Last month, the Straits Times conducted a survey of about 500 people on the values that mattered most to them. Honesty, kindness and gratitude came up tops. Curiousity was ranked last; creativity and courage were not too far from the bottom. Perhaps the sample size is too small for us to have any conclusive sense. But a few were quick to jump in to say that this is why we do not have great inventions and Nobel laureates.
Do Singaporeans have what it takes to stay relevant, ahead and prosperous in the next 50 years? Singapore has done well in the past 47 years. We have first world infrastructure (some may not agree, with the recent MRT breakdowns), the rule of law, reliable regulatory frameworks, and a hardworking and resilient labour force. But, in this innovation-driven era, ideas, creativity and enterprise – these are what will shape and define our future. You may like to read this great article by Farhad Manjoo on the competition in the IT industry.
Last Friday, I was invited to be a judge for the inaugural NUSSU Test-Bed Programme, a joint initiative by NUSSU and NUS Enterprise. Our students and alumni submitted a total of 63 business proposals, of which 10 were shortlisted to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges. The panel would select a few of the winning ideas which will be test-bedded in NUS. NUS, with its 45,000 staff and students, provides a ready ‘customer’ base to seed and spawn these ideas.
Entrepreneurship can be a daunting endeavour. It begins with curiosity, ideas and dreams, of a product, technology or service that could bring value to society. However, it does not stop there. The next step entails venturing into the unknown – attempting to translate this idea into fruition. Much work goes into sourcing for support and resources to develop and fine-tune the product or service. And finally, the greatest challenge beholds, to capture and harness the value created in the marketplace.
While we know that it is important to nurture entrepreneurial skills and mindsets, some would say that the Asian upbringing is not particularly conducive for this purpose. In our growing years, many of us try not to question or challenge our parents, elders or teachers too much, as we do not want to be misconstrued as being disrespectful. Many parents prefer their children to pursue tried and tested professional careers, rather than to venture into start-ups.
I am thus very heartened by Friday’s event. The ideas of the 10 shortlisted teams are testament that there are budding seeds of adventure and enterprise within our community. I applaud and commend each team for their efforts. In formulating the business proposals, these students have had to “think outside of the box”, and though the course, they would have developed a sense of opportunism and savvy. It is an experience that textbooks cannot impart, yet the wisdom and acumen gained will come in useful in their future endeavours.
Eventually, the panel of judges selected 4 proposals for test-bedding at NUS: SnapSell, Intraix, YourKaki and Munshi Labs. SnapSell is an app that will make selling and buying of second-hand items such a breeze and a delight. Intraix is an energy management system which incorporates an interesting gaming/challenge component. YourKaki is a refreshing one-stop community and directory for sport enthusiasts. And finally, Munshi Labs will facilitate researchers, consultancy firms and the like, with an easy database of respondents for research and surveys. There was a proposal (i.e., Clault which ensures security in cloud-based storage and applications) for which the judges thought was highly marketable, but unsuitable for test-bedding in NUS. Congratulations to all the teams for your fine participation.
I also wanted to also convey the message to our students that if you think you have an enterprising knack, or if you are curious about creativity and innovation, there are developmental avenues and opportunities in NUS you can explore. The NUS Entrepreneurship Centre has been actively supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship endeavours within the university community. The Centre provides physical incubation space to NUS startup companies, and mentoring, financial and marketing support, as well as business network access that is vital for small businesses to thrive and take off.
Or perhaps, you will relish a work-study stint in an entrepreneurial hub. Take a look at the NUS Overseas College Programme (NOC). NOC is a distinct flagship educational programme which gives students the opportunity to be immersed in leading entrepreneurial hubs, such as Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Stockholm, China, India and Israel. NOC students spend a year in these hubs, working as full-time interns in high-tech start-ups or innovative companies; they learn directly from founders and entrepreneurs, and witness firsthand, the business and operating environment. At the same time, NOC students will read entrepreneurship-related or discipline-based courses at established NUS partner universities at these overseas locations.
Finally, may I share a quote from Samuel Ullman, an American poet. He once aptly described youth as a state of mind – it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. This sums up the spirit of entrepreneurship that we hope will flourish in our community. Stay youthful, always!