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Entrepreneurial Learning Journey (Silicon Valley and Russia)

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Start-Up@Singapore exists to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship among others. At the same time we encourage our members to explore avenues to widen their horizon and make the best use of the opportunities that an institution like Start-Up@Singapore (under the umbrella of NUS Entrepreneurship Society) provides. Two enterprising young members of our NES team decided to do just that and visited far-away lands to examine the many facets of entrepreneurship.

Let’s first hear from Sarthak Basak, our current Sponsorship Director, who was a member of the NES Dream Dare Dive Team that visited Silicon Valley in the summer.

How did you come about going to Silicon Valley?
The purpose of this trip was leadership development and so was organized primarily for NES directors. I applied because I was interested in bringing something back to the NES community and enriching it as an NES director.

What was your driving force in going for the trip?

The Silicon Valley in California is basically the Mecca of entrepreneurship. We were also told we were going to go skydiving so that was a pretty strong deciding factor as well!

What was the general attitude towards Entrepreneurship there?
The amount of respect given to entrepreneurs there is tremendous. I felt like Singapore can learn alot from Silicon Valley in that aspect.

How were the trips to the different firms you went to?
We learnt different things from every company we visited. The visits to start-ups were more thrilling than the ones to big corporations, because we got to meet the founders and speak to them about their journey and struggles.

At the same time, visits to the renowned companies like Facebook and Google opened our minds to a completely new work environment. These companies provide a lot of freedom to their employees, encouraging them to think out of the box. Google in particular follows this “80/20 system” where they encourage employees to spend 80% of their time on company projects and the other 20% on their own projects. More often than not, these two overlap and that’s how a lot of Google innovations such as Maps and Translate have developed.

Did you encounter any interesting Start-ups?
There was one called Love with Food that basically sends fortnightly food samples to their customers, and receives feedback on it.

What was the most inspiring part of your trip?
We got to meet a very enterprising individual named Wilson Farrer, who is a serial technology entrepreneur. She has started and sold three successful businesses and now lives on a ranch with her horse, Scooter. One lesson that Wilson really inspired me to learn was to “Follow your heart”. She encouraged us to follow our instincts and not rely on textbook knowledge as that is exactly what she has done to get where she is now.

Can you summarize your trip in three lessons?
Firstly, as Wilson inspired us to do: Follow your instincts and don’t hold back. Secondly, don’t be hesitant while talking about your ideas to others. They will only inspire you to work on your ideas and help you execute them. Thirdly, we learnt the importance of teamwork. We visited thirteen companies in a span of ten days and every activity of ours over this short trip was planned by us. This trip wouldn’t have been half as successful as it was if each person in our team hadn’t worked towards it. This applies to any enterprise as well.


Yash Vardhan Kanoi, the President of ASEANpreneurs, our sister organization, has a very interesting story to tell. While most of us spent the long summer vacation basking in the leisure, Yash visited Russia on an NES exchange program, and also started two companies of his own. Let’s here from this very ambitious young man!

Can you tell me more about your Startups?
I have two Startups. The first one is called Jack of All Threads and is an online college merchandise store. It is a youth oriented business that sells college merchandise from various colleges in South India. We already have a customer base of around 50,000.

My second startup, Florascent, which will launch very soon, is an e-commerce platform that sells flowers, chocolates, cakes etc. This is a more self-sustaining business where a majority of the work goes into setting up rather than running the business.

What are your future plans for these companies?
Our future plan for Jack of All Threads is to move towards social entrepreneurship model by donating the profits to Friends of Travel society. We also plan to expand into the ASEAN market and aim to become recognized as a merchandise brand.

What was your driving force in setting up these companies?
After an entire year spent in ASEANPreneurs, NES made me very akin to the idea of starting up. I think just being a part of NES being surrounded by all these promising entrepreneurs and being exposed to so many start-ups was really inspiring. My trip to Russia was also a huge influence. Once you start a project, you subconsciously look out for more ideas and are inspired to work on them.

What did you learn in Russia?
I learnt a lot of valuable lessons when I wasn’t sleep deprived. Firstly, the lessons really helped us understand the market. A very important lesson they reiterated was to realize that the product is not for you the creator but for an audience. The talks also encouraged us to explore industries that we wouldn’t even have thought of. Even though some of them were less glamorous, they still plugged a gap in the market.
Moreover, we learnt the importance of data and how important it is to make the most of it. I also learnt the importance of feedback and marketing in order to strengthen the working of the business.

