An Interview with Helen Lim
Helen Lim is the founder and CEO of Silver Spring, a social enterprise that helps mature professionals return to work. Helen came to the start-up world after 40 years of corporate experience as an HR practitioner in the private and public sectors. Here, Helen tells us her story and how at 65 years old, she came out of retirement to start her own business.
What inspired you to start Silver Spring?
While working for SingHealth’s Silver Connection Movement, (an initiative to enhance the well-being and employability of SingHealth's mature workers), I saw first hand the wealth of untapped talent amongst older Singaporeans. I also saw how socially isolated many stay at home mums and retirees were. I wanted to find a way to engage these people and enable them to use their skills to contribute to the community.
What led you to pursue this new path?
After forty years of work, I was looking for ways in which I could have a positive impact on more people, particularly mature workers. While I was pondering this issue, a café space came up for rent in Parkview Square. Encouraged by a friend, I grasped the opportunity to start up Chatters Café, a FnB outlet run entirely by over fifty year olds. That was more than five years ago.
How has Silver Springs grown and changed?
The initial café outlet grew to three cafes but over time we realised that the café model was not financially sustainable. In addition, the café had a limited social reach. So we scaled back down to one café, now run out of RenCi Community Hospital and worked on developing ways to engage out of work mature workers and retirees back into meaningful work. Now, Silver Spring is focused on working with employers and mature job seekers to place older workers back into the workplace.
We are always evolving as we seek ways to better engage the older population. My next mission is to encourage more silverpreneurs to enter the marketplace!
What has been the biggest challenge?
For me, the biggest challenge has been to combine my financial head with my heart. I have lots of ideas that I would like to make happen and come across many talented people that I would like to work with. However, sometimes it’s just not financially feasible.
What are your top tips for young social entrepreneurs?
- Make sure that your business is financially sustainable.
- Ensure that you are really passionate about the business. You will need to keep this passion alive in the hard times.
- Really understand the social issue you want to ad Start by learning about the issue you are passionate about. Get practical experience and learn how the eco-system works.
- Get operational experience. Build up your knowledge and skills on how to run a business day in day out.
And what about older would-be social entrepreneurs?
If you are financially sound and have a real passion then go for it. I think it is really important though to put in place succession planning to ensure that the business continues after you have gone.
Looking back on the past five years, what are you most proud of?
That I have proven to myself I am actually more resilient and passionate than I thought! This important self discovery of one's true strengths (never say die!) will keep us going.