Take risks, try different things: Students learn from local established SMEs

YOUNG people thinking of becoming business owners should not be afraid to fail and take risks, as Singapore has enough opportunities for new start-ups, and fallbacks should things go south, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin told an audience of secondary school students on Monday.

He was speaking to about 200 guests, including secondary school students and representatives from local firms, at a session to round up the 50 Schools, 50 SMEs initiative launched in March 2014.

Sixty-two teams from secondary schools were attached to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to learn about their selected SME's history and the entrepreneurial spirit of their founders and leaders.

During the session, Mr Tan fielded questions from the students, who asked him about the skills and traits required of an entrepreneur and how the government encourages entrepreneurship.

"We have a strong foundation, in terms of education and basic level of competencies established. You try something different. It may not work out, but you try again. If it still doesn't work out, you can always apply and do a normal job, because we have options," said Mr Tan.

However, he cautioned against being too reliant on the government, as a start-up cannot be too risk-averse in order to grow and succeed.

"We are able to provide funds. Most countries don't provide this for their businesses, for example, PIC (Productivity and Innovation Credit). But we are also mindful that this support can become a crutch," he said.

Mr Tan added that exposure to local SMEs will help them understand the viability of local businesses, as well as learn hands-on skills which will hold them in good stead in the future.

As part of the initiative, each team of students wrote an article charting the growth of their attached company and its impact, which are then uploaded on the Singapore Memory Project website.

East View Secondary School student Adrian Espina, 16, whose team wrote on family-run jewellry firm On Cheong, said the experience of talking to established local firms had opened his eyes to the realities of starting and running their own business.

"It's not as easy as it looks to be successful. It's not just about your achievements or reputation, it's also about character - resilience, discipline and hard work," he said.

Mr Kenny Eng, 41, the director of nature-events firm Gardenasia, was one of the SME founders interviewed by the students for the initiative, and took on the role of a mentor to those interested in being an entrepreneur.

Said Mr Eng: "Right now the environment is so conducive. Anyone can start a business. Mentors are all around, and the chances of them succeeding are much higher than in the past."

lesterh@sph.com.sg