Global exposure: 8 days of entrepreneurship in Hangzhou

By Theresa Syn, Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Attending an overseas programme is just one of many ways to gain global exposure at SMU.  Student Blogger Theresa narrates her Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme experience at Zhe Jiang University in Hangzhou, China and shares her personal learning points from the journey.

I remember browsing through my inbox some time in March and chancing upon an email from the SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) that read “Innovation and Entrepreneurship programme at Zhe Jiang University (ZJU)”. Having heard a lot about the university from my brother who was about to go there for a student exchange, I was immediately interested in the programme. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I also felt it would be a good opportunity for me to learn more about what it takes to start my own business. Being in my first year at SMU with no prior experience in the field of entrepreneurship, I was initially afraid that I had very little to offer to this programme. A multitude of thoughts ran through my head: “What if my ideas are bad?”, “Will I survive in China with my less-than-decent standard of Mandarin?”, “Will I be able to sufficiently contribute to my group?”, and so on. Ignoring the doubtful voice in my head, I took my chances and sent in an application. To my surprise, I was selected for the programme along with 18 other SMU students! We were all briefed, prepared for the programme, and before we knew it, we were on a plane to go to Hangzhou for the trip of a lifetime.

 

En-route to Hangzhou with new friends!

En-route to Hangzhou with new friends!

 

Touching down in Hangzhou, we were quickly whisked away to the Zhijingang International Hotel for a good night’s rest. The next day, we were taken on a city tour around Hangzhou where we got to see the beautiful Westlake, the majestic Lei Feng Pagoda and several other historical monuments and temples. The following day, we were joined by our friends from Taiwan’s National Chengchi University (NCCU) and were subsequently split into our respective groups. Each group consisted of students from China (ZJU), Taiwan (NCCU) and Singapore (SMU). We were then tasked to come up with business proposal complete with financial figures, risks analysis, marketing plans to be pitched to a panel of judges on the last day of our programme.

 

Introducing my group (Group B) – Billy, Yen-Chun, Lao Hu, Song Yuan, Miao Miao, Zijian, Jiaming, Li Ya and I

Introducing my group (Group B) – Billy, Yen-Chun, Lao Hu, Song Yuan, Miao Miao, Zijian, Jiaming, Li Ya and I

 

Over the next few days, we attended classes at ZJU—one of the top three universities in China—and covered topics like entrepreneurship and the future of innovation in China. The classes were conducted by lecturers and industry experts who were vastly experienced in their fields, and they gave us great insight to the various industries in the China market. We also had the privilege of visiting the headquarters of Alibaba—the legendary internet-based e-commerce giant. Although we weren’t allowed to enter the offices, we were awe-struck just walking around the massive office campus. It was hard to believe we were standing at the heart of a company with an estimated value of $150 billion by 2016. You could definitely say that in China, working at Alibaba is pretty much as coveted as working for Google in the United States.

 

At the Alibaba HQ!

At the Alibaba HQ!

 

What I enjoyed the most were the intimate sharing sessions we had with young local Chinese entrepreneurs and venture capitalists (alumni from ZJU) who shared their experiences with us. It was heartening to hear their stories and experiences knowing that they too were once college students like us, but have moved on to achieve greater things in life. It definitely inspired me to strive towards pursuing my goal of starting my own business in the future. On the last day of the programme, we were all smartly dressed in our suits and ready for the final business pitch. Though we were we were mentally drained from the fatigue of working through the night to complete the presentation slides and business proposal, we all managed to take on the presentation with wide smiles on our faces. The whole experience was truly an eye-opening one, working on a project with students from across different cultures and to see how the group worked together under such tight circumstances. Nonetheless, our hard work paid off as my group received the Gold Prize for the business pitch!

 

All smiles and suited up for our business pitch!

All smiles and suited up for our business pitch!

 

Albeit short, this 8-day programme left me with countless lessons on entrepreneurship, culture and most importantly, life. Here are three learning points I took away from the trip:

1) Innovation charts the future

This trip has really opened my eyes to the importance of innovation and how much of an impact it has on the future. It is easy to take the world we live in for granted—devices like smartphones and tablets are so easily accessible that we often forget that these inventions and other services were all products of hard work and the tireless process of innovation. As the future generation, it is our duty to keep this flame of entrepreneurship and innovation alive. As an SMU student, I feel extremely fortunate that we have so many resources at the SMU-IIE for us to take advantage of. From funding to incubation to mentorship, these are only some of the various services available to students for no charge at all.

2) “Don’t be afraid of the giants”

This was a piece of advice given to us by one of the lecturers during the classes at ZJU, which really resonated with me. Being an aspiring entrepreneur without much (or any) financial backing, it is easy to feel intimidated when pursuing an idea that competes directly with successful companies. Oftentimes, I would give up on ideas I truly believed in just because I knew the battle to achieving success would be met with fierce competition from the “giants”. Going on this trip has definitely empowered me with a more courageous outlook on entrepreneurship.

3) How fortunate I am to study in Singapore

This trip has also allowed me to really appreciate the many opportunities I am given as a student in Singapore. Many of our ZJU friends told us that they rarely have the luxury of leaving the country and the reason they signed up to be volunteers of the programme was so that they could learn more about Singapore by interacting with us. This made me realise how fortunate I am as an SMU student, where 80% of students get to go on an overseas trip at least once before graduation. The lessons learnt and friendships made on these global trips will definitely not be forgotten.

 

Thank you IIE for this amazing opportunity to experience life as a student at ZJU and for the invaluable lessons learnt and friendships made on this trip. Also, thank you to the new friends I’ve made on this trip, we sure are a diverse bunch but I guess that’s what made the trip a whole lot more enjoyable ☺

 

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