Sunday, December 22, 2013

Alvin's memorable experience learning with Korean university students!

This entry is written by DBIT Year 1 student,Alvin Lim who joined Sia Chen Ren to participate in a 3 days special technopreneurship programme with a group of Korean students two weeks ago.

During his free time, Alvin likes to play moba games and surf the web. He is highly interested in mobile hardware and spends much time reading and researching on the latest news about them. In fact, he just got the recently launched Google Nexus 4 a month ago!

He lives by two mottos:
  • When it comes to studying, he stays prepared "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
  • When it comes to life, he is practical "Saturday doesn't come without a Monday, so get crackin'"

Connect with Alvin at his Facebook profile to talk to him! :)

Five DBIT Year 1 students, including myself had the fortune to join an exchange program where we met and worked with a group of Korean students who had come over to Singapore to gain a local perspective of how the startup scene is like here.

The event was organised by Mr Nathan Millard, the Global Director of Besuccess. It lasted over a total of three days from 10th to 12th of December 2013.  Besides ourselves, 15 Korean Students and 5 Korean Professors were also involved.

The sessions worked like this: All the students were split into five groups. A mentor was matched to each group, namely the Korean Professors. Besides the group work, we also got to view the presentations of some entrepreneurs who are housed in Block 71. In case you are not aware, Block 71 is a building in the nearby Ayer Rajah Crescent industrial estate with a large concentration of technopreneurs and business incubators or accelerators.

My experience over the three days

Day 1

The night before the event, I researched on some Korean etiquette which I thought I should have to take note of. Holy moly, there were like 3 pages of them! Some of them included things like you can’t shake one's hand with another hand in your pocket; another is that to never try to ask a question that would result in someone saying the word “no”.

The next day, when we met the Korean students with a casual handshake, I deliberately propped up my left arm to support my right to show that I respect them.  But the Koreans we met were actually rather modernised.  They did not expect me to do that.

Subsequently, we went into a room and Mr Nathan Millard started off by giving a brief introduction of the objectives of this event.  After his brief, we did our self-introductions and the Korean students presented their projects to us.

After splitting up to our respective teams, my team decided to have lunch at one-north MRT. It was a ratio of one Singaporean student to 4 Korean students. The etiquette I researched about was always on my mind. I did not want to offend them in any way possible.  This soured my experience as they seemed so open to me and I was rather reserved instead. Communication was also a problem as I was unable to understand their spoken English and at times they do seem slightly frustrated while trying to converse with me. Last but not least, I was very foreign to the project that they were doing; business incubation was something that I had never ever heard before. I immediately felt that my lack of knowledge would inevitably cause a bottleneck in their project.

To cut a long story short, I mindf**ked myself during the first day.

After lunch , we decided that we would visit the NUS enterprise centre for an “interview”. As we trotted along, they stopped along several sites to take photos, posing in the most peculiar ways.  I joined in and acted a little crazy. They gave me a traditional Korean fan on the way too. How sweet of them :D.

Upon reaching, we politely ask for an interview. Surprisingly, the people at NUS Enterprise Centre were very willing to help us and cited that we were very brave indeed. They offered us many advice including the risk of entrepreneurship, the current situation of it in Singapore and many real life experiences.

That pretty much concluded the first day as I bid them farewell at the MRT station.

Day 2

On the second day, we met at the JFDI (Joyful Frog Digital Incubator or rather made fun of as “Just f**king do it”) and started to interview the entrepreneurs that are there. I pretty much opened up for the second day and I could feel that my Korean friends were more receptive this time. We drafted out plans and made changes to their project and for once, I felt I was contributing. At this point of time, the project objective transformed to become "Compare business incubation in Singapore and in Korea."  I drafted out something that we concluded from our research and interview.

We had in fact wanted to go to the Hub, but upon learning that it would cost SGD250 to interview them for an hour, we decided to stick to interview only the entrepreneurs that were here. The businesses that we interviewed ranged from travel agencies, healthcare to education. At the end of the day, we brought them to a place beside their hotel of which they will have dinner. It is an extremely expensive Korean food restaurant and I excused myself as I was busy at night.

Day 3

On the last day, my team started to compile the details and putting them into PowerPoint slides. We metthem at the lobby of Carlton Hotel and my job was mainly to correct the grammatical errors that were present in the slides. During the lunch break, we travelled to Bugis street to buy some gifts as a farewell present for them. As we returned to the original place where we met (Plug in @Blk71), we listened to their presentation and inevitably became their (unlicensed) tour guide for the rest of the day.

What I have learnt through this programme

Previously a foreign concept to me, I learn about business incubation and the core concepts of it. I learned a few Korean words which I though was pretty interesting. The most important thing is that we learnt that the current situation of entrepreneurship in Singapore is somewhat “poor” as mentioned by one of the budding entrepreneurs that we interviewed. It is never easy to do a startup and I learn to appreciate the concept of a monthly salary. I also learned that the market in Singapore is too small and one would have to expend beyond South East Asia in order to have a chance to be successful.

How this experience has changed my mindset

Throw the idea of an easy startup away. It is tough, very physically and mentally demanding.

I have learnt that networking is one of the most important factors to consider as it can solve problems like funding (in the form of investors) and potential customers. I admire those who are daring enough to do a startup and brave the potential barriers to success. Communication and working style are also considerations when expanding overseas, and it isn't easy. But, no pain, no gain right?

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