5-Hour Energy Billionaire Brings Latest Inventions to Singaporeby
Renew Group opens $120 million facility in Singapore
Initial public offering of Renew Group planed in 2-3 years
Billionaire Manoj Bhargava, who made his fortune selling 5-Hour Energy drinks in gas stations and convenience stores across the U.S., is turning to Asia to commercialize his latest inventions in health, power and water.
Renew Group Pte, the startup owned by Bhargava and partner Ravinder Sajwan, will produce machines to make saltwater drinkable at a new $120 million plant in Singapore as well as massage bed-like devices aimed at enhancing blood circulation. Separately, in India, Bhargava will begin in March to manufacture and distribute an electricity-generating bicycle for poor households that he plans to sell for as little as $200.
His decision to move most inventions from his laboratory in suburban Detroit to Singapore reflects the city-state’s all-out efforts to attract global technology firms and build its own version of Silicon Valley. The 62-year-old began discussing the move with officials about three years ago and ultimately agreed because of their ability to get things done quickly.
“They had this facility built, up and running in eight weeks,” Bhargava said, referring to the Singapore plant. “In India, it could take a year. In the U.S., we would be waiting for the fire marshal.”
The billionaire’s decision follows investments by other entrepreneurs in the city-state.
Roger Egan, a former investment banker who hails from New Jersey, co-founded online grocer Redmart in Singapore. American entrepreneur Razmig Hovaghimian and his two Korean partners in Viki Inc., the global TV streaming service with fan-translated subtitles, chose Singapore as its base in part for the proximity to key markets. Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. acquired Viki in 2013.
“The entrepreneurship ecosystem in Singapore is slowly and steadily growing towards a scenario which appears to be attracting entrepreneurs from outside,” said Arcot Desai Narasimhalu, the director of Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Singapore Management University. “Such success stories will help position Singapore as an attractive eco-center for entrepreneurs.”
Bhargava established Renew in 2013 and the business now has 35 employees with plans for an initial public offering in two to three years.
The success of 5-Hour Energy has underpinned the move into new ventures. The drink’s over-the top commercials are ubiquitous on late-night television in the U.S., including one where a man disproves Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, finds Bigfoot and swims the English channel twice after drinking it. With ingredients including caffeine and taurine, nutritionists have expressed caution about the energy drink’s impact on the body.
Singapore Prime Minister Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this year said an “entrepreneurial culture” is needed to make what he calls the “Smart Nation” initiative work.
“The places which have succeeded in doing this, it starts a virtuous cycle -– talent attracts more talent, more ideas and startups are established, the excitement,” Lee told an audience in April that included Facebook Inc. co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who relocated to Singapore.
In October, Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative, told a conference: “If you have got a crazy idea, bring it here and test it.”
Bhargava, who said he dropped out of Princeton University after a year, is trying to raise his profile with a media campaign that includes a 43-minute film about his inventions titled “Billions in Change” that has been promoted on social media and in major newspapers in India.
The one-time monk’s past obscurity didn’t help last year when he pitched ideas to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to provide cheap power and clean water to India’s growing population.
“His perception was, in my opinion, ‘This guy talks a lot. What does he actually got?”’ Bhargava said.
While he now calls Michigan home, Bhargava was born in the northern Indian city of Lucknow before moving to the U.S. at the age of 14 with his family. Proficient at maths, Bhargava said he left Princeton early because he was unfulfilled.
As an adult he returned to India in search of the meaning of life, which led to 12 years living in an ashram.
After that, he went back to the U.S. and founded Living Essentials LLC, maker of 5-Hour Energy. Bhargava owns about 80 percent of Innovation Ventures LLC, a holding company that owns Living Essentials. Innovation had sales in the 12 months ended June of about $500 million, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
“I learned clarity and what’s important in life at the ashram,” said Bhargava, who still meditates daily. “I want to get up in the morning and do great stuff.”