Fuelling entrepreneurial dreams in ASEAN’s start-up scene
The NUS Enterprise Summer Programme in Entrepreneurship (NUSSP) 2023, held over two exhilarating weeks from 10 to 21 July 2023, garnered a record cohort of nearly 300 students from 20 countries. Hosted by NUS Enterprise and supported by longstanding partner Temasek Foundation, and esteemed collaborators like the Vietnam National Innovation Centre, Aichi Prefecture, Tarumanagara Foundation, the University of Brunei Darussalam and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, NUSSP 2023 offered a transformative experience in innovation and entrepreneurship.
As participants immersed themselves in the programme, they gained valuable insights into the core concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship, including an understanding of start-up ecosystems in Singapore, Southeast Asia and beyond. They also engaged in hands-on activities to develop and pitch start-up ideas, refining their entrepreneurial skills while networking with like-minded peers and industry players within the ASEAN ecosystem.
Ready, set, innovate!
In his address at the opening ceremony, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye emphasised the significance of regional players in the start-up ecosystem and urged entrepreneurs to take proactive action for future success. “In a multi-polar world, there will be leading market players emerging from each region to serve the region. We are already seeing more unicorns emerging in the region. The unicorns of tomorrow will emerge from the founders and start-ups of today.”
In this regard, NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of NUS, continuously empowers start-ups and budding entrepreneurs in the region. Prof Tan highlighted the vibrant NUS Enterprise ecosystem and its robust support system by citing the successes of companies founded by NUSSP alumni including Augmentus, Ethlas and Tecgras. He added that these accomplishments exemplify the University’s commitment to nurturing innovation and fostering the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.
The ABCs of innovation and entrepreneurship
To succeed as an entrepreneur, it is essential to understand the core concepts of entrepreneurship and embrace an entrepreneurial mindset. Professor Tom Kosnik, Partner, FoundersX Ventures, shared valuable knowledge during his lecture on “Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurial Mindset”, enlightening participants on the foundational concepts for entrepreneurial success. Emphasising the importance of building trust and legitimacy in business and embracing an unbreakable spirit, he stated, “I think grit is very important. It helps us keep going and going.”
In addition to learning the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, participants explored the intricacies of the regional start-up ecosystem. The panel discussion, "The New Frontier: Opportunities in the Southeast Asia Start-up Ecosystem”, offered key insights into the unique prospects the region presents. This deepened their understanding of the regional start-up landscape and the distinctive attributes of each country.
Beyond commercial success, entrepreneurs have the power to make a positive social impact. The programme highlighted this crucial aspect, illuminating the role of entrepreneurship in driving meaningful change. At another panel discussion on “Social Entrepreneurship to Power Societal Impact”, social entrepreneurs from ventures like Social Collider, Dignity Kitchen, SEAstainable, raiSE and Infracrowd Capital explored challenges and opportunities in creating business models for social impact. They stressed the importance of connecting with like-minded individuals who share a common dedication to serving a greater purpose.
Participants also ventured beyond the classroom and embarked on learning journeys to renowned companies like Microsoft, Google, Huawei and SEA Group, gaining valuable first-hand insights into their operations. The visits to BLOCK71 Singapore, NUS Enterprise’s tech start-up ecosystem builder, as well as NUS-affiliated start-ups like Carousell and ShopBack, were notable in showcasing the immense potential of start-ups incubated by NUS Enterprise, many of which have since become industry juggernauts.
“The programme exposed me to a diverse group of individuals, from those with little to no experience to those in established start-ups. It was great learning about their different ideas and how some of them came to fruition. Meeting people from various cultures and countries also helped me break down initial stereotypes I had about them and made the experience enjoyable.”
Bringing ideas and concepts to life
This year’s programme marked a significant milestone as it partnered with organisations such as Prudential and the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) to provide participants with the chance to address real-world problems and pitch their solutions to investors and venture capitalists. The problem statements covered critical issues such as financial literacy for young adults and improving mental health among Singapore youths. This partnership provided a launchpad for students to further develop their ideas and participate in the respective corporate challenges, making a lasting impact in the entrepreneurial landscape.
Throughout the intensive two-week programme, they collaborated in teams and applied their newfound knowledge to develop entrepreneurial ideas. The outcomes were exceptional, with diverse concepts ranging from eco-friendly packaging to affordable prosthetics for persons with disabilities. Some of the winning ideas include:
- Eco Pack: Revolutionising takeout containers with sustainable, low-cost packaging made from natural materials, reducing the environmental footprint of food delivery.
- Karla Bionics: Introducing the "Raga Arm," an affordable prosthetic with versatile gripping technology and an adaptable socket system, empowering persons with disabilities with improved accessibility and job opportunities.
- LocalVibe: Fostering community empowerment and inclusivity, LocalVibe connects users with neighbours, local businesses and services to combat social isolation while supporting local enterprises.
- Skyrent: Offering a leasing service platform to address costly and wasteful short-term purchases, like renting hiking shoes for a weekend or a bed for visiting friends.
- POC: Addressing lipohypertrophy in diabetic patients with an innovative add-on device that leaves invisible marks on injection spots for easy tracking and management.
To new beginnings
At the heart of NUSSP 2023 was a celebration of diversity, promoting cross-cultural exchange and valuing different perspectives. With students from various international backgrounds, their strong camaraderie, built through team bonding activities, played a pivotal role in the programme's resounding success. The Amazing Race led participants through Singapore’s iconic landmarks where they engaged in challenges that offered an introduction to Singaporean culture, while the Dragon Boat race taught teamwork and adaptability — essential skills for their entrepreneurial journey.
“I had the opportunity to visit unicorn companies, listen to inspiring talks on innovation and interact with business leaders. I was left in awe in every learning journey. It showed me the overall potential of a small start-up idea in a less intimating, and far-inspiring manner. Somehow, it gave me the confidence to start my own company and make it a unicorn as well.”
The programme’s conclusion left participants with a wealth of knowledge and skills about the start-up ecosystem, empowering them for their entrepreneurial ventures and the possibility of new friendships, ideas and collaborations.
By NUS Enterprise