This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Singapore’s Richest 2019. See our full coverage here.
In August 2018, Daryl Ng, chairman of the Hong Kong Innovation Foundation, met Toby So, founder of a one-year startup Film Players, over lunch during a Hong Kong government-sponsored awards ceremony. They became partners two months later.
So’s company was developing “smart film,” a self-adhesive, 0.3mm thick film that can transform glass panels into interactive digital screens when connected to the internet. With advice from Ng’s team, Film Players added a “dimmer switch” to reflect varying visibilities of light, creating the effect of switchable window curtains. That’s ideal for the Ng family’s hotels and serviced apartments.
Ng is better known as the 41-year-old scion of Singapore property developer Far East Organization, a family business started 57 years ago by Ng’s late grandfather that is today one of Asia’s largest real estate groups. Ng serves as the de facto CEO of Sino group, Far East’s Hong Kong arm, where he is deputy chairman and his father, Robert Ng, chairman. Sino Land, the group’s property company listed in Hong Kong, is included in the Best Over A Billion list.
The Ng family’s fortune continues to benefit from premium prices for its high-end properties, which remain undented by the recent political ructions in Hong Kong or by Singapore’s slowing economy. The Ngs’ collective net worth edged up to $12.1 billion from $11.9 billion.
After 16 years in the property business, the younger Ng has joined a digital wave sweeping Asia’s next-generation business owners as they rush to explore the commercial possibilities of predictive analytics, 5G, robotics and other emerging technologies. Ng is turning his family’s sprawling network of hotels, property developments and investment projects into a massive digital incubation hub to explore (and exploit) the frontier of smart home and office automation.
Ng launched the foundation early last year as part of that effort. A recent tour of the foundation’s lab in one of Hong Kong’s gritty industrial districts revealed a dozen innovations Ng’s Sino group is considering adopting or investing in. Among them: wireless chargers that can transfer energy through nonconductive surfaces and don’t require drilling a hole in furniture or walls; 3-D interactive mapping for interior design, and an integrated system for monitoring indoor air quality, power consumption, the number of visitors, and even toilet and waste bin usage.
Also on display was an innovation Sino group’s businesses are already using: AI-powered car-park lighting that saves energy, collects data and sends out security and maintenance alerts. “This is a win-win-win situation,” says Ng. “By providing a sandbox platform for these tech startups, our real estate projects can benefit from their fresh ideas while they can test and grow their tech innovations, and in turn introduce our colleagues and customers to new possibilities and investment opportunities.”