Insights on Entrepreneurship

By Claudia Tan Wen Qing

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 7th September 2021, Advisory hosted Discover+: Entrepreneurship, the 41st edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Ng Yi Ming (Moderator) — CEO of Tribe
  • Jeffery Tiong — Founder & CEO of PatSnap
  • Johnathan Lim — Director of Global Innovation Network Enterprise Singapore
  • Karl Mak — Co-Founder & CEO HEPML Group & SGAG

Wilson Wang — Deputy Director of Investments and Business Development in the Industry Liason Office,  NUS

One of the panelists recommended studying science in University, as having a solid science background will help one gain good critical thinking skills and have an added advantage, given the rising trends in technology. As for entrepreneurship, while it can be “studied”, it can also be experienced. There are many opportunities in universities that can teach you entrepreneurial skills as well. For example, Rag and Flag day in NUS requires one to be entrepreneurial in order to achieve prizes. Students can also take the initiative to approach professors for opportunities. One of our panelists did a semester-long industrial attachment at his professor’s startup, in order to learn about startup culture. This landed him a position in the NUS Overseas College programme (NOC), which sent entrepreneurial-minded students to go abroad to learn about entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneurship is a mindset. Successful entrepreneurial students are usually people who are willing to put themselves out there and contribute. They are typically and almost intrinsically curious. Ultimately, there is no prescribed answer to this question, but it is safe to say that the understanding of entrepreneurship learnt from university can be an advantage when one is dealing with the business aspects of the economy.

One recommendation would be to attend more workshops and talks such as these Discovery+ sessions. You must also have the confidence and curiosity to approach good entrepreneurs, even if it leads to cold calls and cold emails. You will be surprised that many of them are actually quite helpful. By doing so, you will put yourself up on the ‘network market’ and this will allow you to meet other entrepreneurs and mentors. Something else you can try is to read more biographies of other successful entrepreneurs — their life stories and lessons will definitely open your mind and help you understand what it means to be an entrepreneur.

There is no right answer to this, but for the Business-to-business economy, it is recommended to work in a company first, as this allows you to better understand the workspace of a business. Moreover, if you start straight without any working experience, it might be extremely challenging as you may be lacking in networks, knowledge and expertise. However, regardless of whether you choose to work first or not, the most important thing to keep in mind  is to maintain a growth mindset. When we enter society, that is when we start our “education” in the real world. As long as we continue to have a love for learning, countless opportunities will await us.

Having good accelerators, incubators and a good ecosystem are definitely beneficial to businesses. Funding allows you to have space for mistakes and defend your business. It can also help you achieve your goal faster, by allowing you to be more daring in making business decisions and gain access to higher quality resources. However, there are still many great businesses that did not start from this kind of environment — Tencent, Netflix and Amazon for example. When starting a business, it is important to bootstrap and try to get any resources that are available.

Some companies had no access to funding when they were first formed, but welcomed a few strategic investors who came on board after a year or so of running. With the funds gathered from these investors, and the company’s efforts to keep operations lean, they could continue their business and take it to greater heights. However, it is important to remember that every business has its own models, goals and pace of growth, so it is expected that different businesses would be financed differently. Thus, one should fund based on what is suitable for the company. 

Statistically speaking, there are many more startups that are capitalized from the 3 Fs — Friends, families and “Fools”. The last ‘F’ refers to people who are “crazy enough” to support an entrepreneur. Hence the 3Fs are key, not just because of the money it brings, but because these three groups of people act as both sounding boards and emotional support too.

You should choose someone who shares your dream and values. It is also important to choose someone who believes in you truly. This can be done by reading their websites, LinkedIn pages, or anything that can help you understand what is their key focus area.

Learning through pain is a good way to gain competency. When you start a business, you are exposed to uncertainties, and this is where you will notice your weaknesses. When faced with a problem, you have to solve it, and this usually means that it is time to learn something new to solve that problem. Throughout the whole process, you will need to keep an open mindset and a growth mindset — this will help you learn fast. 

Additionally, one should also be humble and look for external support. Many problems that we face in life have already been faced by someone else. It is just a matter of learning to listen to the right people.

Usually that is the case. However, there are also many VCs who have technology backgrounds as well. If you have a good track record either in entrepreneurship or investment, that will help you a lot. Nowadays, there are many opportunities for students to take up an internship as an associate at a VC firm and learn about the business.

There is no short answer to this as all businesses are different. It really depends on each business’ different circumstances. However, one thing that businesses in good form have in common is that they have a good culture, and a clear mission and vision. This applies regardless of whether you run a small business or a large business like Amazon.

In order to remove the stigma of failure, the environment that surrounds us matters greatly. Singapore’s innovation system is generally going well in overcoming this stigma, and is now more aimed at understanding why businesses fail, instead of focusing on their failure. Having a strong support network can definitely help starting-stage ventures to gain the confidence to grow their business and let them be more failure-proof. To achieve this, there is a need for good mentors and the presence of events such as this Discovery+ series, which can guide and educate others. These words of experience should be heard by the future generation and carried back into the ecosystem in Singapore. 

Some companies also faced failure in the mid 2010s due to the difficulty in obtaining funding, given that Singapore did not have many stable and robust VC firm start-ups to turn to then. This caused some business owners to travel internationally to acquire funding, and some were not successful. When this occurs, tensions may arise between business owners and their primary investors, who may feel that their partner is not pitching the business well enough to garner positive support. However, with hard work and time, business owners can overcome their failures and understand how to enhance their pitching styles.

The camaraderie and journey experienced with one’s teammates who are helping to grow a business together and achieve what was once a dream is one of the most beautiful parts of starting a business from the ground up. Starting a business also gives you exposure to even more people, allowing you to to learn about others’ lifestyles and how different they may be. 

One of the top jobs among Primary School Graduates is to be a YouTuber. This could be due to the new culture where many young people have grown up watching content from independent vloggers or creators. This then inspires the younger generation to covet for jobs that are “cool and free”, rather than typical 9-5 desk jobs. Thus, we must come to accept this new wave of ‘celebrities’ from the west as part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem. 

Singapore has been doing a lot to support startups as well. With a high percentage of graduates now earning a higher income, it is easier for them to achieve their own aspirations in the entrepreneurship space. Hence, there is a need for these youths to learn about entrepreneurship and be able to “speak its lingo”.

Do not be afraid to make mistakes, but also do not make the same mistake twice. We will all make mistakes, but it is vital that you learn from these experiences and implement mitigation methods to prevent you from committing them again. Secondly, having grit, never giving up, persevering, and staying headstrong in your mission are traits you must have in order to survive in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lastly, staying curious and being attentive to customer needs and pain points will be good areas to begin with in your journey, and bring along with you throughout the journey as well.