Almost a fifth of Singapore’s population are youth and this segment will contribute to the progress of the nation if its entrepreneurial potential is harnessed effectively.
One of the best ways to empower and inspire youth is through mentorship from experienced mentors who have been there and done so. This adds a useful dimension beyond simply providing education that only provides resources and expertise.
In a competitive, opaque and high-risk environment like entrepreneurship, young people can benefit greatly from someone in their corner, but too many young entrepreneurs make decisions and choices every day without the support of an experienced mentor.
Done right, mentors can give them the encouragement, support, and guidance they need to reach their full potential and thrive.
I’ve been through the journey of entrepreneurship myself and seen how lonely, helpless and frustrating the journey can feel.
For this reason, I choose to give back to the development of future entrepreneurs by providing mentorship through my efforts at Super Scaling, where I coach entrepreneurs on various aspects of scaling their businesses through a structured program.
I also mentor start-up founders through the Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Business Innovations Generator (BIG).
GAPS IN THE START-UP ECOSYSTEM
One of the gaps in the startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem here is that it hopes entrepreneurship can largely be taught through formal education.
However, the very nebulous nature of entrepreneurship means that very little can be taken from formal education.
This leads to budding entrepreneurs feeling underprepared and even disillusioned after attending entrepreneurship courses.
This effect is comparable to making progress in sports or fitness that performs very poorly when students only take theory lessons about it.
Students can learn the theoretical aspects of a sport like swimming, but when they actually try swimming, they will find that their theoretical knowledge is very difficult to translate into real life.
What these swimmers will soon find is that the best thing to do is just start swimming. It is extremely helpful that they receive feedback and advice from an experienced swimming instructor while swimming.
Surprisingly, this is the case whether you are a beginner swimmer or even an Olympian. Without a good instructor, the swimmer may not see why they are not making progress in terms of performance.
Worse, they could spend hours and hours practicing the wrong way, cementing bad habits and form.
Mentoring also achieves the same effects for the entrepreneurship space. Theoretical lessons can help provide an overview of how things work, but the best way for entrepreneurs to learn and grow is by starting their business.
With the help of experienced mentors, entrepreneurs can then be guided on what to do, what not to do and how to properly think and formulate problems they encounter.
REAL WORLD CONSEQUENCES
I experienced this regularly on my mentoring journey. Entrepreneurs often have either an inexperienced or a misguided idea of how things should work. This is dangerous because it leads to real consequences.
For example, many of my clients at Super Scaling or at BIG have team building challenges, but hiring is a topic that has been very well researched and written about.
It’s not at all difficult for Google to hire and learn about it, but then why is hiring such a big problem for entrepreneurs and businesses?
My own entrepreneurship journey spans two decades and I have grown teams up to 150 people. This didn’t happen overnight, nor was it a smooth journey.
Through this experience I made a lot of mistakes in hiring and building teams that not only cost me money but also time.
The lessons I learned about hiring, specifically what to do and what not to do when hiring, now allow me to guide and correct my entrepreneurial clients to develop their own effective forms of talent management be able.
Another problem entrepreneurs typically face is delegation and productivity.
Business scaling is not a linear journey. In my Super Scaling methodology, I break down the scaling process into at least three phases, with each phase taking a different approach to delegation and productivity.
Theoretical lessons do not show or emphasize these differences, which is a major problem when entrepreneurs just read the lessons, take them at face value, and try to apply them directly to their own business without judgment.
It’s difficult for entrepreneurs to navigate these nuances, which is why mentoring plays such a big role. Programs like SMU II’s BIG, which supports even non-SMU-affiliated companies, are particularly useful for entrepreneurs.
These programs can guide entrepreneurs so they can understand and effectively exceed the business challenges they undoubtedly face.
Developing an innovative and entrepreneurial culture among young Singaporeans is a national imperative as it enables Singapore to maintain its leadership role as a hub not only in Southeast Asia but in the world.
Young entrepreneurs not only need the knowledge, but also the guidance, support and community they need to grow into successful businesses.
This is best done through a combination of education and mentoring, which I have personally seen many entrepreneurs benefit from.
To benefit from mentoring, the mentee must be open to feedback, willing to act quickly, and be transparent and confident about the challenges and issues they are facing.
The biggest problem is a breakdown in communication after dozens of mentoring relationships, leading to inaction or worse wrong actions.
According to the motto “You can lead a horse to water, but not make it drink”, a solid mentoring relationship depends on mutual respect, a willingness to give and take and open communication.
In this way, young people can effectively benefit from mentoring and have the chance to be successful on their own entrepreneurial path.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alvin Poh is a mentor in the Singapore Management University – Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SMU IIE) program. In 2017, at the age of 33, he sold an internet business he had built to become Singapore’s leading hosting provider with 35,000 customers and 150 employees for US$30 million.