Entrepreneurship at NUS


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!


  1. NUS has not formed our own university culture yet. It is more like a research institute. Can we design a school motto in order to enhance students’ sense of belonging?


    1. This is not exactly the subject of this blog piece. Anyway, I don’t think having a university motto is the right approach. Our approach has been to enhance our students’ learning experience. It requires the efforts of both staff and students, and it will take some time for us to engender such a culture.

  2. I just have 3 points I like to make.

    The first thing I like to say is that there seems to be a general aversion towards supporting entrepreneurship, esp in the high tech sector. I don’t think Singaporeans as a whole are very supportive of local startups. I am not even talking about Creative Tech, I am talking about born and bred local startups that are trying to make their mark.

    In marketing terms, we lack the ‘visionary customers’. The body of individuals whom would sign up to test a new product, or spread their word. It might be because of our size, but judging by how technological advancements tend to flow from the west to the east, I think that it can be said that western consumers are generally more experimental and supportive of local companies.

    The second thing of note is the extension fo the first point. It is the idea of schadenfreude. A friend once remarked to me in private that he would not support his friend’s business because ‘he did not wish to help make another person of his age successful’. I was surprised at first, and I acknowledge that it is a cruel thing to paint *everyone* as jealous and deceitful. But there *does* seem to be a general consensus on the reluctance of assistance towards a peer’s business (young, enterprising) because the other person might become more successful.

    Lastly, I think we lack a healthy VC ecosystem to grow and nurture companies in Singapore. Instagram for instance would never, never, never have made it in Singapore. The same can probably be said for Facebook and Google, where the emphasis early on was about user acquisition and growth as opposed to monetization. High tech consumer internet companies are rough risky businesses, and mishandling the growth process early on can mean a fiery death. Imho, rushing to monetize early on without a clear strategy is one way of doing this.

    In summary, I hope my thoughts don’t offend anyone. The vast majority of NUS students and staff I have met are supportive, kind and helpful. But there are just a few whom make you question if entrepreneurship can truly flourish in Singapore on a cultural/societal level. All in all, I wish the best to all budding entrepreneurs.

    1. As an entrepreneur myself (of a thus-far unsuccessful business plan), I can add that it’s not as simple as it looks to start a business.

      What Calvin mentioned on a lack of visionary customers is true, but to an even greater extent than he mentioned. We not only do not support local enterprises much, but we actively support foreign enterprise. For some strange reason, firms and products from America, Europe and Japan are given disproportionately high credence in terms of the amount of trust people place in them. And their corresponding equivalents from Singapore, Malaysia and China are given disproportionately low credence. There may always be perceptions of quality and such, but from my experience it seems Singapore is one place that specifically respects foreign firms far more than local firms. It makes it somewhat difficult since without any better information, ceteris paribus, Singaporeans will always choose the foreign good over the local good. Some entrepreneurs in particular make use of this local tendency by giving their firms foreign-sounding names. For instance, New York Dessert Cafe, New York New York are both restaurant chains that are set up locally, and really have nothing to do with New York. But I bet you if they named themselves Singapore Dessert Cafe their customer base wouldn’t be as broad, for the same things sold.

      One might call this a colonial mentality.

      Also, there are four barriers to entry for all start ups in Singapore from the four major groups start ups have to deal with:

      1. Barriers from other firms. This refers to market power from established firms, specifically. They generally have broader margins due to economies of scale not available to start ups, and the highly mercenary mentality of Singaporeans makes this a very dangerous factor for start ups. Unless you sell a product with no equivalent elsewhere (aka, you innovate, not just start businesses), you will have to take losses at the start, or else you won’t even be able to start. Even worse, there are anticompetitive practices already in place in several industries to ensure their current interests will be preserved, and Singapore’s antitrust law is not well enforced. Suppliers may refuse to supply goods to start ups, making us have to basically import goods from overseas in order to even start – along with all the delays and transfer fees that entails.

