Building The Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs
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For the first issue of 2022, we spoke to Sunway iLabs on their iLabs Foundry entrepreneurship programmes, LaunchX and why the right changes have to take place within the education system for the birth of new entrepreneurs.
Till our next issue, take care and stay safe!
Can you share more about the iLabs Foundry entrepreneurship programmes?
The iLabs Foundry Entrepreneurship Programme is designed based on two key principles – (1) inclusivity, i.e. an equal opportunity for all students to experience entrepreneurship, and (2) experiential learning by applying the iLabs innovation process of “Inspire, Build and Launch”.
Entrepreneurship is a journey. The starting point “Inspire” aims to promote interest, engagement and creativity among students, and to instil the mindset of “I can do it”. This helps to resonate better with “why is entrepreneurship relevant” and to start establishing the emotional engagement that spurs curiosity among the students in learning entrepreneurship. The key programmes during the “Inspire” stage include “Make It Challenge”, which is a student hackathon that empowers University students to build solutions around the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the “Entrepreneurship Mindset and Skills” subject, which focuses on the lighter and fun elements of entrepreneurship education, such as case studies and good practices of entrepreneurial characteristics.
During the “Build” Stage, Students would have the opportunity to take Start-up Foundry, a full semester elective course that is co-developed with UC Berkeley. Start-up Foundry allows students to gain four credit hours while learning the 10 building blocks of hands-on venture building. It has no lecturer but rather is powered by a panel of industry practitioners and mentors. Students who go through the course learn how to identify market opportunities and possible solutions to business challenges. They will also learn how to design and build prototypes as a test model to obtain user feedback for potential solutions. At the end of the course, students will learn best innovation practices and strategies on new venture creation and get insights from real entrepreneurs, investors, and industry specialists. Without traditional lectures and exams, the Start-up Foundry will not only result in the creation of business ideas that will have the potential to be taken forward as a start-up, but also to develop growth mindsets amongst students, allowing them to be resilient, able to accept criticism and to solve a problem through design thinking.
As “Inspire” and “Build” aims to develop problem solvers, the last stage “Launch” aims to help students who wish to build a start-up through a 6-month incubation programme called LaunchX. As entrepreneurial processes are never linear, during the “Launch” stage, students will start building a functional team, find product-market fit for their innovations (which may include multiple iterations), getting first customer traction and scaling their ventures through the Sunway iLabs ecosystem, such as the iLabs Super Accelerator Programme that provides up to RM 100,000 seed funding to the early-stage start-up.
What does it hope to achieve?
The success of entrepreneurship education in a University is typically measured by the number of student entrepreneurs and the number of student start-ups. However, we should not over-glorify the number of student entrepreneurs as we know, little or no attention has been given to track if these student start-ups are financially sustainable or create a positive impact on society. Moreover, in any University, there will also be only a small minority of students who would like to start their own business; the rest would prefer to get a job upon graduation.
At iLabs Foundry, we aim to curate generations of problem solvers. Whether you are keen to build your own business or to work in a corporate, you need to have the right mindset and skills. We are all living in a wicked environment where there is less repetition and more randomness, we need people who are hungry for success, able to connect the dots to seize an opportunity, able to take constructive criticism positively, willing to embrace challenges, comfortable in building the human relationship instead of working in a silo, etc.
We need students who can connect with the real needs of business, and that is what iLabs Foundry aims to achieve through its entrepreneurship programme.
How does it align with the changes in the new normal?
The new norm is all about digitalisation. However, this is a double edged sword. Digitalisation may create opportunities, at the same time widen the gap between different communities. While emphasising the benefits of technology and innovation in our entrepreneurship programme, we constantly remind the young generation about humanising innovation; especially in the world beyond Covid-19, where our young talents need to be empowered to act to address various planetary health challenges, such as food security, climate change, etc. We are encouraged to see so many students in Sunway University being motivated to tackle these challenges by building sustainable solutions.
How will the appointment of industry fellows make a change for participants of the programme?
