Kindling eneterprise spark in start-ups

PHOTO: Kindling eneterprise spark in start-ups

About a decade ago, the Government decided to focus on promoting entrepreneurship as entrepreneurship is one way to create wealth and strengthen Singapore's competitiveness.

But what could serve as a catalyst to help bring about this shift in the business culture here?

One central platform in achieving this policy goal was the formation of the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE).

Comprising of 20 prominent businessmen and professionals, and backed by a high-level multi- agency public-sector secretariat, ACE was created to foster a culture of enterprise and build a business- friendly environment.

Various objectives were identified: improving start-ups' access to finance, changing the mindset and culture here, and sparking debate about the regulatory and business environment here.

Dr Steven Fang, a partner at technology incubator Clearbridge Accelerator, has been involved with ACE since it started, but has in recent years taken on a more active role as the organisation's deputy chairman.

He recalled how ACE's evolution over the last decade has been about "finding our own feet".

"The easiest way to explain it would be to compare it to a child in his formative years. He has to try many things and find his own place in society," he said.

He added that as a new organisation, ACE faced many different expectations from entrepreneurs, industry veterans and the general public.

"In the beginning, ACE had very broad goals, but you can't be all things to all people. So as an organisation, we needed time to understand which areas and issues needed the most focus," he said.

The organisation has had several successes over the years.

One milestone was when ACE worked with the Pro- Enterprise Panel in 2010 to gather 1,800 suggestions on helping businesses.

Many responses were aimed at improving mainly government processes and procedures.

More than 980 of the ideas were eventually carried out.

The appointment in 2011 of Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck as ACE chairman brought a renewed focus to the organisation's mission.

ACE's new direction would focus on enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to start up, build and eventually create jobs for Singaporeans.

This would involve supporting the growth of seedling start-ups by encouraging networks with mentors and both local and overseas opportunities.

Entrepreneurship education and technology transfer are also emphasised by ACE.

Start-ups here are creating more new jobs than ever. Figures by ACE show that they employed about 300,000 people in both 2010 and 2011, up from the 154,000 in 2003.

"Our intent is not to 'manufacture' entrepreneurs. Overseas, they have been nurtured by the environment or their career choices. Over here, we can create an environment that can motivate, inspire and help entrepreneurs hone their skills," said Dr Fang.

"We can create opportunities or a support structure to help these young bosses learn how to juggle multiple roles and evolve in line with their companies' growth."

ACE aims to support 500 start-ups, with a longer-term goal of helping these business move into overseas markets.

"We're not just throwing money at entrepreneurs and hoping they succeed. We'll put time in to look at each idea and we tell them if their product or service is ready," Dr Fang said.

"If they can't make it past us, it won't survive the market. The idea is to help improve the rate of success and help develop the next global player."

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