The global eLearning market is expected to reach the rather impressive figure of US$275.10 billion by 2023, up from US$165.21 billion in 2015. The factors for growth cited are pretty much what you’d expect – internet penetration, smartphone growth and the need for easy access to education.

We thought this required more local context, so we had a conversation with Ee Ling, CEO and Co-Founder of Smarter Me, a live online school that offers entrepreneurship and design-thinking classes for children. She is also organising the Young Founder’s Summit, which is partnered with Founder’s Bootcamp, a US-based youth-entrepreneurship programme that has been expanding globally.

Ee Ling was able to share great insights into the industry as a whole is evolving and what we can expect to see in the region.

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Can you share a bit more about the Young Founder’s Summit? How do you think it compares to the startup and entrepreneur events in Singapore and the region?

It’s simple! Young Founders Summit is the only startup and entrepreneur event of this scope and scale catered towards tweens and teens from 10 to 17-year-olds! While there are many startup competitions out there, 99% of them are for adults 18 years and above.
Young Founders Summit South East Asia is organized in partnership with Founders Bootcamp from Los Angeles, the world’s first VC fund that invests solely in teenage founders, and serves as the Asian leg with a direct pathway to the Global Finals that is held in University of California, Los Angeles every year. The young founders who are part of Young Founders Summit hail from 6 countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India, China and Hong Kong) are not just pitching for cash prizes here, they are vying for a USD50,000 investment and entry into the esteemed 2-month accelerator program at UCLA.

How did this relationship with Founder’s Bootcamp come about? What can young entrepreneurs expect to learn and gain from the experience?

Roger Kassebaum, the Co-Founder of Founders Bootcamp, who is a Milken National Educator and recipient of Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Instruction, used to be an advisor to a STEM school in Singapore. Our Robotics Curriculum Advisor connected us, we made a trip to LA to watch the Young Founders Summit Finals in April 2018, and we were so impressed and inspired that we knew we had to bring this event over to Singapore to give kids here the same opportunity to pitch million-dollar businesses.

For most of our young entrepreneurs, this is their first foray into entrepreneurship. It’s important to give them credit for taking the first step in doing so, as it’s so easy for one to just spurt out ideas and then not go any further under the pretext of overwhelming school work. Through Young Founders Summit, they are getting started, putting ideas into action, and getting their very first taste of the entrepreneurship journey. We’ve had students ask us for advice with regards to non-dedicated teammates, roadblocks in making their prototypes and difficulties in finding beta customers – which is just like what an adult entrepreneur would face!

I believe the biggest value-add Smarter Me is giving them is our mentorship platform, as we have paired each Semi-Finalist team up with an entrepreneur or professional who is either an industry expert and/or subject matter expert. These mentors spend 6 weeks guiding our young founders on their business model, prototyping, go-to-market strategy and more.

Building a live online education system is quite a leap from your previous job and what has been the greatest challenge you face in setting up this venture?

Running a start-up is always challenging and I constantly have to evolve. However, the most challenging part is understanding human behaviour. Success goes beyond building a great product. It is also about connecting with our customers. Our customers are parents, which is possibly the most complex role that a human can have, and we are constantly trying to understand how best to support them.

Do you think Singapore and the rest of the region will be able to accept online education like they do in countries like Korea and to some extent the US?

Did you know that 60 million kids in the world are already learning online? And 80% of millennial parents believe that online learning benefits their kids, compared to 70% of Gen X parents.

In Singapore, the take-up now could be slower because the enrichment centre per capita within proximity is much higher – the same cannot be said for the other Southeast Asian countries, where mobile, as well as on-demand learning, is on the rise. However, we do strongly believe that there are 2 trends that will spur growth in online learning: 1. The need to use Time more efficiently; and 2. Equality in education-accessibility.

Lastly, parents are usually skeptical about online education because they think it lacks real-life interaction with peers (which is how most adult online learning is currently structured). But what if Online Learning 3.0 for kids is able to blend both personalised self-paced learning with problem-solving via team-based collaboration?

Just because we parents find it hard to complete an online course, doesn’t mean we should deprive our kids of that chance!

What do you think can be done better to encourage and support young founders in Singapore?

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For young founders, they are still bright-eyed and excitable about their future and so much can be done to nurture that innovative mindset and keep the fire of creating change burning. But this must not be a once-a-year, post-PSLE workshop.
When we started publicizing Young Founders Summit to schools in the region, we hit many roadblocks, with some schools quoting “It’s not our focus area this year”.

To really build the next generation of changemakers, we need to equip them with the avenues to learn via classes, to showcase via competitions, and to connect via communities. To make this happen, parents, teachers, and practitioners need to come together and support this movement.

We must stop seeing problem-solving, critical thinking (which is what Entrepreneurship and Innovation is all about) and human-empathizing (the core of Design Thinking) as competition against academic hours. It shouldn’t be viewed as a zero-sum game.

Obviously, you see education and building skillsets as crucial to a child’s development. What do you think the current education system in Singapore (and the region if relevant) lacks or does not spend enough time on, to help foster a strong entrepreneurial spirit?

To be fair, I think there’s a lack of focus on entrepreneurship education globally, not just in Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia.

However, so many approach entrepreneurship education from the aspects of hard skills and soft skills and neglect the mindset. I once asked a university lecturer of entrepreneurship how he taught his students about the entrepreneurial mindset – the strength to stay strong – the growth mindset, when facing failure. His answer? “Oh, we don’t cover that. That would fall under the Psychology Department.”

Failure is not just inherent in entrepreneurship, it is in life. In Silicon Valley, many entrepreneurs consider failure to be a natural stepping stone to success. They celebrate failure because they’ve learned first-hand that our mistakes are our greatest sources of learning. But in Asia, failure is often frowned upon and this mindset is what holds many of us back. So if we can inculcate a growth mindset and remove the fear of failure in our young ones, that would be a big leap in developing entrepreneurial talent in the region.

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What advice would you give a young potential entrepreneur looking to begin their journey?

Just start.

Be voracious in learning from all the resources out there – books, podcasts, online classes. Learn to see all kinds of problems around you, and then to see them as an opportunity. And don’t be afraid of reaching out to an entrepreneur for advice and even mentorship – just make sure you are dedicated and committed to it.

Don’t let someone who’s never taken a risk before tell you that you’re crazy.

I always quote Steve Jobs to our students – “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.

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This is a new long-form interview section focused on delving deeper into industry topics and understanding the situation from a ground-up level. If you have a founder or industry expert in mind, which you believe would fit these criteria. Please drop us a message here.

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