An entrepreneurship bootcamp with a twist

A record 230 budding entrepreneurs, including 100 from ASEAN, are picking up vital skills and building key networks these two weeks at the NUS Enterprise Summer Programme in Entrepreneurship 2021.

The pandemic has meant that the participants cannot be hosted in Singapore for the programmes from 5 to 16 Jul. However they are still exploring the country on foot – albeit virtually – through the immersive video world of Minecraft.

Besides local icons such as Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, the NUS campus, Block 71 Singapore, NUS I3 Building, and The Hangar are also being featured.

It’s not just fun and games or a holiday from afar. Participants have to complete quests in the Minecraft world, learning to maintain control amid chaos; lead teams with diverse resources, and solve problems using new perspectives.

“Although virtual, the NUS Enterprise team has endeavoured to make the Summer Programme fun and interactive, with specially curated segments where students will experience NUS and Singapore in a gamified format,” said NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye at the opening ceremony on 5 July.

Prof Tan noted the key role that NUS Enterprise has played in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship at NUS and beyond. “With extensive resources and networks made available to entrepreneurially-minded students, NUS Enterprise has built an environment that is innovative in outlook and supportive in nature,” he said.

Success stories of NUS-supported enterprises that have gone on to make an impact include Carousell, Shopback and PatSnap.

With almost half of the participants from ASEAN, Prof Tan noted the region’s bright prospects. “In 2020, the estimated total GDP of the ASEAN economies came up to over US$3 trillion, a significant increase from the previous years. Countries and markets within ASEAN can complement each other,” he said.

“As a trading and financial hub, Singapore presents itself as a gateway to the large and diverse markets in Southeast Asia. Singapore is also a conducive place for start-ups to innovate and test-bed ideas, and to leverage on academic research expertise; the operating environment here offers a well-developed business infrastructure and comprehensive start-up support. Singapore is also home to diverse talents that start-ups can tap on; we are also committed to the region’s growth.”

The event, which incorporates the STEP Entrepreneurship Initiative, is being held in collaboration with Temasek Foundation.

Prospering and growing together

“You’ve heard the phrase during the COVID pandemic: ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’. So you flip it around, what we’re trying to do at Temasek Foundation is to say, where one region or sub-region of ASEAN or Asia prospers, the rest of us prosper,” said Mr Benedict Cheong, Chief Executive of Temasek Foundation International.

“We prosper and grow together. Our economies are tied together, our societies are tied together.”

The Zoom chat sprang to life when Mr Cheong greeted the participants in their vernacular languages, with excited participants returning the greetings. “Xin chào!” responded Ho Vu Long in Vietnamese, while Vannasin Phengsy greeted “Sabaidee, sir!” in Thai.

At the opening session, participants also got to hear from successful entrepreneurs, including Mr Marcus Tan, Co-founder of Carousell. He shared extensively on his journey, fielding questions from the students as well as from Professor Tom Kosnik, Lead Instructor for this Summer Programme. Prof Kosnik was an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, as well as Consulting Professor at NUS Overseas Colleges in Silicon Valley.

Reflecting on his journey in building up Carousell and in expanding the firm regionally, Mr Tan shared that his biggest challenge was in finding the right people with similar values.

“Even as a founder, I was pretty fortunate to have (co-founders) Lucas and Siu Rui. We are similar in terms of motivation, how we wanted to start, what keeps us going, and similar values in terms of what we value in life.”

Mr Tan has had to continue looking out for suitable senior leaders to scale the business, take the company forward, and expand overseas.

With more than a week to go for the programme before it ends on 16 Jul, participants can expect more sessions to learn about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in Singapore, Southeast Asia and beyond, and to inspire one another as they work together to develop new venture ideas.