Issue 120 | Jan-Mar 2020

It Takes a ‘Village’ to Nurture a Dream

To succeed in business, who you know is just as important as what you know.

Timeliss co-founder Ms Kat Neo doing a pitch.
This is the underlying principle behind the NUS Entrepreneurship Village (NEV), currently driven by Mr Alexander Kho (Business ’16) and Mr Kelly Choo (Computing ’08). NEV seeks to nurture an active and engaged NUS community in entrepreneurship by leveraging on the tripartite relationship between the University, alumni and students. It is a platform for NUS students and graduates running their own start-ups to gain access to senior alumni mentors for advice, business partnerships or even funding. 

Ms Aki Nakamura (Business ’08), an experienced entrepreneur and one of several NEV mentors, joined the initiative as a way of “giving back” to her alma mater and encouraging “meaningful collaborations” between different NUS cohorts. “Young alumni and students are extremely tech-savvy and resourceful in implementing digital technologies to start their new ventures, but they often lack the capability to generate revenue,” she says. “As mature entrepreneurs, we can offer domain knowledge, business development expertise and industry contacts to help their businesses take off.” 

Joining the Village was one of the best decisions we have made. We would not be where we are without being part of the community.  
Mr Raimie Tang (Engineering & Business ’17), founder of DateIdeas

At the first iteration of the Village in 2018, a total of 11 start-ups from various industries were invited to pitch to a panel of NEV alumni. Among the panellists were Mr Yeo Keng Joon (MBA ’85), Managing Partner of Global Biotech Singapore; Mr Tong Hsien-Hui (Engineering ’98), Head of Venture Investing at SGInnovate; Mr Wong Sang Wuoh, Associate Director at NUS Enterprise; Mr Edward Ta (Business ’87), Director of Cargill Asia Pacific; and Mr Zhao Dexin (Engineering ’14), Chairman of SAFRA Entrepreneurs’ Club. Some of those start-ups have since made it through the difficult early days and are beginning to make waves in their respective sectors. 

For example, late-life technology innovations company Timeliss is making good progress in becoming the go-to portal for end-of-life information and services. Its co-founder Ms Kat Neo (Science ’07) says that NEV provided mentorship and connections to help improve Timeliss’ platform and add more services. As a result, the company won top prize in the Modern Aging Singapore 2018 accelerator programme and was one of the top 10 teams in the 2018 edition of Singtel Future Makers. 

Likewise, Mr Raimie Tang (Engineering & Business ’17) credits NEV for the success of his start-up, DateIdeas, which recommends interesting ideas for gatherings with friends, outings and dates. NEV provided a springboard to help him form multiple partnerships with popular brands over a short period of time, as alumni mentors willingly shared contacts and tips on how to approach these brands. To date, DateIdeas has grown by more than 1,000 per cent from 2,000 to over 22,000 weekly active users. “Joining the Village was one of the best decisions we have made. We would not be where we are without being part of the community,” says Mr Tang. 

Other alumni start-ups that have benefitted from the first run of NEV — and its tight-knit community of entrepreneurs — include Treatsure, Singapore’s first mobile reservation platform connecting businesses with surplus food to everyday consumers; Pitchspot, an open-access, community-driven innovation platform for teams to discover, share and build validated ideas using widely-recognised frameworks such as the Business Model Canvas; and Advantir Innovations, which has produced the world’s first capsule-dispensing soft-serve ice cream machine through its flagship product, Swirl.Go. 
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