      2. Barriers from customers. Brand loyalty is especially strong in Singapore, and given an Apple iPod and a Creative MP3 player, for an equal price the Apple product will sell in excess. Note that Creative is a local brand, and they aren’t even a start up… they are one of Singapore’s most established brands. The aforementioned mercenary mentality… the best way to get Singaporeans to buy something local is to reduce prices, but that also cuts margins for the startup, making it difficult to make any profit at all. Marketing is another issue. Singapore has an incredibly impenetrable market, perhaps due to the existent overload of marketing by already established firms. It is difficult to get people to take notice of your advertisement if there are 600 other advertisements in the same area unless you include the words “free”, “sale”, or “discount”. Not to mention that advertising in print media and through TV channels is PROHIBITIVELY expensive, and from our experience not even effective at all.

      3. Barriers from the State. The registration of a company entails quite a lot of paperwork including submission of your details and a listing fee to ACRA, and quite a few guidelines we must follow in terms of accounting and such, which are completely not known to people who haven’t already dealt with the system before. We can’t legally just set up a table at Orchard Road and start selling watches like that. This isn’t so much a problem if it’s your second business or if you know someone who has already set up a business before, but to someone who just has an idea who has no business friends, no contacts and no startup capital, this barrier is the first one they have to overcome to even start. And I would venture that not knowing where to start puts off some people entirely, reducing the number that can start. Unlike the previous two points, which kill a startup after it starts, this one prevents it from even entering. Even if there are VCs in Singapore ready to invest in startups with good ideas, the people who are starting the companies have no idea where on earth to find them. The business starting process, if streamlined by the State, won’t improve business success rate, but it will improve the number of startups that even occur. And without a company, nobody can have a successful company.

      4. Barriers from rent. Rent, not labour, is the most prohibitive cost of a business in Singapore, due to our low land area and high (and increasing) population density. If that retail space in Bugis is going to cost you S$6,000 a month to rent, then if you’re selling, say shirts at the standard business margin of 50%, you MUST sell 600 S$20 shirts just to break even a month. Labour cost can be avoided if you do what is necessary yourself at the start, until the business grows enough to finance it. But there is no avoiding the rent cost if you are doing some form of land retail. Unsurprisingly, clothing shops are the #1 most replaceable shop type amongst start ups – most firms that try this completely fail, when Singaporeans go next door to get that shirt from ZARA instead, because of brand loyalty.

      I would argue that it is not so much that Singaporeans are bad people to start businesses because of our upbringing, but more that Singapore is a bad location to start businesses because of the situation here. There are quite a few Singaporeans, who after migrating abroad, have small, sustainable enterprises (mostly related to selling food). Not outstandingly successful, but enough to support them for the rest of their life. In contrast, the success rate for Singaporeans in Singapore is much, much lower.

      And do we really want to encourage people to try, if we know the failure rate is so high? Failure of a startup means loss of the entirety of the capital you put into it, and bankruptcy is an annoying thing to deal with as a fresh grad.

      I can’t say I’ve ever faced that schadenfreude syndrome though. Most people I know would rather that the business succeeds so I can treat them to pizza more often.

      1. There are challenges, of course. But do we want to write off ourselves and admit that we are not of the creative and entrepreneurial type. I think it is too early to give up, and the fact that the world is changing so far does not really give us a choice. We need a few winners to build a critical mass for this culture shift to go viral.

    2. Good points, but I am not so pessimistic. The country is starting to nurture an entrepreneurship culture, and it will take time. NUS’ various programmes, particularly the NOC, have generated substantial interest, and if we continue on this strong trajectory, we will have a critical mass of innovative and creative entrepreneurs. Slowly but surely, we will get them. I was surprised by your mention of “schadenfreude” – such a behavior is highly undesirable and reflective of our competitive culture.

  3. Dear Sir,

    While there are faculties in NUS Enterprise-NUS Entrepreneurship Centre who can promote Innovation and Entrepreneurship in NUS, we would like to point out that there are many student groups such as NUS Entrepreneurship Society (NES) http://www.nes.org.sg, which helps to build the community of Student Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial culture in NUS too.

    These groups should be more publicised from bottom up in order for students to see the enterprising community in NUS too.

    Through empowerment, and leading by example, is what we believe as the best way to convince more in the NUS community to step up in building the next big start-up.

