Not Save Our Souls but Save Our Entrepreneurs?

Business plan competitions have been pretty big recently. I like to congratulate the winners and this post is in no way demeaning their hard work and excellent ideas. That being said I am pretty skeptical about such business plan competitions, entrepreneurship grants, and even venture capital seeds.
Perhaps I’m a little extreme in my views but after reading and thinking about such activities, I wonder are such activities, especially in a country like Singapore, are really molly-codding in disguise? You must be wondering WHAT? Is this guy nuts?
Please bear with me? A large majority of startups will fail, and as I’m a student of life, I feel no amount of tutoring, training, and guiding young entrepreneurs are going to do anything positive unless they actually learn by going through the motions. Practical vs. Theory.
Furthermore I feel such “grooming” activities actually imped young entrepreneurs by the simple act of allowing them to either “win” or “lose” such activities and competitions. Losing such a competition and after going through such a hard evaluation process could surly damper passion and drive? This passion and drive to try and try again? By losing, does it mean that you are telling generally overachieving young entrepreneurs that they are not good enough?
Passion and drive in the young entrepreneur is a big asset in making it big, and its no wonder that statistically the most successful entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates or Michael Dell all started before they hit 27 years old. In my opinion you should should teach young entrepreneurs to instead of winning or losing, to that they have one of the most important assets of being a great entrepreneur, and that is Time. The time to think, plan, and act. They have the time to fail and try again before the rest of the “baggage” like responsibilities or family come about that often prevent people from taking the risk of starting out on their own.
What about the winners? Have you heard about how many actor’s career go down hill after winning an Academy Award Oscar? It’s already so difficult to survive in business, do you now need the additional pressure to perform as a winner should and the fear of ridicule and shame should you fail?
I still consider myself an “Amateur Entrepreneur”, so do take what I say with a pinch of salt, but I think the solution to the problem is really in the follow through, or the lack of it that it.
Often in the news there are so much hype about success but so little about failure. Unless you are Nanz Chong, and good on her for wearing it like a badge! Nothing will bring entrepreneur aspirants out of the wood work then a network of people that helps failed enterprises and start-up learn from their mistakes. Help them pick up the pieces, move on and start again.
Personally I feel there should not be such competitions but more entrepreneurship workshops, for free even. Get people sorted out, organized, and point them in the right direction and let them go and try. Too many start-ups fail due to inertia (speaking from experience!) and don’t go further from the business plans. Hey are business plans even needed? Intel’s legendary business plan was just one page. Perhaps a one page business plan workshop?
Then as they travel, mentor them, advise them, but let them do what they want. Thats the only way to learn. If it fails, encourage them and help them learn from their mistakes. It is this type of environment with a huge acceptance of failure is what makes Singapore actually so poor in entrepreneurship.
It is no secret. It is very easy to start a business in Singapore, no doubt about it. But we are very bad at the follow through support. We are great in rowing things up, and kick starting things big, but very bad in seeing it to the end or even supporting it after go. It would be interesting to do a study of the participants that did not win such business plan awards and see how many continued with their dream and how many gave up.
In conclusion my proposal of how to foster entrepreneurship in Singapore is to set up instead of a S.O.S hotline but a S.O.E hotline.
Save Our Entrepreneurs!

4 Comments
  • BL

    June 18, 2006 at 11:53 pm Reply

    Hi DT,
    Nice article. I totally agree that the fear of failure is one of the bottlenecks why most people are not into entrepreneurship.
    One interesting statistic to share. Most business plan competition winners don’t make it big. Usually, the runners up and semi-finalists made it into business finally. Even I was number 5 in the competition. But it turned out that we all started proper business in the end. The reason is because after being defeated, we told ourselves that we are going to make it to show that the judges made the wrong choice. Btw, the only company that made it IPO (billion dollar company) in MIT-$100K business plan competition, Akamai, is a semi-finalist (i.e. they did not made it to the last ten). All the other winners of that year, we don’t hear from them anymore.
    You should publish this in SG Entrepreneurs. ūüôā

  • Design Translator

    June 18, 2006 at 11:56 pm Reply

    Hey BL,
    Thanks for the reply! Actually I have just posted it, and awaiting approval.
    Thanks for the stats, now that is interesting!

  • Chad Brownstein

    June 21, 2007 at 12:24 am Reply

    sometimes because of the success stories on TV, people think they had it very easy. I back you up on more entrepreneurship workshops. Sometimes another thing that I feel that inhibits young entrepreneurs is because of “big-time” entrepreneurs’ circle being so exclusive. It would be great to pick the minds of these great names, learn from their mistakes and just bask in their awesomeness ūüôā

  • Design Translator

    June 21, 2007 at 9:33 am Reply

    Hi Chad,
    Thanks so much for your comments. And I totally agree with you. I think we should celebrate failure, throw a big bash even! I think we should also have workshops on dealing with failure, or how an entrepreneur can deal with it, both in his personal life and career.
    I’m interested to know, from your position at ITU (from your link) how would venture capitalist deal with such situations? I’m sure its pretty serious, failure that is, as there is money involved. But do you all sit back and have a laugh about it sometime?
    Would it not be also great to create a network that allows budding entrepreneurs a chance for a fire side chat with say Bill Gates? Hmm…please do keep in touch?

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