Enabling, Engaging and Empowering Entrepreneurs
Guest Seminar, Fall 2010This must be the best guest seminar I have attended. Every semester, it gets better, thanks to our TAs, former students and organizing committees. This semester, we have three very distinguished guests from varied backgrounds:
Speaker 1 - Mr Anol Bhattacharya, CEO Of GetIT Comms
Speaker 2 - Mr Ken Chua, CEO of iCell network
Speaker 3 - Mr Low Cheong Kee (Home-Fix D.I.Y. Pte Ltd.)
Mr Anol Bhattacharya, CEO Of GetIT Comms
How did I become an entrepreneur? It just happened. But on hindsight it has been the greatest decision I have ever made. says Mr Anol, one of the pioneers-in-chief and current CEO of GetIT. With Anols firm leadership and technological prowess, GetIT has powered to the forefront of a very niche market B2B consultancy or digital marketing solutions for hi-tech and telco clients. Their business strategy has been on providing innovative marketing and communication solutions to their clients by harnessing the design and development of interactive digital media content, and content deployment, management and tracking solutions. Their success is reflected in an impressive clientele list which includes: Cisco Systems, HP, IBM and Singtel.
The Spirit of Entrepreneurship
To Anol, being an entrepreneur is not a job per se, but a mindset of challenging the status quo one carries, regardless of profession, such that these ideas impact and bring change to the marketplace, for the better of society. He credits former US President Thomas Jefferson and MM Lee Kuan Yew as such examples to emulate. Jeffersons tombstone did not proclaim his title, but stated his legacy and the things that he changed. MM Lee built Singapore to run as a Company, and a very efficient one at that.
He quotes Jim Collins in Good to Great as laying forth three factors that were key to his Success as an entrepreneur: (1) What can run the economic engine (2) What are you deeply passionate about, and (3) What are you best in the world at. He stressed that the last is a relative concept.
Effectively a hi-tech marketing department for hire, GetIT specially caters to sophisticated clients in establishing and expanding their customer bases. If innovation is indeed an invention with a marketing twist, GetIT makes use of the internet (particularly social media) as a medium in giving and communicating Value of the clients business across multiple departments and involving multiple stakeholders. In the marketing industry, GetIT defies social norm by shunning paid media and preyed media, and instead focuses on earned media of which social media is a subset. The latter focuses on producing good content that builds trust and confidence from a small, but concentrated loyal audience. This novel approach which is devoid of in-your-face advertising has caught the attention of the local newspapers. In fact, GetIT has had some 21 articles written on them in the past few months in Straits Times and the like. This has translated into more than S$200,000 of ink of indirectly advertisement for the company!
Classroom theories and Workplace ambiguities
Anol had been put through the paces of Prof Pamela Lims lessons on innovation theories (eg. Kondratiev Long Wave Cycle), and it was refreshing to hear from someone who has had the opportunity to test their efficacies. He confesses that although these theories have their limitations in reality (in being slightly outdated due to the accelerating pace and ambiguities of the business climate), they are useful in providing a clear and structured framework for making a management decision. He criticizes the paradox of how people who study and ace these theories in school do not actually use them upon graduation, but instead rely on their gut instincts for guidance.
The power of taxanomy, articulation and framework provide well-reasoned, commercially defensible conclusions that are not just important for the integrity of the outcome, but also as a good organizational image presented to third-parties involved in the transaction. The outsider impression of a focussed entrepreneurial team does wonders for securing financing and business relations. Anol did however add a caveat after this, in that the aforementioned advantages would probably not apply to start-up companies since the focus in the latter concerns the bare essentials of getting things going. The considerations to account for would be less, and decision making confined to a smaller scope of business basics.
Long Term Success: Built to Last
Jim Collins writes that the longevity of an organisation is dependent upon its ability to renew itself from within. Now who can imagine Apple without Steve Jobs, or Microsoft without Bill Gates? In innovation-driven companies (which is predominant in the technology sector), sources of innovation represent their lifelines. Anol was quick to dispel the myth that Jobs or Gates were the key drivers of their companies, dismissing these charismatic frontmen as largely marketing tactics in the sense that the real heroes were the supporting team.
