WizPatent's Casey Chan: The 'accidental entrepreneur'

By his own admission, Casey Chan stumbled into entrepreneurship.

He trained in engineering and medicine, but now divides his time between lecturing and researching at the National University of Singapore and creating new technology companies.

While working as an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Chan became involved by chance in a research project to increase the strength of bone cement used in joint replacement surgery.

The system he designed turned out to be a commercial success. He believes the opportunity gave him the first taste of developing technology into a commercial product.

Dr Chan's latest innovations, WizPatent and WizFolio, arose after he wanted to patent a product but needed to sort through existing, similar patents to check for infringement or copyright issues.

"It's not just a matter of getting the documents," he explains.

"There's a whole series of knowledge management after you have gotten the documents."

Dr Chan found the process frustrating.

"The difficult part is making the decision on what you have retrieved, which means you need to decide which are the patents that are relevant to what you need to do.

"Then you need to organise it so that you can make a final decision based on your analysis."

The cumbersome procedure led him to develop WizPatent, a software system for managing patent documents.

It allows users to download and sort patents in an orderly fashion.


Dr Chan launched WizFolio soon afterwards to help users organise other forms of digital documents that can be cumbersome to manage, such as research papers.

"I've been developing software for the last 15 years," he says.

"And I've found that developing software is not any different from developing any other commercial product.

"You go through a whole series of processes. The first thing is identify if there is a need for such a product.

"Don't go and try and commercialise a product because you think it's a good idea or because the technology is cool. You want to make sure there is somebody that wants the product you are making."

Dr Chan believes his previous experience with start-up companies in Silicon Valley in California was invaluable when it came to creating his own company to launch WizPatent.

"I talked to a lot of other people that had been starting their own companies and then I invested in a number of these companies and got to know the process," he says.

But he admits that his lack of marketing drive has hampered the success of his company.

"The launching of a product is something that we don't do very well as entrepreneurs and that is one of the major deficiencies I consider myself as having," he says.

"If I were to do it again, I'd probably raise some funds from outside investors and hire a marketing team. I think that's very, very important. We did not do that, so right now we are just breaking even."


Image caption "I often think that jaywalkers are good entrepreneurs," says Casey Chan.

Casey Chan believes that all entrepreneurs experience failure repeatedly and that eight out of 10 new businesses "are probably going to fail".

"There's a lot of lessons to be learnt from a failure," he says.

"But you want to be able to get up from a knock-down position… to utilise the learning that you have derived from that particular failure."

For those reasons he is adamant that entrepreneurs should never leave themselves financially vulnerable when starting up a company.

"My advice for people who are starting up… is it's very important that they actually pay themselves. What you don't want is an entrepreneur who failed and is not able to recover from it."


Indeed, Dr Chan believes many entrepreneurs fail due to unexpected considerations.

"The biggest challenge I have, in terms of a start-up, is actually not the technology itself," he says.

"It is dealing with the personnel.

"When you are in a start-up company, every employee is a key employee and managing that is the hardest thing."

He says he has first-hand experience of the consequences of not getting this right.

"I have been involved in a number of start-ups. Many have failed, and many of them failed not because of the technology. They failed because of personality."

The experience has taught him that in start-up companies "the whole arrangement has to be very transparent".

He advises that particularly in collaborative ventures, everyone should get a "fair deal" and that agreements should be put in writing.

Ultimately, however, Dr Chan believes entrepreneurship is about risk and risk-taking.

"I often think that jaywalkers are good entrepreneurs," he says.

"They tend to take the risks and they want to get things done very quickly."