Making Education Experiential
When the NUS Entrepreneurship Centre was formed in 1999, the main focus was to promote technopreneurship education in NUS. More than the teaching of technopreneurship courses to NUS undergraduates, the centre’s director Professor Wong Poh Kam knew that he had to go beyond the classroom to raise awareness and interest in entrepreneurship in NUS. Taking a leaf from the MIT $50K business plan competition, Prof Wong, a MIT alumnus said, “I also saw the opportunity of having a business plan competition that catered to not just NUS, but the whole of Singapore, because no one was doing any such competition in Singapore then.”
Making Ideas Happen
More than ten years down the road, Start-Up@Singapore (S@S), a global business plan competition to make ideas happen, is a dream come true, kudos to the many stakeholders investing in the cause, as well as a succession of capable and passionate NUS student leaders to take its helm.
In its 8th year, the event was fully run by NUS students, with the continuous support and guidance from NUS Enterprise and NUS Business School Alumni Association. Despite the growing saturation of sponsorship, the students were able to continue to raise sufficient corporate sponsorship to become fully self-funded from 2007. Now in its 14th year, S@S have seen more than 3500 teams and 10,000 participants taking part in the competition, helping to spin off over 90 start-ups, including award-winning businesses like tenCube, FriarTuck, PerceptiveI, World Indigo, PurpleAce and Quantagen.
Last, but not least, more than just a business plan competition, S@S has evolved into a highly effective programme to get people to learn experientially about entrepreneurship by engaging in the early stages of the start-up process itself -- writing a plan, building a team, learning networking skills, and pitching to potential investors and getting mentoring feedback.
From Strength to Strength
S@S continues to grow from strength to strength, with continuous streams of experimentation and innovations to the competition (e.g. introducing a youth category, reaching out to the heartlanders, bootcamps etc). They hold fast to their vision of offering budding entrepreneurs with an experiential educational journey, where the greatest takeaway is not the prize money, but the process which the participants will go through.
Drawing from the experience of Prof Wong in his own involvement in the early founding of S@S, here are his thoughts to inspire those of us who may want to embark on any pioneering move, “Borrow ideas from others, but define your own unique opportunity; use your first mover advantage to stake-out a clear brand positioning; recruit a self-motivated team; under-promise so you can over-deliver; emphasize execution and experimentation over endless debates on ideas; and last, but not least, recognize that lady luck gives, but also takes away, so be prepared for both.”