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Entrepreneurship at SP - where starting a business becomes a reality

Published on Dec 31, 2012 12:01 AM

Seven years ago, to meet a rising demand for local entrepreneurs, Singapore Polytechnic’s (SP) Business School introduced the Entrepreneurship Option to third-year students taking the Diploma in Business Administration programme.

Students taking the Diploma in Business & Information Technology course from the School of Digital Media & Infocomm Technology can also choose the Entrepreneurship Concentration at the end of their second year.

The programme initially started with 18 students but has now expanded to 38 students. The maximum quota for the course is 40 to ensure that students are "provided with better mentoring by lecturers and industry mentors," explained Ms Dora Ho Yin Leng, a senior lecturer and manager at SP Business School (Entrepreneurship/Human Resources).

Four SP Business School lecturers, including Ms Ho, are coaching the students. Ms Ho stated with pride that SP “is the leading polytechnic in entrepreneurship education".

“Whether students start their own business or work for an organisation, developing entrepreneurial thinking and skills are key concepts that will contribute to their success,” she said.

Ms Ho added, "SP is the first polytechnic and still probably the only polytechnic that requires Entrepreneurship students to invest their own money and run a registered business before they graduate."

This allows students to directly apply what they have learnt and independently plan their own business - usually a small one - from conceptualisation to execution. Examples of students’ businesses ranged from online retailing to selling bean curd with a unique brand name.

Students are given the opportunity to supply their products to SPELL - or Singapore Polytechnic Entrepreneurship Living Lab - a retail outlet which is a joint collaboration between SP and Changi Airport Group (CAG). SPELL is the first of its kind amongst the polytechnics to provide students with authentic learning experiences.

"We will buy from them like any other supplier. Students have to learn to be competitive. We will not buy from them just because they are students but because the product quality is good and their pricing is competitive," said Ms Ho, who is overseeing this collaboration with CAG.

Besides learning at SPELL over two semesters, Entrepreneurship students undertake a Mentorship Attachment Programme as well.

Instead of the conventional Industrial Attachment, the students are mentored by seasoned entrepreneurs who offer invaluable tips on what it takes to operate a successful business.

To further enrich and widen the students’ scope of learning, SP Business School organises entrepreneurship study trips abroad as well.

This year, lecturers and students went to Bangkok, Thailand's capital, where they visited factories, retailers as well as the Assumption University.

Besides observing entrepreneurship education offered at the university, students experienced first-hand the various facets of trading as they sourced for products for SPELL.

From making key purchasing decisions to accounting for the money spent, such trips abroad enable the students to put into practice what they have learnt in the classroom.

Another initiative, the Entrepreneurship Seed Fund, took off in November 2012, with scholarships awarded to Entrepreneurship students annually.

The fund was set up by SP Business School with industry support to aid students with seed money for their start-ups and three groups of students have since benefited from the fund.

Ms Ho sums up the school's philosophy, “We nurture well-rounded students to prepare them for a lifetime of careers as opposed to a career for life in this ever-changing economic landscape."

Background story

Learning business with SPELL

Opened in collaboration with Changi Airport Group in August 2011, the Singapore Polytechnic Entrepreneurship Living Lab (SPELL) serves as an off-campus learning studio for students to apply what they have learnt in a classroom to real life as they manage and run the retail store at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, Basement 2.

"We want to create authentic learning opportunities for students," said Ms Ho, Senior Lecturer, SP Business School. As she aptly put it, "What can be more authentic than being right there?"

SPELL allows students to experience all aspects of operating a business, from deciding what style of products to sell to managing money spent and received, and coming up with promotional campaigns to increase sales.

When asked how business is doing at SPELL, Ms Ho quickly asserted, "We are not in the retail business. We are in the education business. But we have been doing really well at SPELL thanks to support from the public and the hard work put in by students and lecturers alike."

She emphasised, "Everything goes back to this: What is beneficial to the students in terms of their learning experiences here at the polytechnic before they graduate?"

The students learning at SPELL come from various courses, even extending beyond the SP Business School, as "SPELL is a multi-disciplinary programme", explained Ms Ho.

Most students who undergo a SPELL stint are pursuing the Entrepreneurship Option under the Diploma in Business Administration, but a substantial number come from the Diploma in Business & Information Technology as well.

Besides these two groups, the programme also involves students from other disciplines such as those pursuing a Diploma in Accounting or studying in the School of Communication, Arts & Social Sciences and the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering (EEE).

Estel Lee Li Ye, 19, is one EEE student who took up the challenge of interning at SPELL.

She felt it was fun working with other students instead of doing office work. In addition, the programme has allowed her to “learn a lot about running a business, especially the backend work - such as processing inventory, cashiering and servicing customers”.

Nurturing the entrepreneurial mindset

The desire to nurture the entrepreneurial mindset in students has even extended beyond the SP campus.

Ms Ho said, “SP is the first and only polytechnic to offer Entrepreneurship as an O-level subject to two secondary schools – Outram Secondary School and Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary).”

Why these two schools in particular?

“SP Business School already has an ongoing relationship with these two schools as we have been offering Entrepreneurship Education as an enrichment programme to these schools,” Ms Ho replied.

Students from these secondary schools are given the opportunity to undergo an attachment at SPELL, where the SP Entrepreneurship Option students guide them as they take on tasks such as managing inventory and serving customers.

Ms Yeo Kai Ling, 20, a SP Entrepreneurship Option student recounts her experience mentoring the secondary school students: “It is amazing how much I learn why I try to teach others”.