Singapore University of Technology and Design: The next startup hub?

Indent SUTD logoThere are a lot of arguments around the question “when should one start the journey of entrepreneurship”. Opinions are divided between pre-education and post graduation.

However, within two months into the first ever school semester, Singapore’s newest University Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) has been rolling out entrepreneurial activities and events to help instill the spirit of entrepreneurship to its first batch of students.

According to Edward Tiong, one of the founding members of Indent, the student group that helps run all the entrepreneurial related activities, said that “Indent drove this initiative as we wanted to take ownership of founding a unique culture at SUTD, setting the stage for a new breed of entrepreneurs who are not afraid of taking risks. We see the need to embed such a culture early in our university lives, because the future of technology and designs calls for leaders who are ready to push boundaries. And as the pioneer batch we are honoured to pave the way with something unorthodox, creatively executed.”

Here are some of the events that the students have been organizing since the last two months:

Start Something SUTDStart Something

For Start Something, the students kicked it off with a Startup Weekend with the folks from JFDI. After the initial Startup Weekend which was held at the Hub Singapore, a topic on entrepreneurship was also covered over a series of weekly workshops and events at SUTD. Some of the topics include communications, managerial versus entrepreneurial qualities, pitching, as well as market validation. These aims to expose students to the various components of a startup.

fail week stickersFail Week

This week-long ‘revolution’ aims to help students challenge the taboo of failing, with serial entrepreneurs joining in to openly discuss their past failures.

Fail week started on Monday with creatively designed failure stickers which was then distributed to the students. The stickers aim to empower students to label anything they deem as a failure in certain aspects, getting them to think about what constitutes failure and what can be learnt from it. On Tuesday, there was a failure story with a colloquial twist mysteriously appearing at the walkway between the student hostel and school. The following day, the story was then flipped on a contrasting positive note – each failure experience will be switched to a specific learning point .

On Wednesdays of SUTD’s Fail Week, students were tasked to write true failure confessions onto a crushed paper. The failures were then amplified (literally) and posted anonymously around the school. The failure experiences were then redacted, leaving only the learning points, so that students can learn to focus on bouncing back.

Some of the key events which also took place was the sharing by serial entrepreneur Mr Ong Peng Tsin whom openly discussed his past failure and coaching students on their setbacks in starting up and during the startup weekend. Mr Ong was also joined by Sanjeev from Facebook, Meng from JFDI and James from Neoteny Labs.

Marking the end of Fail Week was a workshop by Professor Sanjay Sarma from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The workshop which focused on overcoming the fear of failure also saw Vinnie of Golden Gate ventures conducting an unorthodox exercise on getting students to project the cause of the startup failure in the next 5 years and how they will recover in the 6th.

SUTD startup busStartup Bus

Last of its series of entrepreneurial activities was SUTD’s very own Startup Bus. Unlike the popular Startup Bus where entrepreneurs hack products out during the whole journey, the SUTD Startup Bus brought the students around to visit coworking spaces as well as startups. Some of the places visited included Kennel, SmartSpace, Viki as well as 2359 Media. Students had the chance to network with entrepreneurs and experience first hand what startups are doing on a daily basis. The various companies were also kind enough to answer any questions from the young minds.

Personal thoughts

I had the chance to drop by SUTD during one of its Fail Week session and I was definitely inspired by all the activities that were held. While NUS and SMU has a matured student startup ecosystem, they spent years to build up the student entrepreneurial ecosystem. SUTD’s ‘firehose’ of entrepreneurial activities helped set the tone of the university culture and this will certainly play a huge role in fostering the right mindset within the university.

Like running a startup, the culture of any organization or even institution has to be set and moulded since the beginning. Peter Thiel spoke extensively during the Stanford CS183 lectures about the importance of getting beginnings right: “They are qualitatively different than what comes after. You can change things at the founding that you’re forever stuck with afterward”. SUTD is definitely doing a phenomenal job right now to set the entrepreneurial tone of the university since the beginning.

Personally, I have no doubt that great things will come out from this bunch of young kids.

Jacky Yap

Having spent one year abroad in Shanghai under the NUS Overseas College Programme, Jacky has an avid interest in entrepreneurship and web based startups. Jacky used to run N-House, Singapore's first entrepreneurial themed residence in NUS, and was also part of the organizing team for Startup Weekend Singapore 2012. You can reach him at jacky [at] e27 [dot] co

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  • http://twitter.com/hughmason Hugh Mason

    Your headline is right - there is definitely something interesting happening at SUTD. I guess any family that encourages their child to sign up for a brand new course at a brand new university has to have a strong pioneering spirit in its genes. It confounds all those stereotypes about Singaporeans being risk-averse.

    Indeed that’s exactly what Meng and I saw when the team from MIT/SITF asked us to help out getting this course started. We set the students a challenge which, frankly, would have stretched me when I was a fresh undergrad. After a short briefing at The Hub on a Friday night we told them to go out into the street and do the customer discovery process – the heart of lean innovation – with total strangers. How was up to them.

    They came back, not just with great insights into their own ideas, but also with a willingness to pivot those ideas to match what customers actually want. If that spirit can be fostered right through their studies, I have a hunch that we won’t have to wait for SUTD’s first graduation ceremony before we start seeing some real businesses growing out of this group.

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