On 29th May, AIESEC Singapore had the fourth networking session in our ‘Thrive in Adversity’ initiative. We were privileged to have Peter Yang from Empact, Edward Yee from GivFunds Social Ventures, Samyukta Venkatraman from Asian Microbiome Library, Felix Tan from Skilio, Katrina Lee from Savour, as well as Carmen Yeo from the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and Benjamin Lee from Sealed Network. The theme for the session was ‘Entrepreneurship Journey’, where guests shared valuable takeaways for students looking towards the startup scene. We would like to share some of our main takeaways from the learning topic sharing and networking space.
How is the startup ecosystem like in Singapore?
Carmen started off the session by giving us a brief introduction about Startup Ecosystem in Singapore. We may only be able to name those startup unicorns that we are most familiar with. However, there are actually around 3800 Startups in Singapore with the Consumer Digital sector taking up the largest slice of the pie, followed by Tech including Enterprise Tech, Fin Tech, Health Tech and etc.
In Singapore itself, we have a very vibrant ecosystem for startups with a lot of support from the government and the community. Being in such an energetic and supportive environment, startups in Singapore are entitled to various benefits. For instance, supportive
Government policies, mentorship and support from international incubators, venture funding and investments, gateway for expansion into Asia. More importantly, there are tons of existing opportunities for startups to co-innovate with local research and innovation centres, as well as to pilot innovative solutions with leading corporates & government agencies as reference customers.
Carmen also highlighted the key support that young entrepreneurs can get from Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE), such as joining EDGE Community, Startup Programmes and Innovation for Social Good challenge.
For more information, please head to ACE website: https://ace.org.sg/
What past experiences are important for a young entrepreneur?
- Katrina feels that it is not necessary to have the relevant degree or work experience to start a business. When she first started, she had little knowledge on B2B procurement, hence she reached out to mentors on LinkedIn to get their advice. In her case, it was actually advantageous to be a student entrepreneur as people were more willing to give advice.
- From her past experience, she advised against sending a generalised message when reaching out. Instead, do some research on the person that you are reaching out, and be clear about your purpose in reaching out to him/her. Craft each message to suit the person.
How do I find the right team?
- Katrina met her team in the entrepreneurship club in NUS and did not know them before. Apart from entrepreneur clubs, she also met some of her team in entrepreneurship events such as case competitions or hackathons. Here are some tips from Katrina:
- Dont exactly need to get your friends and family
- Need to know a wide network of people before deciding on your founding team because the right team is important
- Felix also shared his experience with us. He looked out for certain criteria, vision alignment and skill sets. It is essential to know whether they fit the vision. Sell your potential teammates the vision and passion from you and see if they really want to engage in it. On the other hand, skill sets are important. You have to know how your potential teammates can complement your weaknesses and make the team complete.
How should I go about getting investors for my startup?
- Benjamin highlighted that getting investment relies a lot into warm introductions. Network is really important. If people don’t know you, they won’t trust you, especially with their money
How do you adapt to changing markets, making sure that you get returns?
- Edward is very into the idea of “Jugaad”, which is adapting and being flexible to solve a problem. You must have a strong understanding of the problem. Also, you must understand your customers and their needs. Being an entrepreneur means putting your customers first and understanding how they see the world. Spend time in the shoes of your clients and see what they do firsthand. On the other hand, so market research to know the ecosystem players
What are the difficulties in starting a business in the relatively new social enterprise sector in Singapore?
- Peter mentioned that Social enterprise = Social goals + Business model. There are double bottom lines for social enterprise – social goals AND financial goals. Very often these two goals are not fully aligned. For example, 18th chefs. Have to put in more effort in training disabled staff etc→ need to spend more money→ higher costs. Even though it is difficult to balance both objectives, Peter feels that it will give him more satisfaction when he succeeds doing so. Social enterprises find it more difficult to raise funds compared to regular startups because they are not able to get significant returns. They don’t have an investors’ ecosystem to raise funds
How do I achieve work-life balance as an entrepreneur?
- Samyukta believes in her colleagues as her support system, and how she can ask them, or bounce ideas off them whenever necessary. This gives the team a greater idea of what to do and how to move on. With the current situation, it is better to know what resources are available to you and how to use them.
- Katrina believes that mental wellness is important to prevent burnout. She takes 10 mins off everyday to have some alone time.
What are the difficulties faced by a young entrepreneur?
- Benjamin recounts his experiences starting out young – the early stages of a startup are chaotic and messy, as there is an immediate need to raise money, find co-founders, and start hiring people. Often, youths will be “discounted” because of their young age, as was his experience in various meetings. Thankfully, he had previously worked in bigger brand names and did well there, and hence built a good reputation which he could fall back on.
- Edward also echoes this opinion, as he works with people significantly older, and also all the way in India. There, selling them an idea can be really difficult. Getting trust and relationships can take time – but persistence is key.
Then, should I foray into entrepreneurship while I’m still young?
- Felix mentioned that there is never actually a perfect time to found a startup. To found a startup, he identified four major aspects – resources, network, money, and team. At any stage of your life, everyone will definitely have some and be missing some. As such, instead of considering whether you are too young, it is better to analyse which stage of life you are at, and find ways to fill up the gap.
- For him, he was missing money – so he obtained help via grants from his university. He felt he was also lacking in his network – so he talked to various schools and did training for them. From there, he found out what teachers were going through, which helped greatly in building his network.
Finally, what traits should a startup founder possess or work on?
- Edward believes strongly that persistence is key – if you fail, try and try again. Also, make sure you are passionate about the industry you wish to foray into.