Easy grants can be taken for granted

Government support, grants make it easy for to build startups, but entrepreneurs should toughen up against market reality to create successful companies, say industry watchers.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor on

SINGAPORE--Making it too easy for entrepreneurs to access investment funds can have an adverse impact on startup landscape as it encourages sub-standard ideas that will inevitably fail.

There lies the fine but important line between making things easier, for example through government grants, and ensuring budding entrepreneurs do not fall into complacency from being sheltered against hard knocks, said industry players at the first annual Startup Asia Thursday.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia at event sidelines, Lim Kuo-Yi, CEO of Infocomm Investment, said government grants serve their purpose well in giving people a chance to experience running their own business. Infocomm Investment is the venture capital subsidiary of Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). Lim is also the mentor-in-residence at Singapore Management University's Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

However, he noted that this could also lead to more startups being formed just to get the money and not because entrepreneurs have a really good idea that can become commercially successful.

According to Lim, government grants are about achieving quantity effect, lowering barriers and simplifying things so to give as many entrepreneurs a shot as possible.

"But quality matters as well", and businesses have an obligation to prove themselves as quality startups, he added.

Lim's views were shared by Alvin Yap, CEO and founder of TMG, a Singapore-based developer of mobile games for emerging markets. Also a speaker at Startup Asia, Yap acknowledged the importance of external help such as government support and funding, but added that a "reality check" with real-world experience is necessary to a successful business.

"The government fund was not to grow my business, but to help teach me how to be an entrepreneur. The only way [to learn to run a business] is to go out and get your ass kicked," he said.

Yap, 26, founded TMG, which stands for The Mobile Gamer, when he was 22 years old. "Being young, you don't have much savings." Three years ago, his startup received two grants totaling about S$100,000 (US$80,205) from Spring Singapore and the Media Development Authority. The company has since gotten two more rounds of private investment, he told ZDNet Asia.

"We would have never got started if not for government funding. But none of it goes into what we're doing now. Instead those funds went into us nurturing and maturing [ourselves] as entrepreneurs," he added

While it should not be too easy for aspiring entrepreneurs to set up and run their startups, it should also not be too difficult.

Lim emphasized that it is not about deciding which approach has more merits. Instead there should be different entrepreneurship programs to achieve specific purposes. "If the objective is to just give people the experience of running a business, then lower the bar. If it's to create good successful companies, then be more selective," he said.

Lim also pointed out that ideally, the local community of private venture capitalists and investors should be strong and vibrant enough to invest in startups without government involvement. The government's role is to kick-start markets that have yet to get much attention, and once enough momentum sets in, private venture capitalists and investor angels step in, he said.

Yap also suggested that government funding programs should increase consultation from entrepreneurs on the ground. This refers to people who are currently active in the market space, rather than academics or those who are very experienced but have since retired. "For today's startups, you need today's people who are relevant," he said.

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