There is a popular saying that one should first accumulate work experience, expand his social network and acquire new skills before he tries to run his own show.
Now, this may be the right prescription for some, but we should bear in mind that there is also an emerging generation of graduate entrepreneurs who reject this idea.
For this generation, starting a business right after graduation is a good option.
“I’ve always wanted to do something interesting and that can create positive impact. And I thought starting up is the best way to achieve, because it creates values for people,” says Leo Wong, co-founder of Sensbeat.
Wong and some colleagues started their mobile start-up when they were still students. The group had almost skipped all classes for two semesters and focused on developing a platform for music sharing, he says.
In less than three years, Sensbeat was accepted into an international accelerator Plug and Play in Silicon Valley. This year the start-up was granted an investment of US$ 1,000,000 from HeungKong Group and other investors from Silicon Valley, Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Graduate entrepreneurs like Wong are yet to become mainstream in Hong Kong.
According to a report published by Google and Center for Entrepreneurship of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), 43 percent of potential Hong Kong entrepreneurs consider social and cultural norms when deciding to start a business, and peer pressure makes it hard for them to take the first step.
The report pointed out that Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial spirit was “pared down by risk aversion”.
Google and CUHK run an incubation program for young entrepreneurs aged between 16 and 40.
“We experience the Hong Kong ‘cultural paradox’ whereby a driven, well-educated, and hard-working society is not taking the entrepreneurial risks because of the fear of failure and ‘get-rich quick’ mantra,” said Dominic Allon, managing director of Google Hong Kong and a co-publisher of the report.
While entrepreneurs in general enjoy a higher degree of freedom, autonomy and flexibility compared to regular full-time company employees, Dean Stallard, regional director of recruitment firm Hays cited self-discipline, stress of not having stable income and risk of failure as the three major challenges that graduate entrepreneurs may face.
“When starting your own business you should consider all the risks. There is no guarantee of success,” he says.
In fact, statistics indicate that most start-ups fail.
According to a study by Harvard Business School lecturer Shikhar Ghosh, three out of four startups backed by venture capital in the United States fail. Some researchers even estimated the failure rate of startups as high as 90 percent.
Now the question arises: Is entrepreneurship experience being valued by employers regardless of success or failure?
According to Hays’ Stallard, employers nowadays do value candidates with entrepreneurial experience.
He explained: “Entrepreneurial candidates understand that promotion is based on merit rather than time served. They also know that their employers are looking to get the most value out of their teams and it is the top performers who will be selected for promotion.”
Stallard’s view resonates with that of Google’s Allon, whose company has deep roots in Silicon Valley. According to him, the startup mindset should not be confined to entrepreneurship; it also applies to a corporate environment.
“When we look at the Silicon Valley, most startup founders are self-starters and are not afraid to fail. Indeed, failure is encouraged and the critical part is learning from the failure…”
“This is why we encourage Googlers to become “intrapreneurs”, where they are sharing the same value with entrepreneurs,” he added.
Should we be afraid of graduate entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneur Wong thinks the answer is no.
“Sometimes in life we just have to do it first and think about it later,” he says, advising people not to let go of potential opportunities for fear of failure.
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