's say you walked through the main entrance and didn't realize our main entrance is shut.
Okay. Maybe we can just push it open so we go there and realized that it's not just shut shut. It's like properly shut. The UN has bank vault doors, like a feet thick steel doors, like you see in the movies, you know, like those round.
And I was like, Whoa, like you can't open this. And I was like, wow. Okay. We are properly stuck. so everyone was so exhausted. So let's start right at the mean for you at the UN. I remember cause we're carrying so many bags, let's just put all the bags down. So fall backs down. I remember one or two people lying on the floor and he was like, still open, hopefully bright.
And he'll be like we're stuck at the UN at night that last night I was like, do you want to like, explore? Like, do you want like, go ahead and explore. Cause we didn't get a chance to dinner. I was like, Hmm. yeah, sure. Why not? walk down the corridor and see. So we saw like the UN GA chambers ECOSOC chambers through the windows and stuff like that.
And we saw like, all the plaque cards and you know, what you see in all the movies, all the mikes and stuff. And I'm like, wow. So this is where they actually do it. And then I remembered in the entrance, there was this huge staircase going up. And there's this rope, no entry while public.
I remember we had this like quick debate. Should we, or should we not, not because they were always security guards right on there's nobody. How are we going to like, stumble upon some international secret meeting going on up there or not? You know, but what we decided not to, because they want to get arrested.
We called the HULT Prize team members, like the global team organizes and he FaceTimed us. I remember cause he was in his hotel and he was like about to fall asleep. He was like, yeah, congrats guys. What do you want?
Then I was like, Hey so funny story, but like, we're stuck at the UN. And she was like, yeah, she started laughing.
He's like, you're drunk. And I was like, no, no, no, no, I'm serious. I was like, come on. And he was like, it's not my first prank, you know? I was like, no, I'm not, I'm serious. He was like, really? You're actually stuck. And I was like, yes.
Okay. Okay. Turn on your camera and show me around at first, I was like, okay. I turned it around. He saw her, obviously he saw be like, you guys are actually stuck in there. And I was like, yes, can you get us out? He goes, okay. Okay. Let me, make a few calls. And then he goes like, hi guys. Hello? Can you get us out? And so he w as like, it was okay, let me make a few calls.
so he caught someone, but apparently we will find my security guards because they basically saw us wandering around the corridors in the cameras. And they were like, why are there like a bunch of students walking around the corridors in the middle of the night when it's supposed to be sealed already.
So they, quickly got us like, please, go out and like, here's the entrance. So we went out.
And that wasn't the end of the day actually. Cause there was an after-party. We were so tired. We were like we are the winners. We can't not go to the after party. So we went to the afterparty, it was quite fun.
But honestly I just remember being so tired. And we've never slept so deeply, after that I remember. but yeah, that was the end to an interesting day.
Ling Yah: Incredible. But let's not forget that you were still students actually. So how were you balancing this entire year prepping for the competition with your studies and then you ended up getting a first class with your degree, which I find is incredible because you manage to have all these other things going on at the same time. How did you balance it?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So I think for us, while we were preparing four hot price in the lead up to it, it wasn't actually as intense as one might think.
it's similar to running like a club, right? being involved in a university, extra curriculum. So we sort of balanced it where we rested from our studies by working on Rice Inc and rested and rising by working on our studies. And it was still okay.
What was really fun was when summer started and UCLA exams actually end quite early. So we actually dropped an extra month in the summer. And I remember as soon as my exams finished, we flew back immediately, I think within two days know we went for that competition I spoke about. And then later, as soon as that was done, we flew back. As we had like a whole month, extra editor of summer to really, really start on this.
but it was honestly quite a challenge, I think, at the end, because if you think about what we did at the end, it was, I think, close to five months since we had studied. I left my final exam, not having been to Vienna. I came back to UCL having one the HULT Prize.
