Sunday, June 13, 2010

Entrepreneurship secret recipe

If only entrepreneurship were like a secret sauce, people would copy the recipe and reapply it each time they need a dose of it in their newly minted business plans. Unfortunately for most would-be entrepreneurs, this is not the case.

Two speakers with links to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came close when they shared insights and highlights of the so-called 'MIT approach' at a recent forum co-hosted by SMU's Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Mr Kivel is currently CEO of TheraGenetics, a London-based company working on commercialisation of diagnostic tests to improve the treatment of disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer's. A serial life science commercialisation veteran, Mr Kivel oversaw the successful acquisition of MolecularWare, an MIT spin-off which he led as CEO from 2001 to 2004.

Mr Califano, on the other hand, manages the operation of the SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology) Innovation Centre in Singapore. He founded and held senior positions in many companies in the United States and Asia, including a stint as consulting director of Bio*One Capital Pte Ltd, the biomedical investment arm of Singapore's Economic Development Board. He was also the CEO of Johns Hopkins Singapore and The Johns Hopkins-NUH International Medical Centre.

For both men, a key issue in any informed debate over entrepreneurship is whether it is replicable. In other words, given the same mix of factors, will there be an equal response in terms of number of commercial successes? And if not, is the whole project of trying to teach entrepreneurship simply an exercise in despair?

Risk without failure?

Access to early funding and advice is critical for new entrepreneurs. Finding and tapping into the VC (venture capital) and angel investor communities is absolutely critical.

VCs who have invested their money and are keen to see it multiply will see that they continue to engage with the start-up and help see it succeed. To guard their own interests, the typical venture capitalist will not allow you to fall into a living death situation since that would threaten their own investment.

We're capturing people from each department who would never have thought of starting their own business, noting that these now include life sciences, engineering, computing and even social sciences grads apart from the usual finance and business admin people.

Entrepreneurship involves people with integrity, leadership, a bias to action and ability to attract talent. The theme, 'it takes a village', is echoed at MIT where entrepreneurship is widely practised among the community of interested parties that reinforces the culture and drives further risk taking from the shared experience.

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