Issue 117 | Apr-Jun 2019

Hands On, and All Heart

A passion for developing the potential of youths has spurred Mr David Wang (Business + USP ’08) to establish the 33 Capital Student Exchange Award.

The very archetype of the dynamic entrepreneur, Mr David Wang is a hands-on kind of guy — even when it comes to the award that he has established, which provides cash assistance to students who go on overseas exchange. “I believe that in everything I do, I must be involved, if not there is no meaning,” says Mr Wang, co-founder of venture capital and tech advisory firm 33 Capital. “I did this not for branding, but because I want to help the kids. They only have to thank me by doing well.”

Mr Wang, who made waves last year with the establishment of fin-tech start-up Helicap, reveals that at 36, NUS told him that they seldom see such a young donor. Also surprising was his desire to be closely involved with the students selected to receive the cash assistance. “I suggested that we have a WhatsApp group (involving the selected students), as I insisted on getting to know them. I wanted their CVs, I wanted reports,” says Mr Wang. “This is not because I care what they do with the money, but because I want to know that there is an impact. Even if it is just about them being able to call me sometime in the year and ask for my advice, that’s good enough. That conversation might be worth more than the $5,000 I give (to each of the three students).”

The Best-Case Scenario

At the time The AlumNUS caught up with Mr Wang, he was gearing up to take on a higher profile in his business ventures. Prior to this, he had not even attempted to boost 33 Capital’s CSR plaudits by trumpeting the award he established at NUS. A quick scan of the 33 Capital website reveals that Mr Wang has indeed not publicised the bursary at all. “I always tell my (interns), you want to improve yourselves by extracting value out of others… (Instead) why don’t you try to mentor someone else? Maybe volunteer and help a junior? When you help one person level up, it has a compounding effect,” says Mr Wang, explaining his rationale for establishing a bursary at such a young age.

As for why he chose overseas exchange as the focus of 33 Capital Student Exchange Award, he recalled that it was an overseas exchange that put him on the path to becoming an entrepreneur in the first place. While still a student at the NUS Business School, Mr Wang spent a semester at the USC Marshall School of Business in the USA. While there, not only did he discover an entrepreneurial culture among the students, but he also found a personal passion for case competitions. 

Upon returning to Singapore, Mr Wang persuaded his Business School professors in charge of the case programme that he should be on the team, despite his self-professed “lousy academic record”. Although he was not immediately successful at case competitions, his persistence eventually paid off. “When (my team) finally won a case competition, it was the first time I won something; I had won prizes before but never outright placed first. That was the turning point for me. Honestly, it has been pretty smooth sailing from that point, and I can attribute it all to watching that first case competition (when I was on overseas exchange),” says Mr Wang.

Gearing Up For Good

Mr Wang graduated from NUS in 2008 and went right into Morgan Stanley, which offered him a job as an analyst even before he graduated. He stayed with the firm for eight years, before blazing his own path in 2016. Mr Wang confesses that it was challenging in the first year, when he was adapting to the realities of working alone. Things are on the up now though, with a strong young team behind him, including up to 15 interns a year. “Kids come into our business from NUS, because I’m from there so I recognise the quality and rigour of the system! We can see them change in six months, and we push them really hard,” says
Mr Wang.

While Mr Wang is not publicising the bursary he established, he said this may change soon. This is largely due to the Helicap venture, which has drawn press attention thanks to the involvement of Mr Teo Ser Luck, Singapore’s former Minister of State and current Chairman of Nufin Data. At present, two of the three students who have benefitted from the 33 Capital Student Exchange Award have expressed an interest in internships with Helicap. They are certainly in for an interesting time. “I enjoy nurturing people, trying to make them better – at least to help them understand their place in this scary world,” says Mr Wang. “We track every intern – we have a file on each one – and I try to monitor what happens to them in five years.” 


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