Lessons in Entrepreneurship

ISSUE #59 – Interview with Professor Kevyn Yong, Academic Dean of ESSEC Asia-Pacific and Associate Professor of Management

ESSEC Business School, Asia-Pacific strengthened its decade-long presence in Singapore with the inauguration of its new campus at Nepal Hill in one-north Business Park in 2015. The school offers academic and executive programmes with Asian insights and global perspectives. Academic programmes delivered in Singapore include the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA Asia-Pacific, the Master of Science in Management, the Global BBA (Bachelor in Business Administration), as well as specialised masters in Finance, Strategy and Management of International Business, and Management of Health Industries. ESSEC Asia-Pacific also houses several centres of excellence dedicated to research in key fields of expertise, including the Center of Excellence for Impact Entrepreneurship.



How do you define the term ‘entrepreneurship’?

In today’s term, an entrepreneur is someone who discovers an opportunity and creates value in the business world. He or she is not someone who merely starts a business or a company. The crux of entrepreneurship is in discovering or creating an opportunity and exploiting this opportunity to create value from it. This can also happen within an organisation, in which case it is usually termed ‘intrapreneurship’.

Innovation and creativity are often associated with entrepreneurship and, in most instances, this is true. As renowned economist Joseph Schumpeter puts it, a model of innovation and growth is through ‘creative destruction’. In today’s internet context, it is referred to as disruptive technology. Entrepreneurs are borne out of such creative destruction through technology disruption. For instance, entrepreneurs or technopreneurs who have exploited innovation and creativity to great success include the likes of Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Ma of Alibaba.

However, not all entrepreneurs need to be highly innovative or creative. For example, those who invest in a franchised business do not come out with the original business idea. They start a business by adopting a ‘lock stock and barrel’ formula comprising all the systems and processes of a product or service that has proven to be successful. Nonetheless, they have taken the plunge to be entrepreneurs, having identified a good business to invest in, and are ready to take on all other business risks, as with franchisees of local brands like Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Killiney Kopitiam, and international brands like Starbucks.

Singapore has been a good breeding ground for entrepreneurs from all over the world including French entrepreneurs

In Asia, is Singapore a good place to groom entrepreneurs? What is the entrepreneurship landscape like in Singapore and how does the government support entrepreneurship here?

Even as a small country with a small market size, Singapore has what it takes to be a hub for entrepreneurs in Asia. First of all, there is good economic and communications infrastructure and a relatively stable socio-political system. Together with strong government support, Singapore is

well positioned to be a gateway to Asia not just for MNCs but also for start-ups from around the world. It is very easy to start a business or incorporate a company here with the support of easily accessible services, including financial and corporate services.

Singapore has produced its share of successful local entrepreneurs with the likes of BreadTalk, Creative, Charles & Keith, and Osim, which have all grown successfully beyond the shores of Singapore, especially in Asia. It is also my vision for Singapore to be the gateway for Asian companies to gain a foothold in Western markets including Europe and the US.

That is what we have started to do at ESSEC Asia-Pacific by collaborating with ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship) on projects with start-ups based at LaunchPad@One-North to help them gain market access in France and Europe.

Are Asian entrepreneurs different from European entrepreneurs?

I believe that successful entrepreneurs all have the same traits whether they are Asian or European. They are people who have created value either by discovering or by creating interesting new opportunities. Moreover, those who have expanded and achieved success overseas manage cultural differences well and have embraced diversities in every way.

However, for those who are not so successful, there could be some distinct differences. Generally, Asian entrepreneurs are relatively better at execution and implementation while European entrepreneurs are relatively better at generating new ideas. That being said, the successful entrepreneur, whether he or she is an Asian or European, is good at both generating novel ideas and implementation or they are able to hire good people to plug any skill gaps.

What opportunities are there in Singapore for French entrepreneurs? And how can a French entrepreneur (start-up) start a business here in order to reach the larger Asian market?

Opportunities abound not just in Singapore but also across Southeast Asia, China and India. I recommend that French entrepreneurs consider thinking of Singapore as a gateway to the larger Asia Pacific market. Indeed, Singapore has one of the best infrastructure systems for entrepreneurship in the world. With one-north as an innovation cluster within clusters consisting of an ICT cluster in Fusionopolis, a bio-medical R&D cluster in Biopolis, and a cluster of start-ups at the JTC LaunchPad, Singapore presents a rich entrepreneurial environment, and probably a very competitive one too.

As mentioned, it is easy to start a business and incorporate a company in Singapore where one can tap into the many related services available here. If your company has at least 30% local ownership, there are even many government assistance schemes accessible to you through IE

Singapore and SPRING Singapore, two leading government agencies supporting small and medium enterprises here.

Typically, the company could set up a HQ in Singapore given the good infrastructural support here and expand to the rest of Asia. The HQ office would usually manage strategy, marketing, design, logistics and finance functions. Singapore has been a good breeding ground for entrepreneurs from all over the world including French entrepreneurs.

For instance, among ESSEC’s network of alumni are some entrepreneurs who have decided to set up a business in Singapore. Companies that they have set up include Street Deal, Parakito, The French Cellar and The Vintage Club.



What skills do entrepreneurs need? How important are they to Business education and how are they being taught at ESSEC?

To start with, entrepreneurs need to be strategic visionaries of the business they want to embark on. They identify an opportunity and have the ability to create and add value to that opportunity to turn it into a potential business proposition.

Entrepreneurs also need to have general business skills that include strategic thinking, marketing, finance and communication. They could either train themselves in these areas or hire those who have them. They are usually highly driven and passionate individuals who have a great appetite for working hard towards success. Last, and perhaps most importantly, they must be ready to work very hard, be resilient in the face of failures and challenges, and be savvy in networking.

Entrepreneurship is definitely an important component in current business education. Besides having the right mindset and motivation, entrepreneurs need to be equipped with the right set of creative thinking and problem-solving skills in order to be successful in their chosen business venture. A course on entrepreneurship within a formal business education programme will help to build a good foundation in these skills.

In fact, entrepreneurship is a core component in ESSEC’s Global BBA, MBA, MSc in Management (Grande Ecole) and EMBA programmes. It is also a required course in most of the other degree programmes offered.

At the same time, through our partnership with ACE in Singapore, we will be creating internships at start-ups for our Global BBA students and consulting projects for EMBA participants.


Interview published in the FOCUS Magazine “The Enterprising Spirit” – Issue #1 2016