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Business  11, Jun 2014

Echelon 2014: Asia isn’t for grantrepreneurs

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A grantrepreneur is a founder who cannot sustain business without government grants. Stop chasing easy money, startups

How should different countries in Asia tackle challenges of building healthy ecosystems within each market? The question was pondered over at a panel held at Echelon 2014 moderated by Newley Purnell, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal.

The panel was graced by a group of spirited guests, such as Jimmy Rim, Founder and CEO, K Cube Ventures; Antonio Ventura, Co-Founder and Director, ASTEPS; Cheryl Yeoh, CEO, Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC); Martin Pasquier, Founder and Partner, Agence Tesla; and Casey Lau, Community Development Manager, SoftLayer Technologies and Co-founder, StartupsHK.

All the participants in the panel were highly uninhibited and spoke without reservations. The discussion riled up the crowd with thought-provoking questions about how different aspects of the ecosystem can work together and build a better Southeast Asia startup scene.

For example, does the government support deter people from chasing their dreams with hunger and passion? Lau compared the ecosystem to that in Hong Kong, where he said that there is a history of “every man for himself”. He said, “There’s no need to wait for the government. In Singapore, if you can get money that easily, you’re not going to be that hungry.”

Also Read: Singapore’s DPM rolls out subsidy of ICT costs, extends PIC scheme

Ventura also gave the audience a good idea why education should go hand-in-hand with capital funding. Very often, startups might not understand how to manage funds or when they should go after funding.

In conversation with e27, Yeoh explained to this author that education is crucial to whether an ecosystem will thrive in the future. As the CEO of MaGIC, she will go ahead with making resources available so that budding entrepreneurs will be able to make informed decisions about starting up.

Rim added that government grants might also promote the “zombie startup” phenomenon. “There are entrepreneurs looking to get the money but are not performing very well,” he said.

Pasquier further explained how people in markets, where entrepreneurship comes with the promise of alleviating poverty, will take advantage of the opportunity. Technology has helped teenagers save their families from exorbitant debts and get jobs at huge tech companies. “Entrepreneurship becomes a necessity where people need to have those jobs,” he said.

He added that, “In a country where people have to live within US$2 a day, they are born with problems to solve.”

Yeoh also talked about the concept of a “grantrepreneur”. These are the people who start up with grant money from the government, and act as if companies are easy to run because founders can always look towards the government — and not customers — for more money.

She enthusiastically said, “Don’t be an entrepreneur right away. … Have that expertise (after working for a while). Notice that this industry has this problem and then you come out and be an entrepreneur. Don’t encourage people to be entrepreneurs, (encourage them to) be problem solvers.”

Lau added, “If you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it! I believe you need a support group, an ecosystem.” Such ecosystems are made up of different co-working spaces, events, groups, people, companies, and associations. These entities on their own cater to different people. However, these organisations and groups can have a lot of impact when they are made to complement each other.

This is a live coverage of Echelon 2014, Asia’s largest tech conference. Follow the hashtag #echelon2014 to join the Twitter conversation. View the full coverage here.

Elaine Huang

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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