Relating back to GetIT, Anol highlighted the need for a great team of likeminded people fitting like a glove within the companys DNA, that explained his harsh and scrutinizing hiring procedures. The first rule of GetITs hiring is to look for entrepreneurs to hire rather than mere employees. This is based on the notion that the better course is to deter the wrong persons from entry rather than to have to weed out the problematic few after damage has been done to the companys culture.
As to preserving the culture of innovation within GetIT, Anol has abolished any hierarchal structure from the start. With no managers in place, and no idea-guides, there would be no need for succession-planning.
Conclusion: Local Entrepreneurship Culture
Anol proffers that the substantial funding support available to local entrepreneurs nowadays (mostly from the Government) has largely eroded the mandatory school of hard knocks which is essential in the inception phase of resilient businesses and as a necessary barrier to filter businesses which are doomed from the start. However, a colourful alternative view is submitted by Prof Pamela Lim who perceives that Government grants and subsidies for companies have such stringent procedures that only the companies who are able to prove their long term viability will receive this support. Not every entrepreneur wannabe is eligible for such funding. The school of hard knocks is still there.
Nevertheless, both Anol and Prof Lim concur that more can be done to stimulate the local culture of entrepreneurship. The drawback from living in the comforts of first world Singapore where opportunities for success are abound in many sectors, coupled with a high level of literacy, is the magnified risk of failing as an entrepreneur. For instance, if one is pushed to a corner as a start-up company, the alternatives of finding another job elsewhere is plentiful, and one has a back up plan. The problem with this is that the entrepreneur finds little incentive in turning that stumbling block into his or her stepping stone.
Worryingly, it is the Mainland Chinese and Indian immigrants coming into Singapore that are willing to take up this challenge. If given more educational and funding opportunities, these tenacious individuals may unwittingly outperform our local-bred talents. Although this issue has a political whiplash, local fund options have not expressly been discriminatory towards them. It is foreseeable that Team Singapore in the field of Entrepreneurship may mirror that of our Table-Tennis Olympians; hugely successful and hugely dependant on foreign imports. If this is the future, then what will Uniquely Singaporean mean anymore?
Ken Chua - CEO of iCell
Mr Ken Chua is currently the CEO of iCell, and his company is one of Singapore's pioneers in the field of wireless networks, and it has installed and operates more than 5,000 hotspots and hotzones throughout Singapore and Malaysia since January 2004. They built the first wireless hotspot in Sim Lim Square to show that the wireless network was functional, and subsequently for numerous shopping malls in Singapore.
iCell has been pivotal in a nationwide wireless broadband programme known as Wireless@SG. This project is developed by the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). It is one of the three local wireless operators, namely itself, Singtel and M1 that were deployed to operate the wireless broadband network in Singapore. With this, users can enjoy free, seamless wireless broadband access at most public areas.
Its other prominent wireless network projects include the IMF (International Monetary Fund) World Bank Meetings 2006, the National Day Parade from 2006 2010 and setting up of wireless infrastructure in more than 100 Singapore schools. Its other business functions include working with technology and service partners such as HP and IBM, network security, hosted applications and services, domain & hosting services, call center & helpdesk apps and onsite technical support.
Speaker 3 - Mr Low Cheong Kee (Home-Fix D.I.Y. Pte Ltd.)
Home-Fix was first established in 1993 by two brothers, Low Cheong Kee (CK) and Low Cheong Yew (CY). From its humble beginnings at Siglap Centre, Home-Fix has since grown into a chain of 21 stores with an additional 7 in Malaysia and 1 in Indonesia. Through pure hard work and perseverance, both brothers can be credited as pioneers in shaping the local DIY retail sector as we see it today.
Mr Low Cheong Kee himself is esteemed for revolutionising the way people today approach routine DIY and maintenance work. His concept of Home-fix DIY transformed the inaccessibility of traditional hardware shops and introduced an unprecedented convenience we enjoy today when sourcing for tools and materials in completing an odd-job. His visionary abilities have also propelled Home-fix DIY into the dominant industry player in today's market.
However, as Home-fix DIY grows to be the dominant player in the DIY industry, several problems start to arise. These problems are both market-centric and company-centric. Dwindling growth in revenue due to saturation of the local market is the main market-centric problem. The large increase in red tape within the company as it outgrows its administrative structure is the main company-centric problem.
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