Entrepreneurship in polytechnics: Encouraging students to start own business

Temasek Polytechnic's Mr Chow, 19, started his fighting fish business in 2013.
Temasek Polytechnic's Mr Chow, 19, started his fighting fish business in 2013.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mentorships, offices to support start-ups and business projects to groom entrepreneurs

As Singapore's start-up scene kicks into high gear, polytechnics have also been stepping up their efforts to give budding entrepreneurs a slice of the pie.

Initiatives like mentorship programmes and seed funds have grown over the years, rivalling those of similar ventures at universities.

Growing interest in entrepreneurship among students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic spurred a "renewed push" to support students and alumni, particularly graduates, in their business ventures last year, said Ms Anna Yeow, the deputy director of the polytechnic's innovation and entrepreneurship office, The Sandbox.

 
 
 

Such interest was demonstrated in a survey that the school conducted of 1,200 Ngee Ann students last year, with 18 per cent describing themselves as entrepreneurs.

This is twice the proportion of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students who aspired to be entrepreneurs after graduation, as indicated in a 2013 poll of close to 4,000 NTU students.

To cater to this interest, a fund called Kickstart was launched last year, providing student projects with seed funding of up to $5,000 - up from the $3,000 that was awarded under an older scheme.

Between 2002 and last year, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of applicants who have successfully applied for funding from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Initiatives have also been incorporated into the school curriculum.

At Singapore Polytechnic, final- year students in the Diploma in Business Administration programme can take up a year-long entrepreneurship option in which they have to complete a final-year project to set up and commercialise their business ideas.

About 400 students have been through the programme since it was introduced in 2006, with about 10 per cent continuing their businesses after graduation.

Polytechnics also ensure that students have access to mentors.

Under Singapore Poly's Mentorship Attachment Programme, introduced in 2010, entrepreneurship students are attached to companies for six weeks. Internship supervisors are encouraged to mentor the students even after the attachments.

At Ngee Ann Polytechnic, entrepreneur mentorship programmes for alumni were launched in 2013. Five entrepreneurs-in-residence, some of whom are alumni, now meet student and alumni entrepreneurs once a month to dish out advice or chat about business ideas.

They include Mr Alvin Yap, 30, the founder of gaming company TheMobileGamer and Indonesia- based e-commerce site Laku6, and Mr Douglas Gan, 33, who co-founded VanityTrove, a beauty subscription service.

Since a mentorship scheme was introduced at Temasek Polytechnic's Entrepreneurship Centre in 2005, more than 60 businesses have been launched, including 19-year- old Harmon Chow's, which involves the breeding of fighting fish.

While it started out as a hobby for the third-year biotechnology student, encouragement from the mentors at the centre gave him the confidence to launch it as an online business, Just Betta, in 2013.

And it has seen results, with this year's profits doubling from 2015.

"I'm a science student and have no background in business. But through cross-disciplinary subjects that I took at the centre, I learnt how to pitch business plans, establish an online presence and promote my products on social media platforms," said Mr Chow.

Last year, eight businesses were started at Temasek Polytechnic.

Much as schools are doing all they can to support students' start-ups, Mr Yap, who graduated from Ngee Ann in 2006, said the right attitude and real-world experience are what make or break a venture.

"Academic skills don't immediately come into play when you run a business. To have the guts to do a big deal - you can't teach that in school. But what you can do is to ensure that there are the right support systems in place, for those who choose to go down the route."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Encouraging students to start own businesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe