Grace Clapham: The people are so varied in their backgrounds, experiences, jobs & companies

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Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance  

Having lived in Singapore on and off for 20 years, Grace Clapham has seen first-hand the city evolve into a vibrant hub of entrepreneurialism.

Having founded Agent Grace, an agency assisting Australian companies to expand their business into Asian markets, and later The Change School, an organisation designed to help individuals in career transition, Grace is living and breathing the startup scene in Singapore.

How do you think Singapore has evolved for expats over the period of time that you've been living there?

I've been living in Singapore on and off for 20 years; I moved here when I was six with my parents. Since 2012, the surge in the entrepreneurial space has really encouraged plenty of new expats to move here and start businesses. It's definitely changed the environment from more traditional types of businesses in industries such as shipping and finance to digital and creative agencies.

How has entrepreneurial scene expanded?

Over the last four years, the entrepreneurial scene has grown significantly with the growth of overseas startups moving into the market but also many local startups being born. What were initially very few players has now really developed into a vibrant ecosystem of various startups and entrepreneurs. Singapore's government has really helped to shape and drive this agenda and now Singapore is a hub for the region and some pretty cool startups.

Within the startups in Singapore, which industries do you notice thriving in particular?

I think it's quite varied. Based on my own experience, whether it's coaching women who want to start their own business, or mentoring in the startup space and through our work at the Change School, there's a lot of people looking to move into e-commerce within the travel and fashion-based industries...but that may just be because I tend to attract startups from that sector or looking to start in that sector! A lot of people are looking at what's working in other countries and taking it here, which I don’t think is a problem if it works.

You founded Agent Grace to assist Australian business break into the Asia Pacific region. Were there a lot of Australian brands coming through that really needed local knowledge?

When I moved back to Singapore in 2009 after working for nearly five years as a Sales and Marketing Manager for an Australian fashion brand Gorman there was a growing need for Australian businesses in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle industry looking to expand and explore options outside of Australia. There was a huge desire for Australian brands to get visibility and expand into the closest neighbouring markets in South East Asia and they needed help in navigating the landscape, knowing who and where to sell their clothes to, which stockists to work with or locations to set up shop in, and how to manage their brand in a new market. So I helped with strategic market entrance and brand/marketing, as well as wholesale, and represented some Australian and Scandinavian brands. I was lucky to have at that time the opportunity to work with Aesop, they were one of my first clients I assisted with re-entering the market and helping with their PR and Marketing strategy.

Would you say Singapore is one of the best Asian cities to reach all the touch points to Southeast Asia? Why is that?

Without a doubt. It's so close to so many parts of Asia. It's an hour, maybe three hours max. Being able to get in and out of the city with ease, because it's got an amazing airport, means that you're going to get door to door to most places pretty fast. I would not have been able to get to where I am today if I wasn't in Singapore because the people that come in and out of this country are so varied from backgrounds and experiences and jobs or companies.

What inspired you to establish The Change School?

When my dad passed away I began to reassess my situation and really reflect on what motivates and drives me. I didn't feel I was as aligned with the work I was doing at Agent Grace at that time and was looking for something more. 

What is the main purpose of The Change School? 

Not everyone understands exactly what The Change School is when they first land on our website but  The Change School is what we like to describe as a lifestyle and learning brand for holistic and authentic living. We provide experiences (retreats, team programs and online courses) and tools for individuals at key pivotal moments of change in order to embrace change, navigate change and thrive in change. We strongly believe that with the right tools change can be a force for good.

The Change School initially started as just Change Ventures; our signature program, which we’ve now renamed Reinvention Retreat. Really it was about trying to find the space for myself, as I was going through a period of transition in my life. I didn't want to go on an MBA. I didn't want to go on a yoga retreat – I wanted something in the middle.

Once we piloted the retreat and found that it was the space I was looking for, we started to see a lot of people in transition, really trying to figure out what their next step was; finding a career that had more meaning.

Where do you hope to take it?

We spent the first two years really piloting our signature retreat Reinvention Retreat (previously Change Ventures) and getting that right and now we've expanded and evolved in two key ways to add value to our overseas audience as we were noticing a lot of our database were from overseas and yet we were not really adding any specific value to them that didn't require them to come to one of our retreats.  

So we have recently done the following:

  • Launched our online course for individuals looking to make a BOLD Career Move which we're also offering to companies for outplacement and redundancy package options- enrollment is opening again soon as we had an overwhelming response.
  • Launched our Change School TV which happens via Facebook LIVE every Tuesday at 12:30PM (GMT+8), or you can check out our YouTube for all past sessions. Here we provide advice and tips on various ways you can make a change in your life and work, as well as provide free downloadable worksheets to help people move through the different stages of change enabling them to take action from the comfort of their own home. 
  • Shortly we'll also be launching our first physical product - the Change Planner. The Change Planner is the perfect companion to help you make and monitor meaningful changes in your life and at work, enabling you to develop more successful rituals and habits. 

Our focus for the next 18 months is to add more value to our overseas audience, growing our online course offering and access, continuing with our retreat and then hopefully expanding our physical products!

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