"Entrepreneurs are born, not nurtured." This saying is all too familiar in many Asian societies, wherein businesses are traditionally passed along the family line. So, bright Asian students have generally disdained entrepreneurship, instead choosing more respected (and better charted) careers in public service; academia; and the medical, legal, and engineering professions.
Singapore fits the Asian model in this regard: It does not have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, and there currently are few entrepreneurs here, born or nurtured. In fact, Singapore was rated third lowest in entrepreneurial activity by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2001, which compared 29 countries that together represent 30% of the world's population.
Although professionals and academics understand the typical attributes of entrepreneurs--risk-taking, innovativeness, initiative, and decisiveness--they have struggled to understand what makes a successful entrepreneur. The goal is to learn how best to cultivate and nurture those desired attributes in the potential entrepreneurial superstars of the future.
Entrepreneurship is now widely acknowledged to be an area worthy of formal training. As a result, universities in Singapore are going all out to inspire a new generation of dynamic entrepreneurs, and they are sparing no efforts in bringing out the best from Singapore's new generation of technology-savvy young people by providing them all the required facilities and appropriate training and support.
To embrace a more entrepreneurial corporate culture, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is transforming itself into a "knowledge enterprise." This is reflected by the university's new Centre for Entrepreneurship, which greets visitors with a friendly and ready business ambience. The centre, established recently to promote entrepreneurship, seamlessly integrates education, research, and outreach activities to propel innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors into the world beyond the campus.
Through the centre's programs, aspiring entrepreneurs get to meet seasoned local and international entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other venture professionals to learn from their personal experiences and insights. In addition, the Young Entrepreneur Roundtable and Start-Up@Asia business plan competitions specifically encourage practical entrepreneurship among students.
To cultivate dynamic and resourceful entrepreneurs, NUS is also expanding its horizons. Five overseas colleges linked with leading entrepreneurial hubs in United States, China, India, and Europe are in the works and will soon provide the most promising students a rigorous immersion into the entrepreneurial process through internship programs in real business environments. The pioneering first group of students in this program began their internships with various technology start-ups in California's Silicon Valley about a month ago and are enjoying their first flavors of the valley's signature entrepreneurial spirit.
The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) provides an equally vibrant entrepreneurial environment and support system for its staff and students. At NTU, a well-established entrepreneurship centre serves as a bridge between the university and the business and industrial communities outside. It identifies research issues of paramount importance to technology and business enterprise development in Singapore and facilitates research in these areas. The benefits of the research are then shared through the many training programs, seminars, workshops, and conferences the centre organizes.
In addition, an Innovation Centre provides a one-stop resource and information centre for aspiring technopreneurs. The centre assists in the transfer of technology developed in the university to industrial partners. Its many joint research and development programs with industries in Singapore provide realistic entrepreneurial training for students. The Innovation Centre also encourages innovations and entrepreneurship by providing technology incubation facilities for aspiring technopreneurs.
Both NUS and NTU provide innovative and well-focused entrepreneurial courses designed to inspire students to become entrepreneurs. And by the coming academic year, all interested NUS students will have a chance to take an elective course in technopreneurship.
For many students, these entrepreneurial courses are more than just an elective. They are not only interesting but also motivating. "It is fun exploring entrepreneurships beyond the classrooms," exclaims Sherlyn Tan, a cheerful NUS undergraduate. "Who knows, one of us may just come out with that great idea that will take us to world fame and money one day!"
"It is most timely for the university to introduce entrepreneurship into the curriculum now," says engineering student Jackson Teo, who aims to start his own technology business after graduation. "We really need to know what it's like in the business world in order to survive in this competitive age."
"It is a very commendable start," says Alvin Tan, manager of a young online business and one of Singapore's rare self-made entrepreneurs. However, he advises, "it is entirely different the moment you step into the heady business world. In this dynamic field, what is applicable today may be irrelevant tomorrow. One needs to update constantly with the ever-changing environment to set appropriate business directions to succeed."
Time will tell how effective these programs are. With so much invested, it is certainly everyone's hope that in so doing, Singapore will inspire a new generation of highly motivated, enterprising, resourceful, and independent individuals with a high degree of initiative, who will buck with tradition and use their entrepreneurial skills to take the nation's economy to greater heights.