    It would be great if such student groups can be mentioned in future topics related to entrepreneurship too.

    Thank you!

    Best Regards,
    20th President,
    NUS Entrepreneurship Society
    ‘Building the Entrepreneurial Mindset’


    1. Dear Dexin, yes, I am aware of your Society’s efforts. I should have mentioned it in the blog piece too. Keep up the good work that you and your team has done!

      1. Thanks Sir for the recognition.

        There’s a lot of entrepreneurial events and initiatives, and that’s because we believe in building the culture from ground-up as students.


  4. Dear Prof. Tan

    As a NOC current-batch student in Stockholm, the importance of entrepreneurship has been realized and our school is still the flag-ship in this area.
    However, there are so many things need to be done; first and foremost, NUS needs a her own culture which encourages creativity and dare-to-fail spirit. Too many exams and too many home-works which only ask student memorize more and more doesn’t help anything. And I’d love to see more project-based and inter-disciplined modules coming. Only by doing so, students have more chances to really understand what we need to learn and to meet students from other faculties – the key factor to form up a successful start-up.
    After one year of living in European entrepreneurship environment, I really believe that NUS and Singapore can do better than what we have right now, and much better than any other cities.

    Thanks for your great post. It’s absolutely worth-reading.

    1. Dear Darren, indeed we are well ahead of many top universities in the entrepreneurship push. You are also correct that the grade-driven culture in NUS is not conducive to risk taking. We will need to change the learning culture. You may have noticed that the RC Curriculum, S/U framework, etc., are active steps towards changing our grade-driven learning culture.

  5. I’m sorry if this is out of topic. But very recently, there is a student trying to appeal for NUS by creating a website and a social movement.
    His name is Alvin Kwang. Not sure if he will succeed, but he’s winning our hearts, his message is invading Facebook, Twitter and Google+ right now.
    NUS needs more students who dare to think out of box.
    Please consider him.

    1. It is indeed out of topic, but more importantly, he’s not the only one who didn’t manage to get in NUS via normal channels.

      1. If we accept him just based on the fact that he’s launched a campaign for himself, we will set a precedent for everyone else to do the same. What makes him special enough that he must enter… and what will differentiate him from future imitators? If it’s only that “he’s the first to try it”, that isn’t much of a recommendation. What benefit will he offer to NUS as an institution, and to our schoolmates at NUS, if he is allowed to matriculate?

      2. If he is truly capable of persuading enough people to his cause, that guy’s a marketing genius. What additional benefit would education serve? Does he want to come in here for the purpose of knowledge and learning? Or does he want to study here to enhance his employability? If it is just an employability thing, I bet SOME marketing firm out there will have noticed his campaign, and he may have a job waiting for him if he applies to those. What benefit can NUS offer to him as a student, and what can he benefit from the people here, if he is allowed to matriculate?

      I have neither the authority to say anything concrete about his request, nor any personal interest in his plea, neither a supportive one or to object to it. But I feel it would be important to consider these factors over only just the surface factors of his campaign.

      1. http://metacog.tumblr.com/post/21557726897/the-curious-case-of-alvin-wangs-nus-appeal

        So it seems we were misled, and Alvin Wang is actually an NUS student who’s applying for a change of course from Information Systems to Computer Science, not someone who was rejected from NUS entirely.

        I’d need confirmation since this article is just about as authoritative as his appeal itself – namely, not at all – but if the author’s facts are right, then this is actually an example of someone who you might not want to support. Twisting facts to make a stronger appeal isn’t exactly a good recommendation for integrity.

    2. Jack has some good points which he had made. Also, there is more to Alvin’s story, but the University is constrained by privacy rules to reveal the full story. This puts the University automatically into a defensive position.

  6. Thanks Jack for your thoughtful comment. To some extent, i agree with you.
    But maybe here is not good place to discuss about this, and i believe that everyone has an own view.
    I trust NUS will make a convincing final decision on this.

  7. I would like to add that an X-factor is whether the founder/ co-founder is persuasive and has the people’s skills to sell his/her idea. For eg. a property agent knows that the market is saturated with many other agents. For an agent to do well, he/she must have some stand-out factor (not necessarily something product or tangible) but some good EQ skills to sell ice to Eskimo.

