Double anniversary celebrations for NOC and BLOCK71

An anniversary gala of double celebrations was held by NUS Enterprise on 26 October 2022, commemorating 20 years of nurturing Singapore’s biggest start-up founders through the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) and 10 years of developing Asia’s most dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem, BLOCK71. Both initiatives combined have made a significant impact in addressing the region’s most critical challenges, playing a pivotal role in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship.

Themed “Out of this World” to convey an international celebration of a bold future, the gala was also a long-awaited homecoming for NOC and BLOCK71 alumni from all over the world, bringing together a diverse community of inventors, founders, investors, mentors, government and industry in the NUS start-up ecosystem.

“Do we win the future again, or lose it?”

In his opening speech, the Guest-of-Honour, NOC founder University Professor Shih Choon Fong, highlighted the early roots of NOC and BLOCK71 and the extensive journey embarked on by the two initiatives. Prof Shih was also NUS President and Vice Chancellor from 2000 to 2008. Today, NOC has a community of more than 3,600 alumni, with over 15 entrepreneurial hubs across the globe. Nine NUS-supported start-ups have become unicorns, while NOC alumni have founded more than 1,000 start-ups.

Prof Shih paid tribute to the dreamers and adventurers whose vision and daring have carried NOC thus far, such as the late Prof Jacob Phang, the founding CEO of NUS Enterprise; Dr Lily Chan, the second CEO of NUS Enterprise; Assoc Prof Teo Chee Leong, the founding Director of NOC; and Prof Wong Poh Kam, the NUS Entrepreneurship Centre’s founding Director.

He recalled the inspiring story of how NUS Enterprise was established around the time when Singapore was facing the impact of events like the Asian Financial Crisis and September 11 and had to restructure its economy into one that was knowledge-based. It was with this in mind that he articulated his vision of NUS becoming Singapore’s Silicon Valley like Stanford was for the world-renowned technology hub, adding that the University would be “a knowledge enterprise that transcends boundaries” with NUS Enterprise as its vehicle.

Like the post-millennium era, today the world is faced with new challenges, such as climate change and social inequity – both of which are crises of the collective and the social – which require business leaders and entrepreneurs with a ‘we-orientation’ to bring about inclusive growth. "'We-orientation' is now required of leaders and citizens, and they must urgently harness the entrepreneurial passions of 'I-orientation' to serve people, solve collective problems and share the benefits.”

He added: “With a changing local, regional and global landscape, we need a new generation of leaders, and especially of the young, to bring about change and make us fit for purpose for a world in which all can thrive in.” (Read Prof Shih’s full speech here.)

A time of celebration, reunion and remembrance

The gala also saw a video screening highlighting the key milestones of NOC and BLOCK71 as well as wishes from its alumni, founders, start-ups, and past and present NUS Enterprise staff. Mr Julian Pan, the son of the late Prof Jacob Phang, also shared a special video message with the audience in honour of his father. Guests were also treated to a sand art performance depicting the remarkable history of NOC and BLOCK71. 

The University was also honoured to have Dr Lily Chan, former CEO of NUS Enterprise, among its distinguished guests at the gala. During her stint from 2006 to 2019, Dr Chan played an instrumental role in scaling up the NOC programme and founded BLOCK71 in partnership with the Media Development Authority and SingTel Innov8. In her address, she shared about her memorable time at NUS Enterprise, her many interactions with NOC students and the origins of the BLOCK71 building in Singapore.

The gala came to a close with the sealing of a time capsule filled with NOC and BLOCK71 memorabilia. Among the items is a tie belonging to Prof Shih with a salmon design, reminiscent of the early days of NOC when he brought NOC interns deep-sea fishing in California. Other notable items include the very first BLOCK71 brand identity guide, a BLOCK71 LiNUS plush toy and the NOC Care Pack given out to NOC students recalled during the peak of the pandemic. 

Watch this video for key highlights of the gala.


By NUS Enterprise


Read also “Reflections on 20 years of NOC”, a three-part series looking back on the transformative and adventurous journey of the NUS Overseas Colleges programme:

Part 1: Answering the call

Part 2: The journey is truly the prize

Part 3: Re-envisioning entrepreneurship