Singapore has become a start-up hotspot. Housing a world-class start-up ecosystem that continues to thrive in the face of the pandemic, the nation ranks as the eighth most innovative economy in the world, and the first in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, according to the Global Innovation Index.
With local unicorns such as Grab, Carousell, and Razer leading the way, it is little surprise that Singaporean youths are empowered and inspired to take the entrepreneurial path. Today, there are an estimated 55,000 start-ups in the country, a number that is expected to increase. In a recent Singapore’s 100 Survey, over a quarter of almost 14,000 respondents from local universities and colleges interviewed indicated that they plan to launch a start-up after graduation.
To discover insights into youth entrepreneurship in Singapore, we speak with three young SUSS student entrepreneurs who have made waves with their very own start-ups, and share some key takeaways.
Amanda Ho Qin Yi is the founder of CombineSell, a start-up that allows merchants to manage their business on several online marketplaces through a single platform.
Sean Neo Wei Siang is the co-founder of Crunch Cutlery, a company that tackles plastic waste and poor urban nutrition simultaneously, by creating edible spoons that are made of superfoods or packed with fruits.
Zavier Chan Jing Ze is the founder of StrongSilvers, a platform that creates a community of senior content creators, influencers, and talents, that helps the silver generation to feel supported as they age, while connecting brands to them as well.
Observation 1: Creating social good is important
When queried on the motivation behind their enterprises, Amanda, Sean, and Zavier all revealed a common desire - to effect change and create social good. From providing a stronger sense of purpose for Amanda, a greater opportunity to help more sectors for Sean, or a more efficient way for Zavier to change the system, the entrepreneurs all view the start-up scene as being more conducive to help tackle global problems and issues, compared to the corporate world.
This seems to be the shared consensus amongst the young entrepreneurs of today. Alongside the growing phenomenon of youth entrepreneurship, more and more enterprises are embracing social objectives. There are an estimated 2,660 social enterprises in Singapore, with 40% of them being youth-led, and it is easy to understand why.
Millennials and members of Gen Z are known to be more socially responsible and concerned with sustainability, a result of the exposure they have to global events. They are privy to the notion that we live in an increasingly connected world, a fact emphasised by the complications caused by COVID-19, and are motivated to help.
A 2019 survey conducted by The Straits Times in partnership with SUSS revealed that the most vital factor in choosing a job for millennials is how meaningful it is. Success is no longer confined to the economic impact created, and includes social and environmental aspects as well. This has led to many taking matters into their own hands, by creating their very own start-ups with a more holistic approach to business.
Additionally, when we consider the fact that employees and consumers are increasingly concerned with environmental, social and governance issues, it is undeniable that social entrepreneurship now plays a major role in driving future economic growth.
Observation 2: Utilise support structures
All three entrepreneurs emphasised the importance of tapping into resources and initiatives to bolster a start-up’s chance of success. Amanda touched on the significance of grants, and how they can empower start-ups with cash flow, to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and better present ideas to target audiences or investors. Citing her own experience, she said: “I managed to tap on the Enterprise Singapore Startup Founder's Grant
3 years ago when I was starting up. This gave my business a head start.”
Singapore’s entrepreneurial landscape definitely plays a key role in supporting social enterprises to make a positive impact. With over 500 accelerators, incubators, and investors, there are plenty of resources to help businesses take off and fulfil their goals. More importantly, these resources go beyond supporting businesses financially, something that budding entrepreneurs are more than aware of.
This is something that Sean and Zavier stressed upon. While they credited resources such as the Enterprise Singapore Startup Founder's Grant and SUSS Alibaba Cloud entrepreneurship programme for giving them a jumpstart in their start-up journeys, they were equally grateful for initiatives that provide valuable networking and mentorship opportunities. Zavier in particular, met his co-founders through the SUSS Venture Builder programme.
The start-up journey can be a lonely one, but accelerators, incubators, and investors can provide emotional support and direction, by allowing entrepreneurs to tap on the experience and knowledge each mentor or accelerator manager has amassed.
These resources also assist with setting the foundation for and securing the future of start-ups. They help entrepreneurs develop business skills such as marketing, learn about risk management, and provide access to future customers.
Observation 3: The right mindset is crucial
Statistically speaking, many start-ups eventually fail. In fact, according to a 2019 report by Startup Genome, only 1 in 12 enjoy success
. Having the right entrepreneurial mindset can thus make or break a business. Entrepreneurs must understand that there is no shame in failing. In fact, rejection and failure should be interpreted as learning points that can help improve and propel the business forward.
This mindset is evident in the entrepreneurs, who shed light on the beliefs and attitudes that have helped them succeed. Amanda underlined the importance of having an open heart and mind when it comes to problem solving, and understanding that going the extra mile makes a difference.
Sean echoed the need to be flexible and adaptable to change, and added that it can be done without compromising a company’s core values. Citing his experience with Crunch Cutlery as an example, he recalled how the first Crunch Spoon was created with a sole focus on sustainability, but was later modified according to research and customer feedback to include other key considerations, such as taste and nutrition. This move not only helped Crunch Cutlery attract a larger customer segment, but increased re-purchase rates as well.
At the inaugural SUSS Ministerial Forum in 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged the difficulties when it comes to running a start-up, and the unlikely possibility of succeeding at the first attempt. More importantly, he reiterated how there should neither be stigma nor shame attached to failing, and that there is a growing number of young entrepreneurs who possess the right attitudes to succeed. This attitude is summed up perfectly by Zavier, who states: “My belief is that you will never fail if you don't stop trying, and I have a whole life ahead of me to try, and learn.”
The business landscape in Singapore is rapidly changing, led by a new generation of socially-conscious and savvy leaders, who are more well-equipped to succeed than ever. Beyond being a profitable entity, these individuals and their enterprises have grown to be part of a bigger system that seeks to address social needs. The future of entrepreneurship is in good hands.If you like to find out more about our other SUSS entrepreneurs, check out Silver Linings #4.2 Doing Good is Good for Business. The podcast features Ellen Goel (Head of Entrepreneurship Programmes, SUSS Centre for Experiential Learning), alongside SUSS student entrepreneurs Jenine Koh (Co-founder, Nino News) and Rayner Loi (Co-Founder and CEO, Lumitics), who discuss the effectiveness of doing good through tech entrepreneurship. Listen to the podcast here.
 The Global Innovation Index (SEP 2020) The Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020
 Economic Development Board (EDB) Innovation in Singapore | EDB
 Singapore’s 100 (2021) Graduate Recruitment by the Numbers
 British Council (2021) The State of Social Enterprise in Singapore
 SUSS 19+ - A Survey of Nineteen Year-olds in Singapore
 Founder Institute (MAY 2021) Singapore Startup Resource List: 535+ Accelerators, Incubators, Investors, and more
 Startup Genome (2019) Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019
 SUSS SUSS Ministerial Forum 2019- The Role of Education in Singapore