We hadn't even gone to the accelerator at that point. So all the things that we had experienced, it was just totally different world. I came a month late into my third year. And when I sat down for the first time and went for lecture, I was like, this is so different. It was just so surreal, so different.
and I think what the decision we've made after in our final year was that you actually got, became quite a struggle to juggle balls. So we made the decision in the middle of the third year to take a break from RICE Inc and finish our studies first. that's where we actually really sat down and cranked on our studies and worked really hard and applied some of the techniques we had learned running our business on to our studies.
in order to get the best results.
I mean, it's just like studying techniques, like, at the end of the day, right, we knew where our expertise lies. So we had some modules that we could take, which were more business oriented, like the life science business and life sciences our projects had to be something.
we knew how to tackle it. In a more systematic way, like, okay, we want to prove a, B and C, how do we, actually do it in real life? Most people do it theoretically. But since we have experienced piloting, we can also apply in real life.
How do I take an exam, which I know that the information is all over the place and too much for me to digest, but I still need to score.
You know, the lecturers are still human.
They also follow certain patterns, certain topics they like more. So can you study those topics more? In-depth things like this. And it actually became easier to study because we had sort of done something that was a bit more, I guess, more challenging than just studying and taking an exam.
So studying anything as I became more of like, okay, we know the answer to ASB In business and running a startup that's what the, it's not going to be B, but in some of the exams, they will be a situation like that. so it became more of like, okay, we just need to focus and do it.
And then that's how we did it. we took a break, we finished our studies graduated and then we started RICE Inc full-time.
Ling Yah: So you've graduated. You started at Rice Inc with $1 million. What was the plan now? You were going to do it for real.
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think the first plan that we realized was we had to then started consulting a lot because now they are investors. And they have invested in our company.
So they also have an idea of what they want us to do. And they correctly spoke with us and identified that a part is a passion they wanted to tackle was the end consumer.
The farmer has a great product. You've helped him make his rice better quality, reduce the waste more environmentally friendly.
It doesn't matter if you can't sell it for higher value, How do you get that higher value? So we started to enter the FNB market. Merchanting our rice in the UK leveraging on all of our networks and low-hanging fruits there. And that was a totally new industry totally new experiences.
Or we had to learn a lot in the past two years to understand how do we tackle that market? we also you know made, a couple of mistakes early on, because we are not business students. So we didn't know like, okay, what's the procedures to set up a company. how do I set it up legally?
And I set it up, accounting wise, what is that? simple questions. it's not that we're unaware of that. We just don't have the knowledge because we've never encountered it in biomed. So. We have to learn all of that as we went along.
Ling Yah: Were you not tempted to set up back home in Southeast asia where it's closer to the production?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So we did, set up in Malaysia as well. but I think what we realized was that at the time, the opportunity in UK was low hanging for us. We wanted to capture it because of the price, right. We had gotten into a lot of very influential networks.
And we were speaking to a lot of people who could, if they came in and they said that, yes, I will support you. It would have made all the difference because they have the power at the end of the supply chain. These are like major corporations who can then put a pressure on the supply chain, incentivize farmers to basically be more sustainable, incentivize faculty, to be more ethical.
It's a bit like factory where you need a Starbucks to come in to tell the factory farmers that I want your factory coffee. and if you can prove to me, it's factory coffee, then you can sell to me, I'm Starbucks and all the farmers then started to move towards it. No one really wanted to go against Starbucks. So yeah, it's that concept.
Ling Yah: But surely you must have run into issues like Brexit, for instance, there must have been a big deal to just figure out how it could impact you and having it actually come into play as well. So how did you deal with that?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So thankfully for us yeah, I had an economist on our team who was like, trying to predict what would happen.
I'll try to do justice to his logic. So he was like telling me, okay, so for Brexit to happen, the UK needs to be more protectionist, right? They want to protect their domestic industries. However, they will also want to benefit from all the trade that's happening in other countries. So it would be signing a lot of trade agreements with countries individually that they didn't have to in the beginning because the EU will have signed it.
