With the dark clouds of COVID-19 still looming over, it appears that there are already more storms brewing on the horizon, in the form of economic crises and downturns.
In the latest numbers published by the government, Singapore’s economy has contracted by 13.2% year on year, the worst quarterly contraction on record, essentially wiping out the growth over the last 3 years. Meanwhile, the rate of retrenchment surged as the pandemic took a toll on the labour market, resulting in an overall unemployment rate of 2.9% in June, or 4.0% for Singaporean nationals, the highest in over a decade. And in gloomy future projections, unemployment and retrenchment are expected to worsen further over the year. Any recovery is predicted to take some time and unlikely to be smooth.
However, amidst all the gloom and doom, the perseverance and ingenuity of Singaporeans have shone through in the search for a way to meet the challenges. A clear trend is the progressive increase in entrepreneurial activities across the nation. From tech start-ups to home businesses selling hand-crafted trinkets and confectionery online, it comes in all shapes and sizes. This begets the question, can entrepreneurship become an option for job-seekers to ride out this uncertain time? And perhaps more importantly, is entrepreneurship the way forward for Singapore?
The rise of the home-based entrepreneur
For start-ups, the availability of government or private grants is nothing new. But for enterprising individuals, the prevalence of digital apps such as Shopee, Qoo10, Lazada and Carousell now provide them with the platforms on which to showcase their entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, across the last couple of years, there has been a clear rise in home-based entrepreneurship, and due to COVID-19 and the resultant circuit breaker period, this number shot up even more. Some people, as a result of having to stay at home, now have more time to pursue any passion or entrepreneurial intent they may have had. Others simply had to find alternative ways to make ends meet. And some of these individuals have actually gone from merely surviving to thriving.
In a user behaviour study done by Carousell, also a start-up born out of entrepreneurship, it was reported that the average Singaporean made $2,200 on Carousell during the Circuit Breaker period from 7th Apr to 1st June. Additionally, owing to the increase in home businesses such as selling home-baked wares, there was a record five times increase in the search for baking tools and ingredients.
The government’s response
At the same time, it is evident that the government is doing what they can to support this trend. With a plethora of grants and schemes such as Startup SG, the Productivity Solutions Grant and the Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) Programme, they are set to facilitate success for a wide variety of start-ups in Singapore. There is also the SGUnited Jobs initiative, which helps match the skills of jobseekers to more than 4600 vacancies and 860 traineeships available in start-ups. And the government is not just looking out for new businesses. They have also introduced the Specialised Cleaning Programme in response to the pandemic, all to help existing entrepreneurs defray their disinfection costs, alongside other grants that provide wage subsidies to keep enterp\rises up and running.
Can entrepreneurship be taught?
Schools and universities also play an important role. As a result of COVID-19, the current climate has further set the stage for universities to instil entrepreneurship. Speaking in a recent Straits Times article, Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SUSS, underlined the importance of entrepreneurship. “We need to encourage more of these young people with energy, drive and ideas... to make a living on their own, and some of this will be in terms of entrepreneurship”.
At SUSS, we are always looking to equip our students for alternative job pathways, as demonstrated through a range of recent initiatives. An example would be that of the Alibaba Cloud-SUSS Entrepreneurship Programme, an incubation programme since 2017, that is open to all Institutes of Higher Learning students. It has helped to create 35 student start-ups so far, of which 14 have secured funding amounting to more than S$8 million in total. And we are committed to further dedicating resources to equip our fresh graduates to succeed beyond conventional means.
We have started two programmes in entrepreneurship and the gig economy for interested parties, as our way of providing training and stability to our graduates amidst the COVID-19 uncertainty. Our Venture Builder programme, created to train aspiring entrepreneurs, starts right this month. All these and other programmes on top of the 100 traineeship positions in departments such as Business Intelligence and Analytics, Human Resources as well as Communications and Marketing, that are offered as part of the Government’s SGUnited Traineeships Programme for recent graduates.
Entrepreneurship beyond COVID-19
How then, does entrepreneurship contribute to the bigger picture? There surely is more to it than simply serving as an alternative to salaried employment. The benefits of cultivating entrepreneurship go beyond a mere short-term reprieve of current economic hardships.
First and foremost, it seeks to devise and innovate new ideas, services or technology to address existing or emerging needs that are perhaps previously inadequately addressed. These new and improved products or services, should they be successful, have the potential to develop new markets and generate new wealth, of which can naturally lead to the creation of more job opportunities. Ultimately, it has the capacity and capability to reinvigorate nations and their economies.
Of course, the road to entrepreneurial success is not just paved with good intentions. It requires hardship, sacrifice, risks, rejections and failures to succeed, as well as overcoming the looming spectre of COVID-19 these days. And not to mention a little bit of luck. Entrepreneurship is certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution and is not for everyone. But from the looks of it, current signs give much cause for optimism. Singaporean entrepreneurs are for sure not lacking in the desire and ingenuity. And they have all the help they need to make their mark in these uncertain times.
 Straits Times (August 2020) Singapore's recession deepens with worst ever quarterly contraction of 13.2%
 Straits Times (July 2020) Singapore sees worst-ever quarterly fall in employment in Q2 as retrenchments double: MOM data
 Carousell (July 2020) The Circuit Breaker Effect: The Average Singaporean Earned $2,200 On Carousell
Straits Times (August 2020) More than 4,600 vacancies offered by start-ups, top 5 job roles pay $2,700 to $6,000 a month: MOM
 Straits Times (August 2020) SUSS to equip graduates for alternative job pathways
 SUSS Entrepreneurship