    Even if a business is tried and tested but if the founder has good leadership, vision and good persuasive skills, he/she can make it. For example, Dell computer, Zuji online travel or $1.99 Shops. These businesses are nothing innovative or high-tech but for some reason, they just work.

    1. I cannot quite agree with you here. The strength of the business model is more important than the personality of the founder for one simple reason:

      If the founder isn’t very good at selling the product, he can always hire someone who is to do the job.

      But if the business model doesn’t have a niche to fill, nothing will save the startup from oblivion.

      Dell sells personal computers at low prices, at least back then, and competed with IBM via margins and lower costs. Zuji aggregates information and thus performs the necessary research for travelling on behalf of the customer, and when the deal is secured they take a cut for that arrangement service. 1.99 shops sell low value items for low prices for the impulse buy, as S$2 is not quite enough of a price barrier to stop an itchy finger. Though I must say the last one more or less died in Singapore with the single exception of Daiso, because the shops couldn’t survive once the initial hooha died down. S$8,000 a month means you must sell 8000 S$2 items in a month… and we haven’t even added in labour cost yet.

  8. I need to make an unpopular statement/ suggestion. This talk about entrepreneurship. Is it an indirect/ tacit admission that we have stretched our limits and resources until there is insufficient job opportunities for graduates. For example, Education in South Korea.


    Glutted with graduates, many South Koreans have been prompted to start their own business. Personally, entrepreneurship is not for anyone. I would love to graduate and have a job to gain experience first and grow my contacts rather than just plunge into entrepreneurship straight after I graduate.

    1. Entrepreneurship is for those people who have a good idea on how to create a sustainable business, and the desire to bet money that the idea will work. A salaryman will hardly ever get past a certain pay ceiling set by the company, but business owners’ only ceiling is reality – the price for that trade is that salarymen rarely go bankrupt, but business starters go bankrupt far more often than succeed.

      I’ve a different idea as to how we can solve the graduate glut problem in a more efficient way, but it might be off-topic for now, for after all the stated topic isn’t the glut. But if this is truly the driving force behind the post I could talk more about it if necessary.

      The job opportunities are out there, statistically. The problems are more of:

      1. Job mismatch. The openings either require experience graduates do not possess, or require less educational qualification than a degree. Nothing can be done about the former by the individual; the latter, it is a choice between unemployment or underemployment. This is brought about by too many people going through the education system and insufficient graduate-level jobs to support that number of graduates. But if you can be satisfied doing a diploma level job with a degree at a diploma holder’s asking salary, there will be that job.

      2. I’d hate to say this, but job discrimination. We have far higher living costs in Singapore due to rent/housing than competitors from the region. An applicant who can live with a lower salary will be hired over one of us ceteris paribus. In particular, women have a higher employability in service fields (just look for the line “men need not apply” both in publication and when rejected in initial interviews) due to a perception that people would prefer to deal with women than men in that line of work, true or otherwise. And Singaporean men have the lowest employability for a given asking salary because unlike any other applicant type, MINDEF may recall us for ICT during the point that a company needs us the most, which is something companies want to avoid wherever possible. Until there is a solid antidiscrimination law in Singapore, this can’t change.

      To bring it back to your post, I don’t think that our limits have been fully stretched yet. Entrepreneurship from a societal point of view has the primary purpose of growing productive capacity – that is, GDP – instead of growing employment, which is kind of a side benefit.

      I’d venture entrepreneurship is for some people, but after my experience doing it it’s probably not for me. Unless I suddenly come up with a brilliant idea, I probably won’t try the same kind of thing in Singapore in the near future.

      1. I think it is much more challenging to be an entrepreneur, but the returns can be very attractive. I do not have to provide examples as there are plenty. As far as Singapore is concerned, in general, we do not have the situation in which graduates cannot find graduate-level jobs. There are a group of graduates who have had difficulties, but the number is small.