But now they're not part of the EU. They would protect industries that are local to them. And then he was like, so if they become a protectionist, but they will be more protectionist for rice because they don't grow rice. So in that sense, they will want to incentivize rice to come in.
So what they would do is they would either sign an agreement to maintain the incentives that rice producing countries get for bringing rice into the EU, or they will make it more attractive for the UK specifically. They won't make it less attractive. They will probably make it less attractive for crops that they grow themselves because they want to protect local British farmers.
But rice is not one of them. And that was his prediction.
I was like, are you sure?
Because there's this whole debate going around, like what's going to happen with Brexit, right. but it turned out his prediction was correct. And the UK's tariffs are actually lower price.
And it actually helped us because it then meant that, more goods could come in. We had an easier time getting into the region.
Ling Yah: And how did you end up getting into the top five caterer distribution service and meeting with the board?
Lincoln Lee Ming: So that was something that Kisum and I sort of stumbled upon.
So before COVID happened, we actually managed to get them very interested in our product. We managed to get one of them to pilot a product. And how we did it was we would basically join a lot of business networks.
And once we had a pilot, we would basically request that the caterer it's normally not as easy to get into a distribution network, because they get pitched a lot of different products with a lot of different suppliers all the time. So how you stand out? Sometimes we thought was that if we got the caterer, ie. their client to basically pitch us, it would be more powerful because they kind of be like, Oh, I want to use these guys.
Can you like, stop them? And so we tried that.
We thought, okay, it was quite successful in a small way with the pilot. So can we make it larger? Can we find the larger distributor from this pilot plan we have and ask them, Hey we think it might be more convenient if you stocked us so that we can deliver to this client of yours and they just talk about, okay, yeah, sure.
We'll put you on the wait list, that kind of stuff.
And we're like, it's fine. It's fine. We're on the wait list. Good.
Then the next thing that happened was that we actually went to event where it was like a business networking event. And in one day we met three or four of the largest caterers, as well as food service, as well as their clients. So the sites they were catering for.
So we got them interested and he said actually said, yeah, we're on the wait list for this major distributor. So you don't have to do much. You can just ask them about this. And the thing is probably like A huge distribution company.
So they're like a lot of players. So we're probably on some list somewhere. It's just like on this, on a computer database, but then what happened is that all these catering companies went back and actually did what he said, which was like they emailed the district asking him, Oh, Hey, do you have these guys?
We intend to stock them.
And then suddenly we have gotten emails from these people to like, blah blah blah, would you like to come in to speak with us? And we were like, sure. And they were very happy to stock us. They even wanted us to be exclusive.
And that's sort of how we got into a lot of these catering companies.
Unfortunately, COVID threw a spanner in the works. And so we're hoping that it will recover our post COVID in the same way that it was, again.
Ling Yah: And how has COVID impacted what you're doing as well? Because you were in London and now you're in Malaysia.
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think COVID really Impacted us initially in our B to B segment. So a lot of the clients we were speaking to because, it's not a good environment for them to onboard new suppliers when they're like closed.
that part sort of had to shut down. We adapted by trying to sell it direct to consumers and getting onto Amazon And that was reasonably successful. But it's a lot of work, a lot of marketing work but we're starting to see the, results of the work right now.
So we're thankful for that.
I think in terms of the farms as well I think the most annoying thing for us right now is that we cannot go there. we cannot visit anybody. We couldn't go to Myanmar. We can't go to any villages. We wanted to work in Malaysia. And I think right now this year, what we're doing is actually we started to realize that our initial assumptions three years ago in HULT Prize, was that yes, not every farmer in Malaysia needs what we're bringing, but there are still some communities that actually do need what we're bringing.
