Speech by: Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, 16 November 2009, at HDB Hub Auditorium
Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State for Trade & Industry and Manpower, Minister In-charge of Entrepreneurship and Chairman of the Action Community for Entrepreneurship
Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, President of the National University of Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to join you for the launch of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009.
Initiated last year by the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation in the USA and Make Your Mark in the UK, Global Entrepreneurship Week is a celebration of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. The inaugural event reached out to 1.5 million people from over 100 countries through some 15,000 entrepreneurial activities. Here in Singapore, the Action Community for Entrepreneurship or ACE and NUS Enterprise, together with 37 partners, have impacted 12,000 entrepreneurial minds via some 40 events.
This year, over 70 countries are banding together again to celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship. I would like to congratulate the Singapore co-hosts and 25 partners for lining up over 40 showcase events, competitions and talks for the youth and community. It is commendable that both the private and public sectors have come together to nurture the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow. I urge all youth to take advantage of these exciting programmes.
Remaking an Entrepreneurial Singapore
The theme for this event, ”Unleashing Ideas”, is very apt in today’s innovation driven economy. Entrepreneurial skills and mindsets are crucial for Singapore’s continued economic success.
For Singapore to succeed in the future, it will not be enough to have first world infrastructure. It will not be enough to have the rule of law, honest civil servants and consistent reliable regulatory frameworks. It will not be enough to pick potential winners or sectors which the government thinks will succeed. It will not be enough to be improve productivity or to be ”cheaper, better or faster”. All of the above is necessary but not sufficient for success. If we do all of the above, we will make steady progress, but risk being overtaken by global competition.
The only way to generate exponential growth is for innovation and enterprise to truly flourish in Singapore. I may not be an economist, but any serious observer of history will note that innovation and enterprise have been the crucial ingredients for all the golden ages in recorded history. Think about it, and email me if you disagree.
It is not enough to just talk about this. But it is equally important to know the limits of what government can do. A far sighted government will ensure that we attract and nurture talent (from all over the world), encourage ideas to flourish (especially unconventional ideas) , make it easy for businesses to start up (and fail), facilitate access to funding, especially smart money (angels and venture capitalists), and secure market access for our businesses through promoting free trade and economic liberalisation.
We have made significant progress, but quite frankly, I think we need to move much more quickly. The fundamental problem is that we cannot create entrepreneurs as easily as it is to offer scholarships to top students.
Local Role Models
That is why we need good role models. Many of you are here today because you aspire to be entrepreneurs. You may have heard about Mr Ron Sim, and may even be using his Osim massagers and marvelling at how a home-grown Singapore business has made the world its market, having established its presence in some 370 cities and 1,100 outlets. You may also have heard of Ms Olivia Lum, who has built Hyflux as a water technology specialist that supplies water solutions to many countries including the Middle East. You may know Mr Sim Wong Hoo who made high quality sound an indispensable feature of all personal computers. Or you may have heard of Ong Peng Tsin, a serial entrepreneur in the infocomm areana. These home-grown entrepreneurs have helped many Singaporeans make a living, and have also put Singapore on the world map in their industries. We like many more Singaporeans to join their ranks.
To develop entrepreneurial talent, the national school curriculum has been revised to promote innovation and enterprise, and to nurture problem-solving and independent learning abilities. The education system today inculcates in our youth a spirit of inquiry, the willingness to try different things, and the ability to bounce back and keep trying. These are essential traits for an entrepreneur. The Ministry of Education continues to update the school curriculum to prepare students to be more ready for future challenges.
There are schools which nurture the entrepreneurial qualities among students, such as through enterprise clubs, activities, project work, talks, design competitions and business plan competitions. To complement these efforts, SPRING launched the Young Entrepreneurs Scheme for Schools or YES! Schools a year ago, to help schools put in place programmes to enable entrepreneurship learning. This scheme has supported 31 schools and exposed more than 6,000 students to entrepreneurial learning programmes.
In particular, I would like to commend the efforts by Yishun Junior College. Together with two entrepreneurs who committed themselves to mentor these students in their entrepreneurship journey, the students have organised themselves into teams to generate business ideas and have these market-tested by the entrepreneurs and other members of the public. One of the student teams has developed a device that generates electricity when pressure is applied on it.
This device can be incorporated onto road humps or parking gantries and has the potential to power road applications such as lighted traffic signs or lamp posts. The students are already in the midst of prototyping their product ideas. I understand they plan to submit their business plans for the StartUp@Singapore competition once the prototypes are validated. I wish them success in their endeavors.
For those youths who have an innovative business idea and are ready to start their own venture, the YES! Startups and ideas.inc. Business Challenge were launched by SPRING to provide funding support to youths to get started on their first venture. YES! Startups has so far helped 54 youths start 36 companies.
As you walked into the auditorium today, you would have noticed the many exciting ideas showcased by the young startups and schools. One of them is Fr3b (pronounced as ‘freebie’), started by 21 year old Elfaine Tan (pronounced as ‘el-fer-nee’). Fr3b is a company that specialises in ‘tryvertising’, where consumers would receive product samples in exchange for their feedback on these products. Over the past year, Elfaine and her team have achieved good traction in the market, reaching out to 40,000 members.
Fr3b is also launching their new service ‘testerbar’ today. Testerbar allows consumers to try product samples from high-end brands for free! As a testament to Fr3b’s potential, the company was recognised as the most promising startup at the recent Shell Livewire business competition.
Through the ACE-DP STEPS Survey, we have observed an increasing trend of young entrepreneurs starting their own business over the past two years. We have also observed aspiring young entrepreneurs who quit their stable jobs to live their entrepreneurial dreams. Take the example of Leonard Tan. He quit a comfortable 5-digit monthly salary with Yahoo! to set up PurpleClick Media. Over the past three years, the company enjoyed a compounded annual growth rate of 57 per cent and had a turnover of about $2.6 million last year. PurpleClick Media was also recently announced as the winner of the Emerging Enterprise 2009.
In line with the GEW theme, the organisers and partners have put together a host of programmes that youth can participate in to ”Unleash Ideas”. The Global Innovation Tournament challenges student teams to come up with innovative ideas to solve a common world problem in about eight days and this year’s challenge would be to ”Make Saving Money Fun!” The inaugural Asia-Pacific Enterprise Experience calls for youth from the region to submit their innovative ideas to solve real business challenges posed by food & beverage chain Sakae Sushi and fashion retailer, bYSI.
I started my speech by observing the critical need for innovation and enterprise in Singapore. We have made significant progress, but are still a long way from our destination. Nevertheless, I cited some examples to remind ourselves that there is hope. I would like to end my speech today by quoting an extract from the poem ”Youth” by the American Poet, Samuel Ullman :- ”Youth is not a time of life – it is a state of mind, it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease.”
I wish all the young-minded people here today courage and imagination as you set out to change the world for the better through fulfilling your dreams. We need you to succeed in your adventures.