How was their way of functioning different from what you have seen in Singapore?
The main aspect that really stuck out to me was the simplicity with which they worked. Their focus was always to get things done on time and not to make a big show of everything. For example, the focus of the opening ceremony was not to make a very grand show but instead to have a coherent event that engaged all its participants , which is something that I feel is very unlike how the system in Singapore operates.

Did you learn anything interesting about the Russian way of life during your trip?
An interesting thing I realised was that the Russian market seemed to be five years behind Singapore. It was almost like we were looking into the past from the future. They weren’t half as technologically advanced as we are here which was almost very surreal to see. The people were also, unlike the stereotype, pretty approachable.

SEED exposes youth to local social enterprises

Have you always wondered just how do social enterprise sustain themselves? Is it always social impact over business? Or rather, where do we draw the line such that one is able to sustain his business while at the same ensure that a certain section of the community is being helped?

60 curious youths across all tertiary institutions had the opportunity to learn the functions and organisations of various social enterprises here in Singapore. Some 12 social enterprises took part in this Social Entrepreneurship Experience and Development (SEED) initiative organised by National University of Singapore(NUS) students. Among these were household names like 18Chefs, Bettr Barista, Immanuel Beauty School(IBS), Claystreet and Self Spark.

The programme started with a one day tour which consisted of an introductory talk at the School of Thought(SOT) auditorium, whereby representatives from Social Enterprise Association(SEA) as well as one of the co founders of SOT, Mr Tong Yee had a sharing session with the participants. The day ensued with a tour to three participating social enterprises - Dignity Kitchen, Bizlink and 18 Chefs.  For a month long and more, participants were attached to a social enterprise to study its workings and at the same time, participate in the daily undertakings of the business.

A concluding conference was held on the evening of 31st July at the School of Thought auditorium with Mr Lawrence Wong, Senior Minister of State, Minister of Education and Minister Information, Community and the Arts, gracing the event. Being an initiative centered towards allowing youths to experience first hand the operations of SEs in Singapore, participants had the opportunity to present their experience and learning points during their stint, at the conference. It was a highly informative session consisting of sharing their take on the workings of their enterprises as well as providing valuable observations and feedback to their mentors, who were also present during the event. New initiatives too were proposed to the mentors in areas where the participants felt needed rectification.

Also, a highly anticipated dialogue session was held with Mr. Lawrence Wong as well as a panel consisting of five interns from this program. Views and feasibility of the social enterprise scene was discussed in depths, with participants throwing out their views on the practicality of one entering the scene at a young age. The topic of molded mindsets of the young Singaporeans not being risk takers, also took center stage. Subsequently, potential improvements to the education system in Singapore were also debated. Members of the audience too had their opportunity to provide insights to this active discussion.

When interviewed, Chua Hanwee who interned under 18 Chefs, the popular Food and Beverage social enterprise, said, Theoretical concepts as presented in the textbooks do not reflect many assumptions and usually represent an ideal situation. While planning can smoothen possible kinks during operations, it takes experience, especially through apprenticeship, and a willingness to think out of the box to find a winning formula. Through SEED, I realized that there are indeed many young individuals with the aspiration to value-add to the social enterprise scene in Singapore."

His fellow intern, a year 4 Geography student from NUS, Wong Chun Meng added that perhaps the program could be extended to allow more time to gain thorough understanding of how business is run.  He also suggested that future participants can be exposed to companies from different industries during the duration of their internship so that cross-comparison can be made to understand the various models of social enterprise better.

Another participant, Nur Marliyana Amir, who had the opportunity to be in the panel during the discussion with Mr Lawrence Wong also shared her insights.

  Working with these very different but very vibrant personalities, it motivates me and encourages me to keep looking for my passion as well as reminds me to always keep my mind open to opinions and perspectives because not all problems are solvable nor are they all the same. This experience gave me the confidence and instilled an optimism that assures me, there is definitely something more to life than simply getting a 9-to-5 job and earning money,  said the Bettr Barista Coffee Academy intern.

Venture Capitalism 101

An Introduction

Venture capitalist(VC) firms raise funds from investors to finance companies on behalf of these investors. They  actively monitor and help the management of the portfolio companies.  The goal would be to have a return on investment within the period of the fund – typically a ten year length. Venture capitalists thus tend to look out for companies that are able to maximize their financial returns.

What YOU need to do

The first thing you need to ask yourself as an entrepreneur before sourcing out for VCs -

“Which stage of your business are you in?” and “What do you want to achieve at the end of a raise?”