They do need our dryers and maybe not just our dryers, but other things, right. They need access to markets. They need different kinds of agritech technologies. And so we actually spoke to a lot of players in Malaysia to try and see what we could do with them to develop projects with them. But it's always been hampered because we can't actually physically go there.
And my team has been like, I cannot believe I'm doing this online with you for like the past, 10 months. I haven't seen Kisum for a year physically. I just hope that we get to go to a farm and like, some of my team members are like, I joined this because I really wanted to go to a farm.
I really hope I get to go to a phone before I leave. And I'm like, yeah, I want to go toO.
It makes a difference when you actually are able to interact with the various people that you've been speaking to for so long, or been meaning to implement something, to test something to help them to improve some sort of process that they're working on.
That was how it worked for us initially at whole price. All of our theorizing just went out the window once we, actually met them in real life. And that is actually what we remember, all those stories I told you, those are the things you remember, and those are the things that you actually learned from, and you actually develop into something meaningful.
So yeah, I can't wait for us to be able to do that.
Ling Yah: So for everyone who is listening, what do you think is the best way for people to support you and what racing is doing?
Lincoln Lee Ming: You can support us by going to our website. If you'd like our rice, you can get it. It's available in Malaysia and the UK, but more importantly, actually, if you know, any find farming communities that would need our help, you know any organizations that would potentially be cool for us to partner with, or even just speak with, or if you just want to get in touch and want to help out you can contact us by our website as well or help ed racing.com. And yeah, we're more than happy to speak to people about potential opportunities for the, potential collaborations and also if you like our rice, let us know.
Ling Yah: I imagine, you know, everyone listening to this can tell that you are so passionate, so driven about it so much work, but what is it that keeps you going?
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think the thing that keeps me going honestly, was that there is sort of nothing else I'd rather be doing, because I think what I try to remember a lot of times, even when the times are very difficult is that I'm not doing this just for myself. There's also someone we're trying to help at the end of the day, and it can be very easy to, get discouraged and feel de-motivated, which we have felt many times through COVID to a lot of other challenges we face even during the whole price.
But there's something that my mom said to me once, which was at the end of the journey, no matter what happens, right, you helped someone already, and that's a lot better than a lot of other things you could have been doing.
And I sometimes go back to that and think about that because it's true. I sometimes forget that no matter what we do, we have helped somebody. we have helped the farmers who we have already helped and who we have installed biomass dryers.
So they have something that they otherwise didn't have before that. And I think that's what sort of drives me every day, because it's like reminding myself of that, it doesn't matter if I feel because as long as I didn't leave them in a worse position than when I started off I've achieved something.
And that is something that I will always have. And that is, I guess the one thing that gives me comfort.
Ling Yah: At what point did you feel as though, there is nothing else that you would rather do than this. Did it come very quickly to you?
Lincoln Lee Ming: No, it actually came quite slowly. And I guess the catalyst for that moment came right after we won actually.
So I flew to Myanmar after we won and it was a 20 hour flight from New York to London, all the way to Myanmar. And we visited our very first pilot site and there was someone there who was waiting for us. It was the first person we interviewed.
She was single mother, but she was also a farmer and the whole family was there. And basically what happened was that that year, the harvest was just too wet. it was off the charts. And because it just so happened that we had put a dryer in the village, she could dry it. And for her, it wasn't so much about reducing waste or sending for higher price.
For her it was like, I can sell because it's dry enough that I can sell in a condition that is sellable. For someone like her, who only depends on like two harvests a year. It means that we sort of help recover six months of income. We saved six months of income. I never really understood the impact that we could have until she was there in front of me, thanking me.
and she had brought her children along because she was like, you know, this is what I used to pay for their school and food on the table and fix the house.
And I was like, Oh, wow. Like I never expected that in my lifetime. I would have done that, like help someone like that.
And I think that, that was, for me, it was the catalyst where like, okay, wow we actually have helped people. Like it's not just a pitch that we're pitching at the UN or something like that. makes a whole world of difference. And I think it was the stark difference that really drove it home for me whereas like yeah, we can be there and present and everything, but like, this is the point, this is actually real.