  9. Dear Sir,

    I am currently undergoing the NOC program in Stockholm. To be honest, I was one of the students who always considered ‘tried and tested’ jobs to be the only way to go. But having learnt about entrepreneurship and worked in an extremely entrepreneurial company for 8 months now, I am excited by the ideas and opportunities that are out there to capitalize on, challenged by the difficulties that the entrepreneurs I meet face, and humbled by the passion and drive they put into it.
    The fact that my company specialises in developing innovation capabilities has also inspired me to think creatively.
    I have to admit I shared similar views on entrepreneurship with Edmund (nothing personal) before, but I completely disagree that entrepreneurs are people who cannot find a job (and therefore create their own). Working alongside friends (especially those who are different from me and more creative than I am) has also provided me a good network.

    So, I believe NOC, overseas and local internships and basically any job opportunities (temporary or otherwise) which are abundand in NUS (and I’m sure in other universities as well) serve as great platforms to network, get ideas and form our own.
    But students are just not attuned to the opportunities, or not attuned to thinking about looking for opportunities when they go for internships and jobs. The difference with NOC is that the whole basis of the program is to learn how to look for opportunities and capitalize on them, and perhaps this spirit could be brought into the normal cirriculum for university students somehow.

    1. Thanks for the compliments – it is important for students like you to promote the NOC experience, and to share your experiences with junior students. We should also try to improve our “marketing” – I was amazed to find out that there are students who do not know about SEP and NOC! Part of our challenge is that our University has grown too big, and communications, especially through emails, have not been fully effective.

  10. “Eventually, the panel of judges selected 4 proposals for test-bedding at NUS: SnapSell, Intraix, YourKaki and Munshi Labs.”………. the above 4 are IT apps or IT which are highly scalable and have lower entries of barrier. I am wondering how come hard core engineering or sciences such as photocatalysis or medical sciences couldn’t make it for the 4 shortlisted proposals?

    Is it because the entry barrier for these hard core engineering and sciences are too high to succeed because they have to pass through regulations such as FDA, HACCP and others to get market acceptance?

  11. To add to that, we might consider ‘affirmative action’ to help hard core engineering and sciences start-ups. basically those mobile gadgets like phone apps are highly scalable start-ups which can attract funding anytime while those which require intensive academic research may require more technical help, more help to get certified or accreditated.

    1. It should be the consumers who decide ultimately. Affirmative action may not be useful – well, who pays? Taxpayers?

  12. Recently Google revealed its new eyewear which can allow the user to roam with directions, payment and a voice-controlled mini computer plus mobile phone. It was due to a few employees who dabbled in this gadget because Google allows their employees to think of new things which are not necessarily in line with their company vision and can subsequently spin off into a new entity or subsidiary. I think entrepreneurship can also be applied to any workplace and this can be nurtured if you have an encouraging boss and work environment. It need not necessarily mean you have to use your own money, get funding.

    I once worked for an authoritative boss who was a North Korean Dictator. I felt my IQ dropped a few points because she was stifling our creativity. If I did more things and took initiative (such as doing graphic designing), she will not remember the good things but only the negative things (such as spelling mistakes) and would write the negative things in my appraisal. In the end, I gave up and let her give the orders rather than I take the initiative. Of course I didn’t last long in that workplace.

    1. Thanks for sharing this experience. The work environment can be supportive, and it will be a win-win for the employees as well as employers. That is, probably, the distinction between a creative organization (such as Google) and the others.

  13. “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.”

    Perhaps the reason is that honesty, kindness and gratitude are too rare in Singapore. Many people including myself wish to see more of it. Yes, I do value creativity and curiosity, but if I had to rank them with honesty, kindness and gratitude I too will put them in second place.
    Singapore is developing at such a fast rate that sometimes people who are honest, kind and grateful are disadvantaged over more cunning and dare I say more mercenary people, who do not commit any illegal crimes but nevertheless do not have much humanity or morality to speak of. Is it a wonder that honest, kind and grateful people are getting rarer?

    Albert Einstein: “Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

    Thomas a Kempis: “People are wont to ask how much a man has done, but they think little of the virtue with which he acts. They ask: Is he strong? rich? handsome? a good writer? a good singer? or a good worker?
    They say little, however, about how poor he is in spirit, how patient and meek, how devout and spiritual. Nature looks to his outward appearance; grace turns to his inward being.”

