"There is really no cookie-cutter approach to entrepreneurship - it's all hard work, but they can all make a big impact."
With that, Director of Acacia Communications Mr. Eric A. Swanson opened his public lecture as he spoke before an eager crowd of students, working professionals and entrepreneurs. The seminar - held on 25 January 2019 - was the latest in the annual Chua Thian Poh Distinguished Speaker Series.
The programme is a key initiative under The Chua Thian Poh Entrepreneurship Education Fund. Guest of Honour Mr. Chua Thian Poh, Chairman and CEO of Ho Bee Investment Ltd, presented the fund to Nanyang Technopreneurship Center (NTC) to help develop future entrepreneurs with a competitive edge to meet global challenges.
Other than supporting NTC activities, the fund also offers scholarships for students pursuing the Master of Science Technopreneurship & Innovation Programme (MSc TIP).
Speaker Mr. Eric A. Swanson has served in a number of technical and managerial roles in academic entrepreneurial, industrial, and non-profit organisations. He is no stranger to entrepreneurship, having co-founded a total of five start-up companies.
Earlier in the day, he engaged with other professionals in a roundtable discussion. They shared about their respective businesses, innovations and experiences, as well as topics revolving around intellectual property, technology, youth development and academics.
At the seminar, he tapped on his own personal journey and observations, honing in on the importance of surrounding oneself with diverse groups of people who share a common vision.
This is especially so in a time of rapid technological change. With disruption having the potential to destroy entire companies, he pointed out how sustainable innovation was the best way to stay ahead of the curve. However, doing so can be a difficult task to accomplish.
"It's not just rational logic that takes you from here to there. The answer about where to look and what to do isn't very obvious," he said.
According to Mr. Swanson, companies who support diversity are therefore at a greater advantage. Utilising a larger spectrum of skills and technology encourages ideation "through combinations of existing ideas" from various fields and levels.
He added that to foster that potential, the working environment has to be conducive for open communication. Forcing innovation from the top-down only stifles progress. "A distributed culture where everyone understands innovation and has a direction and mission is a much more powerful solution," he said.
"If you hire a bunch of people in your start-up, and they are not free to share their ideas, they won't share their ideas."
He then continued to discuss further the practical details of founding a start-up - evaluating risks from both positive and negative perspectives, the know-hows of business plans, barriers to entry, and methods of obtaining funding.
Towards the end of the seminar, Mr. Swanson opened up on how he never intended to become an entrepreneur in the first place, recalling his own dilemma over the decision to switch careers. However, it was only a matter of time before it became increasingly clear that he wanted to seek a new path, only held back by a fear of failure and the unknown.
"As engineers, in school, people give us a problem set. You know the answer's there, you just have to find it. But in life, you don’t know what the answer is," he said.
"There was this uncertainty, but in retrospect, I 'tortured' myself for no reason. Because eventually you'll reach a tipping point and it's obvious. I wanted to try this new thing, even though it was scary."