Benjamin Wong was 27 years old when he decided to take things into his own hands and become his own boss.
Together with his friend Hafiz Kasman, the two Singapore Management University (SMU) graduates founded their own business in 2020. The company, Kinobi, is a career guidance service platform that aims to help graduates in Singapore and Indonesia accelerate their careers.
When asked why he left his previous job at a multifamily office to become an entrepreneur, he said: “I wanted more fulfillment in my job. I wanted to have an impact on people’s lives, I wanted to help people.”
Entrepreneurship is driving its reach out to the younger crowd, enticing university students and fresh graduates to jump on the bandwagon and seek startup success.
Eunice Wong, principal of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said: “I think a lot of it stems from the younger generation starting to value meaning in their careers. They want creative control, they want originality, they find starting a business exciting and inspiring.”
She believes that youth are looking for more than stability and security in their careers - and being an entrepreneur provides them with the opportunity to be independent, self-sufficient and creative.
Wong herself founded and exited 2 startup businesses in proptech and e-commerce spaces, Quikspaces and Munchbox, before securing a job at Monk’s Hill Ventures.
Prior to that, she was working at a law firm, but the career role did not satisfy her “itch for creativity” and her desire to start her own company, to work in a more outcome driven role, she said.
Rachael Yong, 25-year-old founder of relocation lifestyle platform gullie.io, earns less now compared to her previous job at Google. But this does not deter her.
“I’m priotizing my own growth and experience,” she said. “As a founder, I get an insane amount of growth and learning because I’m doing everything from partnerships, marketing, fundraising and more.”
National University of Singapore (NUS) professor Ng Weiyi also noted that younger people may choose to work in a startup or found their own, because of the identity it provides them.
The notion of working in a startup has also gained in status to become more appealing to the younger generation, he said.
Ng is of the opinion that this comes on the back of greater promotion of startup culture in the media, and a policy shift in Singapore to champion entrepreneurial education.
“Everywhere you go you hear about the startup unicorns and successful entrepreneurs,” added Ng. With venture backed companies such as Shopee, Gojek and Grab expanding, the startup culture has become more salient, he said.
Entrepreneurial education has also contributed to a growth of interest in the field of study, said Ng.
He cited the NUS Overseas College's internship program as one that has played a role in shaping students’ inclination towards entrepreneurship.
Established in 2002, the program provides students with the opportunity to work at startups in entrepreneurial hubs such as Silicon Valley, Toronto, Stockholm and more. Since its inception, the annual intake of students has grown ten times, from 34 in 2002 to 343 in 2019.
Ng, who teaches modules about innovation and entrepreneurship in NUS, observed that the number of students enrolled in his classes has increased by almost two times since he started teaching as well.
More students from other faculties such as engineering and science, have started to attend his lectures and have developed a greater interest in this area, he said.
Aside from NUS, other universities such as Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University and Singapore Institute of Management provide courses in entrepreneurship as well, allowing students to pursue second majors or minors in the field of study.
Entering into these programs in university helps them to crystallize their passion right before they go out to work, and they are presented with the opportunity to found their own startups, said James Tan, founder of Quest Ventures and deputy chairman of ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship).
Co-founder and chief operating officer of robotics startup Augmentus, Daryl Lim, was one such student.
Going through the overseas college program and joining the entrepreneurship club in NUS provided him with the opportunity and space to understand more about the startup culture and to learn from other founders, Lim told The Business Times.
Founded in 2019 when Lim was 25 years old, Augmentus now hosts a team of 15. After networking at a hackathon, the 3 founders established an idea to solve issues people face with complex robotic systems which birthed the idea of Augmentus - a no code, AI robotics programming platform that makes the operation of robotic systems simpler.
Yet, with passion and interest in entrepreneurship on the rise, the possibility of failure is still very much prevalent and is an area young entrepreneurs might not be so aware of, NUS professor Ng said.
The media has glamourized the idea of entrepreneurship and startup success, and many young people interested in entering the scene tend to be overconfident, he said.
Likewise, Wong from Monk’s Hill said media shows the glamour of entrepreneurship, but founding a startup requires a lot more effort than what is shown.
Founding a startup involves a lot of risk-taking and hard work. It is much more tiring than is often portrayed, said gullie’s Yong.
But even with her fear of failure, the thrill of uncertainty draws her to entrepreneurship.
“Risk excites me,” she said. “What scares me more is knowing that I am going to work in the same company or do the same thing for the rest of my life.”