By Siddika Jaffer, SMU Master of Science in Innovation current student
I am the founder of Halal Dining Club, a seed-stage Food Technology company with a vision to become the global go-to platform for halal dining. My partners and I are starting by building a mobile app, for consumers who find it hard to find halal dining options at home and when they travel. We hope to provide an engaging and rewarding app experience that provides a comprehensive, well-curated list of halal options.
Currently, we are on track for conducting a beta launch of the app in the next quarter in Singapore. Despite us not having launched yet, we are beginning to get a lot of public interest. We were recently interviewed by a Japanese publication NNA.Asia, and the article’s title – “Seizing An Opportunity” – prompted me to reflect upon my entrepreneurial journey to date.
Although there is a common perception that true entrepreneurs do not need a classroom education to learn how to be successful, I think that the opportunities and benefits that I’ve gained from the Master of Science in Innovation (MI) programme may perhaps trump the conventional approach of “just doing it”.
When I joined the MI programme in July 2014, my objectives were to learn new tools and processes around innovation that I could apply to my new business ideas, and to build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs. On both counts, I have managed to achieve my objectives.
I believe that the structure of the programme and having to find the time and space to meet its requirements have complemented my own entrepreneurial spirit, by giving me opportunities to really explore and validate my ideas quickly and effectively. The ability to gain inputs from my professors at SMU, as well as from guest lecturers and fellow classmates, has been invaluable.
Furthermore, as an expat in Singapore, my network here used to be fairly limited. Just one year since I entered the MI programme, I now have a number of peers and mentors who are not just valuable contacts but also very cherished friends to me. I have had the opportunity to learn from and network with veteran entrepreneurs in the Singapore ecosystem such as Darius Cheung of 99.co and Eddie Chau, serial entrepreneur and founder of e-Cop, Brandtology and V-Key. And it was through working on a group project with Salman Sardar and Maya Sofhiana, that I found my team members for Halal Dining Club.
The MI programme played a major role in our founding of the Halal Dining Club. In applying the Design Thinking methodology taught by Professor Ted Tschang, and the Lean Canvas approach taught by Professor Arcot Desai Narasimhalu, we really focused on identifying big pain points that were not adequately addressed in the market. Specifically, we agreed that halal dining consumers face a massive problem on a daily basis when they live in or travel to countries where it is hard to find halal food options catered to their taste.
We applied every tool and process at our disposal to test, validate and refine our idea, which originated as a capstone project. Once we were sure that there was definitely a problem that consumers were very interested in solving, we went on to craft as robust a business model as we could. Our professors, such as Steve Wyatt and Srinivas Reddy, were very generous with their time. They pushed our thinking so that we could transform this capstone project to a real-world venture.
Reflecting on my journey of entrepreneurship, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt – whether in or out of the classroom – has been to seize every opportunity as it presents itself. While anyone can browse though the plethora of Twitter links, YouTube videos and blog posts by entrepreneurs and academics to learn about the theory of developing a successful business, it has been much more enlightening to learn directly from people who have experienced it first-hand.
Similarly, networking relentlessly has been invaluable: to get feedback from third-party observers, to seek inputs from veteran entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that have helped me to improve on my idea, and just to build connections that may prove useful later on. And of course, I relish opportunities to help others in return, too.
Since the completion of our capstone projects, my Halal Dining Club partners and I have been working hard at trying to drive towards the objectives we set. The next stage is a beta launch in the next quarter, followed by international expansion. I feel privileged to have had the wonderful support and intellectual stimulation of the MI programme and now I hope to go out there and really put into practice everything I’ve learnt