Don't kill undergrads' entrepreneurial spirit

Are undergraduates in Singapore brimming with innovative ideas and ready to actualise their visions, only for their university to dampen their entrepreneurial spirit (NTU students told to stop brewing beer in hostel, April 11; and Binjai Brew makers hope to bring beer back - legally, April 14)?

Hostel rooms in universities are the cradle of creativity.

Billionaire Michael Dell, who pioneered affordable custom-made computers bypassing middlemen, started in his hostel room in the University of Texas. Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page started in a dormitory room in Stanford University.

If universities had told Dell, Brin and Page that they could not pile up their rooms with equipment, there would be no direct-to-consumer computers or Google.

And here in Singapore, we have three promising young men who have had their idea aborted prematurely. Where is the culture of innovation?

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) prides itself as the one of best young universities in the world. It has acknowledged the students' enterprising spirit but said that it was misplaced.

I am pretty certain that Grab, Alibaba and Airbnb have also been described as misplaced, unconventional and disruptive.

The Government has poured millions into schemes to develop start-ups. I would have thought that the least NTU could do was to offer the students booths or pushcarts in its North or South Spine retail areas.

I wish to point these undergraduates to a quote which has been attributed to Mark Twain: "Don't let your schooling interfere with your education."

Michael Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'Don't kill undergrads' entrepreneurial spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe