A trip to the Valley ignites NUS students' entrepreneurial dreams

Andre Tan, Rafikah Halim, Ron Teo,
Sre Vinod Seenivasan

NUS Overseas Colleges Silicon Valley

More than an internship programme, the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme is designed to nurture and sharpen the entrepreneurial spirit of students by sending them to leading entrepreneurial hotspots around the world.

With partners such as Stanford University near Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv University in Israel and Tsinghua University in Beijing, it affords students an opportunity to gain invaluable insights through working with start-ups in a highly competitive foreign environment.

Four participants of the NOC Silicon Valley programme – Andre Tan, Rafikah Halim, Ron Teo and Sre Vinod Seenivasan - share their overseas experiences, how the programme has expanded their global mindset and opened their mind to the world of entrepreneurship.

Andre Tan
Year 3, NUS Computing and University Scholars Programme

I was first enrolled in NUS’ Mechanical Engineering programme as I wanted to pursue a technical degree. However, I also had a passion for business and when the new Business Analytics course was launched, the programme provided me with an opportunity to marry my interests. The new undergraduate programme offered by the School of Computing equips students with highly relevant skills in today’s economy such as data science, which I have personally chosen as a field of particular interest.

I had my first encounter with the NOC programme even before I started university. I was working in China at that time when I met a group of NUS students in NOC’s Shanghai programme. Through my interactions with the students, I found the work they did was very meaningful and useful, so I made up my mind to apply for the NOC programme even before I matriculated.

Andre (right) with Ben Horowitz, co-founder of tech venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

If you ever get a chance to experience the NOC programme, I would highly recommend it. During my time in Silicon Valley, there was so much to learn and there were amazing opportunities to grow as a person and as a data scientist. It is a very valuable experience for anyone who wants to work in the tech industry. In Singapore, we are quickly recognising the importance of tech start-ups. My stateside experience will definitely come in useful if I subsequently decide to start a company in Singapore.

One thing that really amazes me is the number of people in California who are familiar with NUS. This is in part attributed to the good handful of talented NUS graduates who have made their mark in Silicon Valley.

Rafikah Halim
Year 3, NUS Business School and University Scholars Programme

I have always been interested in marketing and consumer behavior. After completing my diploma at Singapore Polytechnic, making the choice to move on to the NUS Business School was an instinctive progression.

Even before stepping into NUS, I had wanted to try out for the NOC Silicon Valley programme. I am glad to say that I made the right decision. I have always dreamt of starting my own company which would integrate marketing with technology, and Silicon Valley is the place to be if you want to be immersed in the innovation and entrepreneurial world.

My Silicon Valley experience has been nothing short of amazing. You can really feel the energy and the bustle of entrepreneurial and ground-breaking ideas all around you. It makes you do more, learn more and challenge yourself every day. Silicon Valley is the true home of all passionate dreamers who are not afraid to work hard for what they believe in.

Rafikah (second from right) at the Lassen Volcanic National Park with fellow NOC batch mates.

I will not sugarcoat it – it was tough studying, cooking for yourself, paying your own bills and working on two ventures at the same time. I have definitely had late nights and I questioned my ability to continue. But when morning dawns, you will taste the passion in the air and feel an itch to push yourself all over again.

It may sound cliche, but working and living overseas will change you as a person. Your perspectives are broadened and you will think and behave more independently. I am grateful to NOC for this unparalleled opportunity.

If you are a student reading this and has an interest in the NOC programme, my advice is to take the plunge! You will not get another chance like this.

Ron Teo
Year 3, NUS Computing

NOC really forces you out of your comfort zone. Before joining the programme, I had never been in a foreign country alone for such a long time. After living in the United States for a year, you will come to appreciate all the little things you take for granted in Singapore, such as safety and the daily support you get from your family. Being independent and having no one to rely on but yourself is something I never truly understood until I started living alone in the US.

That said, NOC is by far the best programme I have ever taken. You are at the forefront of the tech scene, surrounded by the latest tech trends and you are constantly learning and networking with the finest experts in the field. It is a great launchpad for someone like me, who has always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Ron (first from right) with fellow NUS students at the top of Yosemite.

It is not always butterflies and rainbows, of course. The glamorous life of the entrepreneur exists only in the media. The start-up scene can be tough, depressing and even brutal. The question you need to ask yourself is, “How badly do you want to change the world?”

For myself, I know I want it bad enough to give it everything I’ve got!

Sre Vinod Seenivasan
Year 4, NUS Engineering and University Scholars Programme

I initially wanted to study overseas but I felt that NUS would be able to provide the same amazing opportunities at a much more affordable cost.

Given my interest in physics and exploring how things work, the Faculty of Engineering was a natural choice for me. I wanted to start by building smaller innovative machines before learning about more complex machines like aircraft.

Vinod at the Electrostatic exhibition at San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire.

I got a chance to do this during my third year design project. With some help from Dr Joerg Weigl and Associate Professor Martin Henz, my team designed and built a Hexacopter drone that was capable of lifting a person. Dr Weigl’s and Professor Assoc Prof Henz's vision and their hands-on engineering knowledge were a great inspiration to me and my friends.

I joined the NOC programme because I have always dreamt of starting my own company that builds innovative products . However, I had no idea how to begin such an entrepreneurial journey. NOC was the perfect platform because I could immerse myself in Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship scene.

The people in Silicon Valley are definitely more adventurous and bigger risk-takers, whether in their ideas or the commitment they put into making those ideas a reality. The culture there has taught me to be less fearful of failure and to boldly pursue my dreams.