Start-up life in Silicon Valley

25 January 2017 | EducationEntrepreneurship
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From left: Ron, Vinod, Rafikah and Andre taking in the sights in Mountain View

For NUS students Sre Vinod Seenivasan, Ron Teo De Zhao, Rafikah bte Mohamed Halim and Andre Tan, the highlight of their 2016 was spending much of the year immersed in an experience like no other at the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme in Silicon Valley, California.

The four were part of 95 students who went to the NOC in Silicon Valley in 2016 for a one-year stint, where they interned with technology start-ups as software engineers, marketing executives or other roles, and earned credits studying at the universities there in the evenings.

For them, the NOC was more than an opportunity to make new friends, learn new culture, and experience student life in a foreign country – it was a chance to be in the heart of one of the most entrepreneurial communities in the world, and more importantly it was a journey of self-discovery. In this challenging environment, they also discovered new traits about themselves that they could hone for their future development.

Vinod is a Year 4 NUS Mechanical Engineering student, who found added motivation to acquire more knowledge after seeing how his expertise contributed to his internship role as a software QA engineer in a Californian start-up.

“It triggered my curiosity for learning and knowledge. I returned to Singapore and NUS, more motivated to continue learning. This is my last year, and I’m taking classes in microprocessors and internal combustion engines to get useful knowledge which I hope to use in my start-up ventures,” said Vinod, who went to Silicon Valley on the NOC programme last year.

Ron, a final year NUS Computing student majoring in information systems, discovered his ability to negotiate business deals with older and more experienced executives as a business development executive with a California-based startup accelerator called Plug and Play.

“I was only an intern but my managers expected me to close business deals with CEOs and senior executives. I learnt how to express myself better and be more confident so that I can do my job,” said Ron.

Vinod and Ron recently returned from their one-year NOC stint in Silicon Valley.

NOC SV 4

For Rafikah, Andre, Vinod and Ron, the NOC experience was a journey of self discovery

Year 3 NUS Business student Rafikah took up the NOC programme in hopes of exploring entrepreneurship and making the most of her time to participate in many start-up activities like hackathons in Silicon Valley. For Rafikah, juggling school, work and other activities was no walk in the park, and she advised that perseverance is needed.

“Time is always ticking; there’s so much to do here. It’s useful to set goals around entrepreneurship and I found I could persevere and uphold them,” said Rafikah, who is currently in the midst of her internship at Stellar Loyalty, a customer loyalty start-up.

For NUS Computing student Andre, the NOC programme saw him re-affirming his passion for data science. A business analytics major, his internship with social gaming network PlayPhone provided him with a larger data set for him to analyse.

Andre and Rafikah are still in Silicon Valley completing their NOC programme and will return to Singapore in mid-2017.

Over 2,100 alumni have returned from the NOC programme since it started in 2002. Collectively, NOC students and alumni have set up over 270 companies to date. The NOCs are now located in nine entrepreneurial cities across the world, with Lausanne, Switzerland and Munich, Germany as the latest additions in 2016.

Vinod also shared, “For students who want to be entrepreneurs and don’t know where to begin, the NOC is a good platform to broaden their skills and gain knowledge in a particular area. I view it as a life-changing experience and a must-have for wannabe entrepreneurs.”

Ron believes that while not all NOC participants will become entrepreneurs, the experience will nonetheless help them in their careers.

“It’s important to know what’s your purpose in life, what you should look for,” he stresses. “When you live in a foreign country, working and studying, juggling your time, you have to depend on yourself because there’s no family to provide you with back-up plans. This is reality. Now that I’m back in Singapore, I’m more appreciative of the NOC experience.”

By Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer who has been covering innovation and entrepreneurship since the first dotcom era in the 1990s.