(Source: www.hey.ntu.edu.sg)

Feature

Off to a good start

The Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme throws NTU students into the start-up pool in global entrepreneurial hubs. Derek Rodriguez finds out how being part of the start-up eco-system puts them on the track to future success

  • A student in front of the New Town Hall in Munich, Germany

    Though based in London, Faris Toh’s responsibilities require him to travel to other parts of Europe, including Brussels, Paris and Munich.

  • A student posing in front of a red door adorned by graffiti in Beijing

    Invigorated by Beijing’s creative climate and technological advancement, Sean Chua’s idea for his fourth start-up was conceived there.

  • A student in a park in London

    The Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme gave Soh Zhen Yi the chance to plant her flag in Europe.

  • A student sitting on a cliff at Yosemite National Park

    Edward Yee spent six months working in Silicon Valley and visiting nearby attractions like Yosemite National Park.

  • A student at the Google building in Silicon Valley

    Edward Yee spent six months working in Silicon Valley and visiting nearby attractions like Yosemite National Park.

Do you dream of becoming the next big-time entrepreneur? You’ve come to the right place. The Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme (OEP), run by NTUitive, the innovation and enterprise arm of NTU, puts budding self-starters right in the thick of the start-up action.

Since the programme was introduced in 2015, about 60 undergrads have taken flight annually to London in the United Kingdom, New York and Silicon Valley in the United States, and Beijing and Shanghai in China. China-bound students on the programme can also take modules at partner universities for additional credits. With new destinations, including Berlin, Germany, and Haifa, Israel, to choose from in 2018, the number of programme participants will rise.

The NTU innovation centre in Haifa, set up in June this year, will create openings for Singapore students and made-in-NTU companies to explore the Israeli market and to collaborate with leading Israeli universities. From January, up to 20 students a year will be sent to work in high-tech start-ups in Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Expanding horizons

Dr Lim Jui, CEO of NTUitive, believes integrating students into a vibrant start-up eco-system nurtures creativity and innovation. These qualities are valuable when designing new products or business models, and key to productivity improvements in large corporations.

He adds: “Students will learn to multi-task, handle regulatory requirements, deal with lean manpower, and live in an overseas location. This equips them with the skills and risk-taking attitude that enables them to grow into future entrepreneurs or employers with an international outlook and enterprising spirit.”

For Edward Yee, the chance to spread his wings was a “no-brainer”. “Most of my transformative experiences have taken place overseas – from backpacking across Southeast Asia to meet social entrepreneurs to travelling around India in a train and living in Bangladesh for a month,” says the second-year accountancy and business student, who spent six months working at a data analytics start-up in Silicon Valley, USA.

Similarly, accountancy undergrad Soh Zhen Yi sought out an unfamiliar place as a personal challenge. The third-year student had never been to Europe before her six-month stint in London, where she worked for a fintech company under this entrepreneurship programme. She says: “Other than gaining experience in other aspects of finance, I wanted to see if I could make an impact in a start-up environment. And I thought, where better to do this than in London.”

Still living his dream overseas is Faris Toh, a fourth-year accountancy and business student. Though based in London, his company requires him to travel frequently to other parts of the continent. “I mostly provide technical support, but I also have to travel to Brussels and Paris for meetings with clients, and to Munich where our headquarters is.”

Real-world experience

Most fledgling companies are lean and being part of the company means having to pull your weight and work collaboratively as a team. On the other hand, it also means having a real influence on the success of the company and a stake in it.

“My internship start-up put me through a series of structured learning and let me take up assignments in many areas, including media, marketing, operations and investments,” says fourth-year electrical and electronic engineering student Sean Chua, who interned for a year at a Beijing-based online retailer of beauty products.

“I sometimes slept for only three hours a day,” adds Sean. “My hard work paid off when the CEO recognised my commitment and put me in charge of a data analytics project. I went through over 30,000 records documenting our competitors’ traits and prices. It was all worth it when my findings resulted in an improved pricing model.”

Third-year marketing student Lee Jia Yung, whose primary job scope was managing a Shanghai-based education technology firm’s social media accounts, found himself going beyond his area of expertise too. “I was increasingly given more responsibilities, including sourcing for partnerships and customer relationship management. I even organised the company’s first offline event to promote our products to customers.”

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View from the inside

Witnessing a young organisation growing from the inside provides valuable insight into what makes a start-up successful. For NTU students, it’s also a risk-free way of gaining solid exposure for their future ventures.

Edward was particularly impressed by the pay-it-forward culture in Silicon Valley, and found that many successful people were willing to sit down and offer advice over a cup of coffee.

“It was inspiring to see how talented people were trying to make a positive impact in the world. The drive to change the world for the better was palpable and contagious, and that’s something I hope to bring to Singapore, especially as I’m starting a social enterprise of my own that aims to provide financial aid to social missions in South Asia,” he says.

Be the next big thing

Another perk of the Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme is the help and mentorship offered by NTUitive when it comes to bringing ideas to fruition.

“Students submit a business proposal to us at the end of their stint. And if they are keen, we will work with them through an incubation process, to help them bring their ideas to the marketplace,” explains Dr Lim.

Sean, who founded Sqkii, the company which sparked treasure hunts in NTU and across Singapore, is working on his next start-up, MeU Ask, with the help of NTUitive.

“Living in Beijing increased my entrepreneurial appetite,” says the serial entrepreneur, whose idea for the user-generated question-and-answer platform blossomed in the Chinese capital.

More Info: www.hey.ntu.edu.sg

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