And that is something that we strive for.
Ling Yah: So I normally like to end all of my interviews with this question. Have you found your why? Sounds like you have.
Lincoln Lee Ming: I would say I simultaneously have, and I simultaneously have not. I have, in terms of, I really do want to help people. I really do feel that that is what would drive me and like all the things that I am interested in will in some way be to help solve a problem.
That's what really drives me.
But the reason I say also I put the caveat of like I also have not is because I'm also aware that. Life is long and unpredictable and a lot of things can happen. And to be honest, I sometimes agree with trying to find your way, but I also disagree a bit with putting too much pressure on your way at every stage of their life, you know?
I think there's a statistic that says that only when you're like 38 years old, like statistically that's when people actually do find what do you want to do with the rest of your life? So my advice is always to take it easy. And I also sometimes I have trouble following this advice, like to tell myself, take it easy.
You like to help people, you're doing the best you can right now. And just stay the path and keep trying. And you never know if like another huge opportunity will come up again, right?
That's how, HULT Prize happened. I was never expecting, I was just exploring it. and then it just came out and then it really took over my life and in a way that I'm really grateful for.
And I don't know what's going to happen in the next two years. Don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow, even. So I always think take comfort in the fact that you don't have to be so stringent on your why as well. You can, you know it, but you also leave room to learn more about yourself as you go along.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
Lincoln Lee Ming: Actually, a very good question. Not many people ask that. I think the legacy I want to leave behind is I want to basically create a world where people aren't afraid to achieve and believe that they can achieve their full potential, where the conditions and the circumstances. That they brought them in, do not lead them to believe that they are limited, which is what I see quite often.
Not just in the communities we work with sometimes, Because a lot of the times, they're just as smart as can solve as many problems as us. And sometimes they even smart that they're more ingenious than us. They just don't have the exposure. Sometimes they don't have the awareness of tools that we have almost the same opportunities that we are afforded simply because of where we are born.
And I also see this a lot being the only Southeast Asian team and the whole HULT Prize in the accelerator. The next two years, there were explosion of Southeast Asian East Asian teams because last year's winners would come up to me and tell me like, Oh, because once we want won then, Oh, university, but Oh, actually Asian can win.
And then, so maybe you guys should join. I mean, that's the reality of it, right. But I would want to create a legacy where people don't really think like that. They really think like, I can do it. And all I have to do is just try and push myself and I can do it.
Ling Yah: And what'd you think are the most important qualities for a successful person?
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think the most important qualities for a successful person first thing is to not be afraid to try and fail. the second thing is you need to have grit or perseverance.
And the third is You need to learn to have a little bit of fun. If you notice all the very successful people in the world, right?
They have a bit of a personality. If you think about it, look at Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jack Ma. They have personalities and I think you need to enjoy, or have fun with what you're doing. If not, it won't really matter. You can't succeed. It's very hard to succeed in something if you don't have funders.
Ling Yah: And where can people go to connect with you full of what you're doing, support Rice Inc?
Lincoln Lee Ming: You can get to know us at the our website. So we have two. One is for the UK and one is from Malaysia. So padi.com is UK and patty.com.my is for Malaysia. And that's where you can go to get in touch, support us, to see some of our rice if you want and see some of the work we're doing with farmers.
Ling Yah: Fantastic. And I'll add of that in the show notes. Is there anything else you'd like to share that we haven't covered yet?
Lincoln Lee Ming: I think that, you've sort of, well, that's one thing, Ling has actually been one of the most well-researched pod cast interviews I've ever done, because I think most people will ask me the same questions again, but you actually went out of your way to research on all the things that I talk about in my social media and things like that.
So it's actually definitely a very good approach. I think more people should do that.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 47.
The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/47, alongside a link to subscribe to this podcast's weekly newsletter.
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