Entrepreneurship 1: Introduction, Identifying Ideas & Business Opportunities

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The first of my course touches on the definition on entrepreneurship, the different forms of entrepreneurship, how countries measure growth of entrepreneurship activity, and the first toolkit: how to identify ideas and business opportunities. We also provide some interesting case studies for example, Aravind Eye Centre for social entrepreneurship. This is a series based on a course “MPS 812: Entrepreneurship” I have been teaching in School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, Nanyang Technological University.

Author’s Preface: This course includes elements of the courses which I have taught in Nanyang Technopreneurship Centre as well as some advice which I used to dispense via my role as an entrepreneur-in-residence for INSEAD Business School. I have refined the presentation slides and notes after teaching this course for four semesters over the past two years. Note that the content I have done up for this course is under Creative Commons – No Commercial, Share-alike and Attribution . One important thing that I want to stress even though I have worked as an academic in the past: Entrepreneurship is a contact sport, and it’s easier to teach as a practitioner because you encounter a lot of challenges and issues from starting a company to managing, maintaining, growing and exiting from the company. My original intention is to change the course name to “Technology & Business” (and it’s not possible) as I am not a fan of teaching entrepreneurship but more of providing a toolkit for the students to use whether they are advancing their career or starting their own businesses. This post will change from time to time with updates so keep a bookmark from that.

My Course Slides:

Talking Points

  • The objective of the course: The aim of the course is not to teach anyone in becoming entrepreneurs. The success rate of any start-ups from an investor’s viewpoint is 1 out of 10 based on anecdotal evidence, which means that 9 other start-up ventures will fail. So it is not wise to try to convert you to entrepreneurs. The important thing I want to pass thru the course is to help you to understand and learn the process of how startups and companies are being built. Through the business plan assignment, the course will provide you some basic understanding on various aspects of a business: marketing, business strategy, financials and intellectual property (specifically for technology companies). The best takeaway is that you should learn to make all the mistakes about something as fast as possible, and simply put, learn to fail fast.
  • What defines an entrepreneur?: Different people have different perspectives of what an entrepreneur should be. In some cases, they are defined by the success of their businesses, and in other cases, they are defined by the value and impact that their products or services have added value to everybody’s lives. The entrepreneur also accepts the inherent risks of their enterprise and accountable for the success and failure of the enterprise he or she starts up. Many times, there exist people who coined themselves as “entrepreneurs” but they are totally off the mark, for example, some companies who use Ponzi and pyramid marketing schemes to cheat consumers or illegal money lending (or loan sharks) which do not add any real value.
  • Window of Opportunity and First Mover is not advantage: While most investors like to emphasize on first mover advantage of technology companies, it is important to reflect whether successful tech businesses has done so as first movers. For example, Google was not the first in search business and preceding it was AltaVista and Inktomi (which was acquired by Yahoo! for US$20M instead of buying google for US$1M). Similarly, Facebook was not the first in the businesses of social networking. Before Facebook, there was Friendster (which was acquired by MOL Malaysia) and MySpace (which was acquired by News Corp). What made these businesses successful, was they innovate upon the failures of the first movers and delivered greater value.


Video 1: Michael Pritchard’s LifeSaver in TED 2009

Lessons learnt from this video:

  • Articulation of the problem and opportunity: The speaker discussed the problem of clean drinking water and used the examples of a developing and developed country to illustrate that there is no good solution when a calamity struck. He also described how the existing solutions have not achieved what it was meant to be doing.
  • Simple Technology Description: While the LifeSaver bottle solution has many features, the speaker only focus on one aspect of the technology and simplify it to how small the filtering need to be in order to stop the bacteria and virus from entering: the 15nm pore. He could have explained how the entire bottle works but he chose to condense the solution to a simple feature so that the audience could understand him.
  • Explain why his solution is better than traditional solutions: The speaker made a comparison with traditional solutions of delivering clean water, for example, it requires people within the disaster area to make a long journey to carry loads of jerry cans of water from one location to another. He focus on how his solution has facilitated the ease of use for the people within the disaster area.
  • Product Demo and Authority: He was able to do a demo with the solution as you have seen in the video. What’s more, he drank the water from the bottle and also passed it to Chris Anderson, the organizer of TED who is a well-known personality and get his endorsement that it’s safe.
  • Provide vision on how to implement the idea and exact amount to fund the solution: He provided how the solution can be scaled and the amount of money required to solve the world’s drinking water problem. The amount was stated to be 20B for worldwide, but it was very clear to the audience what he was asking for.

Video 2: Thulasiraj Ravilla: How low-cost eye care can be world-class in TEDIndia 2009 – Aravind Eye Care Center

Lessons learnt from this video:

  • Aravind Eye Care Hospital founded in 1976 by Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy and how the existing management has laid out the vision to what the Aravind Eye Hospital aspires to become in the future.
  • Aravind Eye Care Hospital evolved itself not just as a healthcare service giver but also as a social enterprise that helps to deal with the blindness problem in India. It treated 2.4M poor Indians over 30 years.
  • Interesting Features: Eye Surgeries run 24 hours with doctors focus on surgery and nurses focus on pre and post eye care. Free surgeries for the poor and also a top class R&D centre on eye treatment in the world.
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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist

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