    1. My list would be:

      Open-mindedness & Flexibility

      I don’t exactly value courage much. I’d rather someone who gets the job done, over someone who tries in a heroic, flashy way and fails. Like how Dragon Age puts it: “History won’t remember how dramatic your failed frontal assault looked.”

      And something that annoys me to no end is when people waste their efforts attempting something not possible for them to do and ignore the very possible, very productive things they are well able to achieve in the name of “pushing the envelope”. I prefer concrete results to good intentions.

      1. That would be good, but it depends what you mean by “kind” or having “integrity”.

        To be really honest, many “esteemed” CEOs might not make the cut going by most definitions.


      2. On the other hand, there are many stories of people working on ideas which have been deemed to be impractical or useless, but eventually succeeding. Perhaps we should not be too quick to make a judgment?

    2. I do not disagree that integrity is very important. My point is the “creativity” should have been higher on the list.

  14. I prefer open-mindedness and flexibility and creativity. I believe that these people are more non-judgemental and fun-loving. I have been in poor working relationships in which the bosses have too much integrity until they are inflexible and go by the book so much that it became insufferable.

    I am surprised that NOC only allows students to go. It might be good to allow managers and directors to go on such NOC trips too. Many times, whether or not, a person/ employee have the best potential also depends highly if the manager has the right attributes to encourage, motivate their subordinates.

    Sometimes, (speaking from experience) a manager is promoted to director is because he/she knows a lot in his/her area of work and therefore is promoted. However, once they are promoted, they lose their ability to motivate their subordinates and oppress them.

    I have worked for a few bosses who are also very controlling, very domineering. They are very good workers who are very responsible and very thorough but they lack the X-factor leadership skills to bring out the best in their employees.

    Perhaps it is time to encourage them to go on NOC trips instead.

  15. I have read so many good things about NUS. Thank you for the useful information given to all of us. My cousin is taking courses there and he is vary happy.

  16. Hi, I think one weakness of Singaporeans, especially those who are in university, is that they are afraid of failure. This is further exacerbated by the “kiasu” mentality where one is always afraid to lose out. I am speaking from experience as I find myself guilty of the above too.

    One of Singpore’s most successful entrepreneurs, Sim Wong Hoo, was from Poly, rather than university.

    I think one quality — Perseverance, should be at the top of the list. With perseverance, almost anything is possible. Also important is embracing temporary failure as the path to success.

    1. The lack of any effective social support structure is a significant factor in this. One of the reasons why people are more scared of failure here than elsewhere is, simply, because failure here is more something to be scared of here than elsewhere. If it wasn’t too difficult to recover from failures here, more people will dare to fail. But with a rapidly increasing housing price and living costs, falling behind now sets you back far more than the amount you lose will directly indicate.

      Remember that J.K. Rowling will not have had a Harry Potter if there weren’t unemployment benefits – those funded the equipment and paper she bought to explore that ‘novel’ idea.

      “We never went for an iron rice bowl. Each person has his own porcelain rice bowl. And if you break it – it’s your bad luck. And you look after it, when it’s porcelain.” 1984, Lee Kuan Yew

      It’s hardly surprising that people treat their endeavours as carefully as one would treat porcelain when the society is structured to encourage this very philosophy.

      1. Interesting quote! That worked for Singapore 30 years ago, and that culture still persists today. Unfortunately, times have changed and we have to adopt a different approach.

    2. Agreed – the spirit of risk taking is not very strong in Singapore. In the University, we tried to tell our students that it is alright to fail. In the Silicon Valley, if you have not failed (in several startups), you do not get respect.

  17. This blog generated the least number of responses and comments. Is it because many students are not interested?

    Previously, I was also quite interested and caught up with the Dot.com start-ups. I have also worked in 2 Small Medium Enterprises (Start-Ups) and I can assure you that the salary is very low and the bosses are no good and it involves long working hours!

    The first one was a company that dealt with advertisement platforms in lift lobbies. Something like FocusMedia. Although it was fun and challenging, we encountered many obstacles and the boss cursed and swore every time something didn’t go his way. My salary was less than $2000 a month at that time and there was once, it was delayed due to cashflow problems. In the end, a few months I left, the company went belly up.

