“The biggest challenge to overcome is getting people to believe in you when you have nothing,” said David Chiem, Founder CEO of MindChamps, Singapore’s largest operator and franchisor of premium preschool centres. MindChamps is the only preschool that draws from the four domains of neuroscience, psychology, theatre and education to build a unique pedagogy and curriculum for children of all ages.
David is no stranger to lack. Born of Chinese descent in Vietnam, David and his family had to flee their hometown to Malaysia in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. He was only nine years old. They lived in a refugee camp—a shelter made of tin—and slept on wooden planks. In face of such hardship, David’s father had instilled in him the importance of education from a young age.
“It is the one thing that no one can take away from you,” his father had said, and years later his dad’s advice continued to motivate David to make a contribution in education.
Today, David is the man behind Singapore's number one premium range preschool, with a market share of 38.5 per cent. Globally, there are over 80 preschools and enrichment centres in Singapore, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia.
Building a scalable solution
The journey to get here, though, was not easy. While parents might travel the distance to take their children to reputable high schools or send them abroad for college, they needed premium preschools to be conveniently located near their workplaces or residential neighborhoods.
Back in the ‘90s, premium preschools in Singapore were few and most of them were located in town. The rise in Singaporeans’ household income also meant that more parents were willing to spend on premium preschool education than before. MindChamps saw the demand and sought to fill the gap. Now what they needed was a scalable solution to set up the schools in Singapore and beyond.
The founder devoted 10 years to researching and developing testable, multi-disciplinary curricula that he could prototype and deliver on a broad scale. To that end, MindChamps’ first preschool was built with a franchise model in mind. This meant that local franchises would acquire existing preschool centres before adopting MindChamps’ curriculum and pedagogy. A central management team was formed to develop and administer the teaching curriculum, policies and standards for operating and managing the centres. The team also oversaw the franchises and carried out regular audits to ensure the quality of their curriculum, lesson plans and teaching methods across the centres. All teachers were also required to undergo up to 200 hours of training and accreditation.
In 2008, MindChamps launched its first preschool in Singapore. Even before its opening, it had reached capacity with 150 students on its waitlist and had sold franchise licenses to 22 operators. This unusually high demand was fueled by years of sharing MindChamps’ learning solutions to educational leaders and entrepreneurs, as well as the success of their enrichment classes. By charging franchises a fixed percentage of their revenue, their franchise model allowed them to generate high financial returns without bearing the cost of operating the centres, thereby effectively leveraging on the cash flow of their franchises.
Their business model proved so successful that in 2017, it became the only childhood education provider to be listed on Singapore Exchange’s mainboard.
Accelerating its growth through global expansion
One of the key ways MindChamps grew its business was by expanding overseas – through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), joint ventures and partnerships. By partnering with reputable institutions that demonstrate a strong track record and prior experience in the preschool market, MindChamps is able to leverage on the institution’s regional and global presence to enter new markets.
Through these acquisitions, MindChamps is also able to gain a deeper understanding of the local preschool markets. For instance, after acquiring several early learning centres in Sydney, MindChamps was able to identify additional regions in Australia that had a demand for premium preschools. After which, they further penetrated the market and increased their brand presence through targeted marketing in the form of media engagement, digital marketing, workshops, open houses and road shows.
To help facilitate MindChamps’ expansion, Enterprise Singapore has been working with the company to identify M&A leads abroad, as well as introduce M&A consultants in Australia and the UK, via Enterprise Singapore’s overseas networks.
Digitalising for the future
This year, with support from Enterprise Singapore, MindChamps is rolling out their MindChamps People Excellence and HR Transformation project as part of their effort to embrace the workforce of the future. This project aims to leverage on technology to streamline their human resource processes, as well as be more strategic in managing new hires. For example, the new system will allow the company to develop new hires quickly by completing onboarding paperwork and connecting them to various work processes electronically, even before they physically commence work. With this increase in productivity, MindChamps will be able to devote more resources to developing new hires, assess current employees and improve employee engagement and retention, as well as cope with the increase in employees as MindChamps’ talent pool continues to grow globally.
Breaking the mould
In the long run, MindChamps hopes to achieve the majority of their income from their global franchise model which offers high scalability, minimal capital expenditure and high margins. David believes that children are the future. And the future of MindChamps looks as promising as the company continues to break away from convention through strong business strategies and digitalisation.
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