You should not just aim to get funding from any VC, but instead approach the right people to invest in your company. This requires extensive research on the possible VCs and identifying which would be the most suitable for your idea.

Here are a set of guidelines you should consider when researching for your potential VCs:

  • The type of VC fund you wish to secure(corporate, government, financial etc)

  • Which stage do they invest in? (Seed, Early, Growth, Late)

  • The size of the fund (smaller funds tend to pay in the earlier stages)

  • Background of the fund management team (do you know any of the partners?, have they funded company in your particular sector?)

  • VC’s areas of interest (Where have they invested before? And how is that potentially synergistic to what you have?)

By pitching to a VC that is most suitable for your business idea, you would be in the best position to receive the funding.

After deciding on the VC of your choice, you would need to contact them. Instead of cold calling the VC firm, you should get someone who has access to these VCs to do a referral for you.

NUS Enterprise is a great place to start!

Community events such as Startup Weekend, Barcamp and the many pitching talks held at Plug-In@Blk71  are often attended by VCs.

Always have a short 30-second pitch and a one-page teaser handy – you never know when you will need to do a quick elevator pitch to an investor.

Making A Good Impression!

Once you are given the opportunity to meet up with the VC management, you would need to pitch your idea.

Here are some tips to help you pitch your ideas more effectively:

  • Make good first impressions – lose the suits, but dress properly, do not appear in shorts or slippers

  • Ensure that the following areas are covered in your presentation: problem, solution, estimate of the market size, a proper business model, propriety technologies to be used, potential competition, your marketing strategies, a balanced team and the budget required.

  • Be prepared to answer any queries the management team might have, and this means it is a must to know all aspects of your project thoroughly

The pitch plays a critical role in the fund manager’s decision to accept your proposal. Rehearse your presentation many times and include positive demonstrations. Ensure that every member of your team has a role to play during the presentation and be clear about your funding needs.

Also suggest ways in which the VC firm could be of help other than by giving funds. Certain things to avoid are:

  • Asking for an non-disclosure agreement (NDA)

  • Claiming to be the first and only one to propose an idea

  • Trivializing the need to plan the allocation of funds

  • Lying about the potentials of your team or your product

  • Taking negative feedback personally

What happens post a meeting with a VC?

Your efforts to secure funds from a venture capitalist should not end here. Ensure that you send in a thank you email to show your appreciation for the time taken by the VC firm. Check with the VCs if they have any further requests and complete them as required. Finally, you should try to find out an estimate as to when they would get back to you with a decision.

We wish you all the best and hope you suceed in your efforts to make your idea a reality!

* We would like to thank Mr Edgar Hardless, CEO Singtel Innov8 for sharing the above mentioned tips at VC101 talk at NUS.

From the Editor’s Desk

Start-Up @ Singapore, your favourite start-up challenge is back! After a hugely successful 13th edition, the 14th installment is all set to be bigger, better and grander!

The 14th Start-Up @ Singapore comes with tons of new initiatives, challenges and opportunities for all. We have three challenges this year - the Biz Venture Challenge which is the traditional business plan competition, the Social Venture Challenge which aims to showcase pioneers in the field on social entrepreneurship, and the all new Product Showcase Challenge, which is our own take of a Science Fair - a platform for innovative and ground-breaking technological products to be exhibited and refined!

Here at Start-Up@Singapore, we realise that the thirst for entrepreneurial knowledge is unquenchable - and we have decided to do something about this! So, we present to you our monthly newsletter! Away from the conventional newsletters, we aim to create a fun, exciting and vibrant avenue through which the entrepreneurial community of Singapore stays closely knit and aware of all the start-up dope.

Our first edition brings to you snippets from Singapore’s entrepreneurial scene over the last few months. Read on to see how the SEED Conference, organized in July, enthused curious youths to work in and contribute to the Social Entrepreneurship scene here. The “Lean Start-Up Experience”  will give you an interesting insight into a new and hugely popular model of starting up followed by entrepreneurs the world over. "Venture Capital 101" is a budding entrepreneurs one stop guide to the ‘Do-s and Don’t-s’ of securing funds from top VCs and Angel Investors. For an enlightening read, we tracked how two members of the NUS EntrepreNEURship Society, Yash and Sarthak, visited far-away lands and discovered how entrepreneurship is viewed so differently in different corners of the world! Thus, there’s something for everyone in here!

Do read on and and let the start-up spirit fire you up!
As Steve Jobs would have said, Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish and Stay Entrepreneurial!