    The other start-up I did was on cloud computing services and conference producing. The boss had an ego the size of a moon and was very egoistic. If you question him or challenge his authority, he will get even with you. He also controls everything and micro-manages because he is afraid that you betray him. We also had to work long hours and in that company his other ‘foreign talent’ on S-passes work from 9am to 8pm and we local talents had to work just as hard. Very tough.

    Big organisations, although bureacratic, do not have to worry so much about the bottomline. I have also worked in big organisations before and from what I observe, if you are an order-taker, stay obedient and stay silent, you can be promoted very quickly even for a non-scholar.

    NUS students may be quick to challenge certain norms during their academics which is good in some ways. But in the real working world, most bosses still prefer docile, submissive workers.

    1. I do not think I agree completely. Big organizations can fail, and you have seen recent examples of Japanese companies in that dire stage. Once Microsoft’s Bill Gates mentioned something to this effect – “Microsoft is just a few years from failure, and that was why they have to continue to innovate”. Firms, big and small, must be responsive to changes and continue to innovate.

  18. I got this site from my pal who informed me concerning this
    web page and now this time I am visiting this website and reading very informative content at this

  19. There is a book, Change by Design at IDEO. http://www.ideo.com/by-ideo/change-by-design?cbd
    This book is written in IDEO which is famous for creating unique patented designs for companies Microsoft, Mattel and marketing campaigns. I submitted by CV to IDEO but was not shortlisted. A must-read for any people, including CEOs who need to make organisational change or to inspire change.

    For those people who are resistant to change and wish to control everything, this book is also a must-read.

  20. IDEO has an office in Singapore. Click on http://www.ideo.com/locations/singapore You can take a look at their office settings. There is no hierachy and everyone is treated equal. There is a lot of teamwork (as depicted in the photos. There is a lot of fun, colors and smiling faces. No question is too stupid. This is the best working environment one can dream of. I submitted my CV to them but was not called up.

    My previous working environment had all the elements of toxic culture. See below if you agree.

    1) Always check and check. If your work has 1% spelling mistake, she will always remember the 1% because she is extremely negative. If she has no comments about your work, you have passed your probation.
    2) Don’t expect her to say thank you or give you suggestions to improve your work or praise you for the good work done. Her perception of a boss is not to motivate you or to give you suggestions to improve but as a punisher. The more you make mistakes, the more she will enforce punitive measures and write you off in her monthly appraisal.
    3) Don’t expect teamwork. It is all individual’s performance. 4) If you cannot hand up 100% work, don’t expect your colleagues to help you
    5) Don’t take initiative. The more you do, the higher chances of making mistakes and the more she will remember the mistakes you committed and not the good you have done. In addition, she will claim all the credits herself and write it down in her own appraisal.
    6) Generally, she believed in ‘No Pain No Gain; If You Are Having Fun, You Aren’t Being Productive”. If something can be done the easy way out, she will, in her demented masochistic delusionary mind, invent things to make it complicated from Point A to Point B.
    7) It is better not to make the first move and let others fail first.

  21. Why great ideas come when you aren’t trying

    From an evolutionary perspective, mind-wandering seems totally counterproductive and has been viewed as dysfunctional because it compromises people’s performance in physical activities. However, Baird’s work shows that allowing the brain to enter this state when it is considering complex problems can have real benefits. Zoning out may have aided humans when survival depended on creative solutions. A study now suggests that simply taking a break does not bring on inspiration — rather, creativity is fostered by tasks that allow the mind to wander.

  22. While I do appreciate the efforts from NUS directed at cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit among students, I still feel that more can be done to further create an atmosphere and environment where more students will have the courage and opportunities to be entrepreneurs.

    Currently, I feel that most efforts are focused mainly on creating entrepreneurial opportunities for IT startups. However I think it is important to remember that while IT startups seem to be the hot trend right now, entrepreneurship can take many forms.

    Another thing that I feel is lacking is that not everyone in the NUS administration is aligned on the whole movement to generate more entrepreneurial opportunities.

