Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

19 January 2022 — Khan Zaid Ahmed sat and wondered where he had gone wrong. He had worked hard to establish his tropical food import business. He had even managed to branch out into urban agriculture and insect farming. However, success was not his to find. Perhaps it was time to return to the corporate world, uninspiring as it was. Perhaps he was not suited to be an entrepreneur, unlike his elder brother and sister. However, he had never been one to give up quite so easily. As he searched for options, he came across something that piqued his interest: the Master of Science in Venture Creation (MSc in Venture Creation) from the National University of Singapore (NUS)

Khan Zaid Ahmed

When at First You Do Not Succeed
Zaid had left a position in finance and audit at one of the top paint producers in the world to follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his siblings. He was confident that his academic and professional qualifications would give him an advantage; after all, he held a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Accounting and Finance from Oxford Brookes University, and a full membership in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

However, as time went by, he realised that there were some gaps in his skills and experience. Apart from having to drive marketing, sales and branding, he was finding it difficult to attract and manage funding to support his company’s operations. Eventually, he made the hard decision to move on.

The experience spurred him to learn from his mistakes and shortcomings. He weighed his options and decided to equip himself with knowledge on how to develop and run a business. He was on the verge of joining a Master’s of Business Administration programme at a top university, but at the last moment, a realisation hit him: he was more passionate about starting up a new venture rather than climbing up the corporate ladder. He knew then what his path forward would be.

Getting Ready for Round Two
As Zaid did more research into NUS and the MSc in Venture Creation, he discovered an increasing number of compelling reasons to apply for the programme. For one, Singapore boasted a vibrant start-up ecosystem, possibly the most well-developed one in Asia. Additionally, NUS’ position as a brand leader in education stood out; it had great facilities, access to funding and mentorship opportunities, and an established community of entrepreneurially minded people. Zaid thought these made the University a great launch pad for his entrepreneurial aspirations. Thus in 2020, he took the plunge and joined the NUS MSc in Venture Creation programme.

Zaid shared that his experience in the programme has been excellent, and pointed out how the modules in the curriculum are useful and applicable to those who are looking to establish a start-up.

“All the modules are important and relevant to the workplace,” he said, adding that he particularly enjoyed the module on Intellectual Property (IP). “Learning about the importance of IP to a start-up and the things to take note of—such as understanding what IP covers, and knowing how to apply for IP protection—is essential information that entrepreneurs need to know, as start-ups typically try to innovate new products or services.”

Venture Funding was another module of special significance to Zaid, since his previous venture had failed due to lack of funding.

Zaid also liked that the programme encouraged students to not limit their learning to what is taught in their modules, but to also stay abreast with current happenings in the start-up world. Workshops featuring talks by start-up founders enabled students to stay up-to-date with the new innovations and technologies hitting the market, as well as to hear the personal journeys of these founders. The programme also organised events involving venture funds and investors to give students insights into the trending innovations that are attracting investment.

Something else about the MSc in Venture Creation that Zaid found exciting was the Summer Programme in Entrepreneurship, which he described as a fast-paced, two-week-long learning camp with activities designed to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit of participants. He enjoyed how the whole entrepreneurial journey was gamified to inspire learning and a healthy level of competition among participants.

Overcoming Challenges to Rise Again
It was not all just fun and games though. Zaid struggled to strike a balance between the demands of his internship at a consulting company and his studies in the classroom. He had to keep to a tight schedule, but ended up learning a great deal about the work culture and expectations in Singapore. It was a first-hand glimpse into what was needed for a start-up to succeed in a saturated market. More importantly, Zaid gained an understanding of how to put into practice all he had learned when building his own venture.

Not all his classmates harboured plans to start up their own businesses though. As Zaid’s fellow classmate Nadim Zaro had noted earlier, not all MSc in Venture Creation students desire to setup their own companies. Instead, they may see value in what they can learn from the programme, being able to gain an insight to the workings of a start-up, as well as getting the chance to delve into the latest about technology, technology management, business and finance. They may then use their knowledge and skills not as start-up founders, but as corporate professionals and consultants.

Zaid meanwhile has wasted no time in putting his education to practical use. Joining forces with a classmate, he has established a start-up based on a new applied science developed with the support of the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP). The company’s product, “Magnetic Interference Cloud Technology”, is designed to improve blood circulation to any targeted area of the body, significantly improve sleep quality, as well as reduce snoring and sleep apnoea. He aims to develop his start-up further after completing GRIP and the MSc in Venture Creation programme.

As Zaid looks forward to the future, he is grateful for what the MSc in Venture Creation has offered him: not just an academic advantage, but access to a strong start-up ecosystem with connections to a global community of innovators, thought leaders and entrepreneurs that he can tap on to make his new venture a success.

20 January 2022