Sunway University’s Startup Foundry Elective Course – Strengthening the Student Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and Fuelling Startup Success on Campus

Sunway University’s Startup Foundry Elective Course – Strengthening the Student Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and Fuelling Startup Success on Campus

Gen Z’s are more likely to get into the “Startup Game” compared to millennials

Sunway University’s School of Science and Technology and Sunway iLabs have started the first intake of the Startup Foundry – the first university elective course of its kind which will bring year two students and above, from different schools, to build their business ideas while earning academic credits.

Without academic lecturers and no exams, the Startup Foundry will not only result in the creation of business ideas that will have the potential to be taken forward as a startup, but also to develop an entrepreneurial mindset amongst students.

Students will have a real opportunity at building an actual startup as Sunway iLabs aims to nurture the startups that will emerge from the Startup Foundry. Students will be connected to the vast resources of the Sunway Group and utilise Sunway City Kuala Lumpur as a “living laboratory” or a test bed for market validation. Successful startups will be connected to the iLabs Accelerator Programme that prepare the startups to scale. A seed funding of between RM 50,000 to 100,000 will be offered to successful startups.

In addition, students will be also given an opportunity to attend an exclusive semester-long programme at University of California Berkeley (USA). Besides gaining access to leading faculties, students will learn from seasoned entrepreneurs who have built startups in Silicon Valley, the global innovation hub.

No academic lecturers and no exams, just actual start-ups

Designed as a full semester elective course, students will be able to gain four credit hours consisting and learn the 10 building blocks of hands-on venture building.

Students who go through the course learn how to identify market opportunities and possible solutions to business challenges. They will also learn how to design and build prototypes as a test model to obtain user feedback for potential solutions. At the end of the course, students will learn best innovation practices and strategies on new venture creation and get insights from real entrepreneurs, investors, and industry specialists. The course starts with an ideation process where students will start exploring with a particular problem that they wanted to solve, and this will be done by teams of individuals.

Once the team has identified a startup idea, this will follow with a rigorous, hands-on, structural venture building programme that includes the famed Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMoE) Workshops from the UC Berkeley, design thinking, problem-solution fit, customer discovery and validation, legal and finance perspective in building startups, rapid prototyping, business model creation, storytelling and pitching, business etiquette, leadership and more. These are essential to ensure that the teams can create viable and sustainable new business models.

“We designed Startup Foundry as a game changing entrepreneurship course. Different from other courses, as there will be no academic lecturers, but a line-up of industry practitioners who have successfully built firms themselves, and who are able to share their stories and failures with the students,” said Professor Lau Sian Lun, Associate Dean (Engagement and Internationalisation) - School of Science and Technology.

“Students learn by doing. This methodology will help students manoeuvre through the constant challenge of getting people to understand the value of their product or services, and to avoid the early pitfalls of a company. There are also no exams, as students are expected to pitch their final idea by the end of the semester via a Demo Day to a panel of investors” said Matt van Leeuwen, Chief Innovation Officer of Sunway Group and Director of Sunway iLabs.

Transformative education for better students, and better entrepreneurs

To guide the students, four Adjunct Professors have been appointed, namely NUS and Insead faculty Dr Virginia Cha, UC Berkeley’s faculty, Gigi Wang, Scaleup Malalysia Accelerator Senior Partner and Co-Founder Dr Sivapalan Vivekarajah and, Chairman and Co-founder of Gobi Partners Thomas Tsao. “A big challenge with most of Malaysian and Asian entrepreneurs is that we have traditional values and education systems where the grades and test scores are a big definition of success. What we aim to do is to bring out to the best of these values and instil a growth mindset so that students can better navigate a new world,” said Gigi Wang.

“Borrowing a description from Nicolas Taleb, what we aim to do here is to produce ‘antifragile’ students by implementing mindsets, or robustness that will help students withstand shocks while maintaining their course. With the COVID-19 pandemic and all the changes around us, we need students who see adversity as opportunities to create new value and navigate around the changes and volatility surrounding us,” said Dr Virginia Cha. “One of the things that we have discovered is that a lot of startups build products and services which is localised here in Malaysia. They then have to make massive changes when they need to scale. We intend to develop mindsets that helps develop products which are global from day one,” said Dr Sivapalan. According to Gobi Partners Chairman and founding partner Thomas Tsao, “With humanity facing so many pressing problems, we need student entrepreneurs, now more than ever, to join the fight and answer the call for purpose-driven innovation. We need the passion, ideals and courage of young people to drive positive change. I want to share my hard-earned lessons so that they can avoid making the same mistakes.”

Other industry speakers and mentors include: Sunway iLabs Foundry Head Karen Lau, Forbes 30 under 30 Class 2020 and Dropee Co-founder & CEO Lennise Ng, Care Concierge Investor and Acting CEO Anna Chew, Asia Assistance ex-co-founder and Iconik CEO Sharon Tan, Foreo APAC Digital Media and Marketing Operations Manager Frank Ravanelli, CEO and Chief Strategist Christopher Tock, Gobi Partners Investment Analyst Len Yue Yang and many more.

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Matt van Leeuwen introducing Startup Foundry to the budding entrepreneurs