The right frame of mind

  • New wave of entrepreneurs just around the corner with the will to do something larger than life
  • Policymakers, educators and influencers should help youth along their entreprenuerial journeys 

The right frame of mindI AM beginning to understand what fuels the friends I have working in the education and youth sectors.

After months of lacklustre encounters with young entrepreneurs too caught up in their self-constructed bubbles of Facebook-like grandeur, I met a young man who, frankly, put me to shame.

Still a student with two years to go in his degree course, he first popped up on my radar via an apologetic message requesting help registering for Digital News Asia's then upcoming Disrupt discussion on media relations.

After the panel ended that day, he made a point to introduce himself to me and mentioned that he found the session extremely informative (to my relief).

Since then, I have sporadically bumped into him at the various startup events and gatherings that take place regularly in the Klang Valley.

During one encounter, I said in jest that in the case of DNA events, he should just turn up for the topics he was interested in; there was no need to attend them all.

“No, I try to attend as many as I can. If I only stick to the topics I like, I’ll have a very narrow understanding of the whole picture and cut myself off from the chance to learn or be exposed to new things,” he said.

His hunger to learn and get acquainted with the Klang Valley’s startup scene was palpable and, frankly, infectious. It certainly gave me hope for the next wave of young bloods that will soon be populating the nation’s startup landscape.

This young man has the one thing that is often lamented as missing from the 'next generation' -- great attitude and commitment.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t spend my college days doing research on or getting to know the scene I hoped to one day be a part of.

Heck, I didn’t even know what 'my scene' would be until I moved back to Kuala Lumpur and applied for the first job ad I saw that didn’t involve management training, engineering or accounting.

Given the continuing public dissatisfaction with the nation’s education system, let me just say that this young man, and others just like him, will make their mark despite the system and not because of it.

But that doesn’t mean we (by 'we' I mean policymakers, educators and influencers) shouldn’t be thinking of ways to help them along on their chosen paths.

Speaking of help, I recently attended the launch of the Malaysian chapter of the Junior World Entrepreneurship Forum (JWEF) hosted by funding agency Cradle Fund and INTI College.

JWEF is an extension of the World Entrepreneurship Forum (WEF), which was launched in 2008 by the EMYLON Business School and KPMG, and is a global community of students and young entrepreneurs.

It is an initiative is aimed at spreading the entrepreneurial spirit in all areas of society and to create a platform for students and young people to meet with entrepreneurs (including social entrepreneurs), politicians and academics to share their success stories, latest findings and insights.

The initiative is a great move in the on-going quest to put Malaysia and its startup ecosystem higher up on the global radar and, more importantly, offers a platform for students to gain international exposure.

The common complaint that local startups don’t “think big enough” may very well be true and one of the many answers is to instil a greater sense of the world beyond.

To quote Cradle chief executive officer Nazrin Hassan: “It is senseless to talk about going global when you don’t even have a friend abroad!”

Far be it for me to advocate what Peter Thiel, famous for being Facebook’s first investor and the co-founder and former chief executive officer at PayPal, did. Thiel famously offered 20 teenagers US$100,000 (RM318,775) to drop out of college and start their own companies back in 2011.

Sitting in Asia, with our culture’s deep reverence for formal education systems, perhaps the moves made by INTI College would turn out to be a better fit.

The education institute recently announced that every degree student starting their course in January 2014 would be required to take a course in entrepreneurship.

This certainly brings up an interesting question for a future column: Can entrepreneurship be taught or is it a talent or instinct you are born with?

I know on my part I’ll be keeping a close eye on the young man I met and others just like him to find out the answer to that puzzle and also to keep my own cynicism and jaded attitude from taking over.

I honestly don’t know yet if he has the brains, creativity or sheer level of talent needed to carve out success in the startup arena but I know one thing for sure: With his attitude, he’s got a serious leg-up on his more talented but lazier counterparts.

But for today, the message is simply this: The new wave of entrepreneurs are just around the corner and these personalities, much like their 'seniors,' have in them the unquenchable will to do something larger than life with their own two hands.

So we should either help them or get the heck out of their way.

This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.

Previous Instalments:

Advice from the shadows

Learn from a great imposter

Building bridges between Malaysia and Singapore

Richard Branson on how to take on Goliath

Incubate, accelerate or go solo

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