Becoming an entrepreneur is a consciously planned behaviour. If someone is positively influenced by a real, successful entrepreneur (i.e. the industry fellows), their entrepreneurial intentions will be sparked and they are more likely to engage in our programmes.
In addition, we strongly believe that to drive innovation in a University environment is to get the industry on board in student programmes. This helps students to understand what are the potential opportunities, what has been done, what works and what does not. This is real world and practical knowledge. The appointment of the industry fellows will lead the delivery of Sunway University’s various credit-bearing and non-credit bearing entrepreneurship programmes that aim to help students manoeuvre through the constant challenge of getting people to understand the value proposition of their product or services and avoid the early pitfalls of a start-up. This would not be something that the students will learn from a textbook, but instead, learning will be accelerated through real case studies.
Last but not least, these industry fellows come with a substantial network that may act as a catalyst to help students progress from ideation, to getting market traction, to scale-up.
Will we see more industry fellows be invited in the coming months and do you have anyone in mind?
Yes, there will be more industry fellows invited. However, we are very selective who we invite, and they must have a stellar track record and possess certain traits, such as (1) an (ex)entrepreneur with significant business experience, (2) passionate about entrepreneurship education, (3) an educator at heart, and (4) able to engage with and challenge students.
Are there specific industries in mind that the courses are targeted?
No, there is are no specific industries that the courses target. Rather, iLabs Foundry entrepreneurship programmes promote the vision of the Founder & Chairman of Sunway Group, Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah AO - “doing well by doing good” and emphasise various approaches to achieve sustainable development for all.
There is an upcoming launch of LaunchX. Can you share more on the launch and what does it hope to achieve?
LaunchX, a Start-up Incubation Programme for Sunway University students, alumni and staff that is designed to help an early-stage start-up to launch a validated business idea into a real business. LaunchX aims to help build early market traction and provide participants with comprehensive support and resources to take their business to the next level, such as coaching from successful entrepreneurs, finding product-market fit, pilot innovations in one of the13 business units of Sunway Group, access to investment opportunities, such as the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator or Sunway’s Corporate Venture Capital arm, SunSEA Capital, Orbit Malaysia, Gobi Partners, or The Hive SEA
How and why did Sunway come up with LaunchX?
iLabs Foundry started organically with the student hackathon “Make It Challenge”. We launched the “Start-up Foundry” Elective Course almost the same time as the “iLabs Super Accelerator Programme”. One of the objectives was to funnel student entrepreneurs to the iLabs Super Accelerator programme.
However, after some experimentation, we realised that we needed an incubation programme to bridge the gap as most student start-ups were still too early to enrol in the Accelerator. Hence, LaunchX was created to help entrepreneurs in Sunway University to validate and launch their business idea into a real start-up, which can then be scaled through the iLabs Super Accelerator Programme. We hope to see more successful start-ups coming out of this funnel and create real impact for society.
How should the education landscape overall nationwide adapt to produce more entrepreneurs?
We must first set some clear objectives and goals for entrepreneurship education. For example, do we view entrepreneurship education as a way of starting more businesses or do we aim to instil entrepreneurial skillsets in our students, such as being more proactive, creative, opportunity orientated, problem-solvers? We believe that the focus should be on instilling entrepreneurial skillsets as these can be transferred to any business, be it a start-up or large corporate, and will thus better prepare a student to positively contribute to the economy. We are not saying that we don’t need more entrepreneurs though. However, starting a company should not be the end-goal, but rather it should be seen as part of a journey.
Secondly, entrepreneurship education has so far been prioritised in higher learning education institutes, mainly due to the strong emphasis on economic success and job creation. However, entrepreneurship is a long-term process and the change of mindset does not happen overnight. Therefore, it is important to consider infusing entrepreneurship education into primary and secondary levels of education, which in return, may result in deep learning and turning entrepreneurship into a habit rather than an acquired skill set. Entrepreneurship should be an integrated pedagogical approach for all students at all levels, starting at the grassroots.
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