    I speak from a personal experience. Not too long ago, a few of my friends and I (all NUS students) decided to tender for a shop space in UTOWN to set up a cafe/bar. We believed that we came up with a concept whereby we will actively create a student community centred around our cafe, a place run by students for the students. We even secured private funding by ourselves from a private company. However, eventually we were told that we did not succeed in our tender and that the shop space was given to an MNC, presumably because of the reputation and the stability of their finances and operations.

    Of course, I agree that the school will be taking a chance with us, and that we were more likely to fail than an MNC for obvious reasons, but that’s what entreprenuership is about.

    Don’t worry, I may be disappointed and slightly disheartened, but not sore about it any more. I would have felt better about it if the place was given to a more deserving student concept as compared to ours. And it wasn’t like we weren’t serious, we even prepared a 30 minutes long presentation, during the week before final exams to the board.

    Already we have 3 Starbucks cafes in our campus, when many of these shop spaces could easily have been reserved for student-led businesses. Put these spaces up for tender exclusively for students, and see what you can get. You’d be surprised at the number of cool concepts and ideas that can make NUS a more vibrant place.

    Understandably, the school can easily reply that Starbucks can provide a greater and more assured service and financial returns to the school, but isn’t risk taking an integral part of entrepreneurship?

    At the end of the day, I would just like to point out that it isn’t just all about the headlines-worthy events, competitions and initiatives. Sometimes smaller initiatives like having a larger proportion of businesses on campus run by students can go a long way in cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit.

    1. For that matter, not even MNCs are immune to risk anyway. Speaking of U-Town specifically, its Fish & Co. Express has been generally deserted almost the entirety of the previous semester, and if things continue like this it may not survive.

      No business is without risk, it shouldn’t be that much more of an issue to have a student led one than one from elsewhere. At least if it fails, the students involved will have learned something; if they aren’t graduating yet, others may be able to learn off that experience as well, so that option has merits over simply letting another company do it.

      However, I’m not very sure what rationale the decision makers use in deciding who succeeds in tendering for a lot.

      If it is possible, it would be nice if your point was brought across. Encouraging entrepreneurship will be of highly limited effectiveness if the people willing to undertake the risk are barred from being able to do so by policy.

      Inasmuch as encouraging artistic creativity is of limited effectiveness if people who go beyond usual boundaries and perceptions to create something new – the definition of creativity itself – are arrested.


  23. Sometimes a closed mindset all the way from students to alumni in NUS may be the strongest reason why NUS or its students may not be able to create any global CEOs or even earlier spark the entrepreneurial spark or spirit.

    As an alumni of NUS and now doing a post-graduate degree at NUS I believe I can look at this issue from many angles.

    Firstly, lets look at the Science Schools in NUS (like say computing or the faculty of engineering or science). One would expect that just because Singapore is strong in IP and we lack a strong domestic market so the focus should be on technopreneurship. Are there even business plan writing classes/projects as part of the syllabus in the hard science schools like computing and engineering?

    Secondly, lets look at the business school. We read about the entrepreneurship events running around the school by the NUS Entrepreneurship centre. Why not bring it to the various faculties? In normal business schools, there are entrepreneurship programs/ tracks where they have mentors. Insead has this. NUS Business School has a closed mindset in this respect unfortunately.

    Thirdly, where is the cross pollination in NUS which was one supposed reason for the University town? Why not have cross faulty business plan modules? I don’t see the cross pollination that Stanford supposedly has in NUS.

    Fouthly, where is the imparting of Asian understanding which would allow a Singapore based startup to grow into the region? Its not so much an understanding of policy that students need but more Asian culture and history. Where are our Asian research institutions for the purposes of business (as oppose to public policy)? If I were a US startup I have the whole USA to market to. If I am in Singapore, I may not learn very much about the region to help me market to it after going to say the School of Computing or Engineering and yet people decry that startups are going to fail. Surely if, our students become truly conversant with the language, history and field trips to the region, this may change. Perhaps have more cross faculty modules in languages and history and field trips. Surely NUS has to be the OCS of the CEOs/ global companies in Singapore.

    Lets hope some mindsets will change.

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