With a mission to ‘honour and inspire’, non-profit organisation Spirit of Enterprise aims to both recognise and nurture entrepreneurial ambitions in Singapore.
In today’s fast-moving and globalised world, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) including startups and micro-enterprises form a vital sector of the country’s economy. But despite entrepreneurs playing a crucial role in Singapore’s economic development, the road to entrepreneurship remains challenging, to say the least.
Founded in 2002 and run by homegrown SME owners on a volunteer basis, non-profit organisation Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) aims to support aspiring young entrepreneurs and keep their passion alive. It does so in two ways – honouring successful local entrepreneurs and inspiring Singaporeans, especially the young, to discover their potential to join the ranks of future business leaders.
SOE is well-known amongst the business community for its annual Spirit of Enterprise Awards, a national-level honour for outstanding entrepreneurial achievements. “We are one of the earliest non-profit organisations to give out awards recognising SMEs,” shares Rachel Wong, President of SOE. “As a non-profit organisation, these awards are given out to honourees at no cost,” she adds.
Each year, around 30-32 entrepreneurs and businesses are conferred this award. Past recipients include shoe brand Charles & Keith, popular toast café Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Chinese restaurant Dian Xiao Er. “After receiving our award, many of these early honourees have grown their business exponentially,” Rachel shares. “The award gives them publicity and more exposure to the business community.”
Past winners automatically become a part of the SOE Alumni group, which gives them access to exclusive networking events hosted by SOE. “The purpose of these networking sessions is for people to exchange ideas, make new contacts and hopefully transact business. SOE hopes to bring in more honourees into our circle so we can build a stronger community of entrepreneurs in Singapore,” says Rachel.
In 2019, the Spirt of Enterprise Awards will celebrate 17 years since its inception. Slated to be held on 17 October 2019 at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, this year’s ceremony will be a grand affair with the SOE committee honouring more candidates than usual. “We have a lot of good candidates this year, so we might confer the award to approximately 38 honourees,” Rachel reveals.
Becoming an entrepreneur requires certain abilities and skills such as communication, organisation and critical thinking. The key to grooming successful entrepreneurs for the future is to cultivate them early. As such, the SOE Student Entrepreneur Programme (SEP) was launched in 2012 to conduct regular outreach programmes in schools and youth centres in order to equip students with business management skills. A key component of the programme is the Entrepreneur Talk, where past SOE Award Honourees share their stories of success and guide students by explaining their business plans. “We teach students how to be entrepreneurs and how to run a business. Through this programme, they learn the pros and cons of starting their own business so they are better prepared for the future,” Rachel shares.
Another signature SOE initiative is the Student Interviewer Programme (SIP), which invites students to interview successful local business entrepreneurs. The process allows students to hear the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial journey from business owners themselves. The stories aim to inform, inspire and empower more youths.
As a non-profit and non-governmental charity organisation, SOE relies on fundraising efforts and the generosity of patrons to sustain its outreach programmes. Since 2010, the annual SOE Fundraising Golf Challenge has been one of its biggest fundraising activities. An auction forms a part of the event’s programme, with proceeds going towards supporting SOE and its various initiatives.
“We are grateful for all the support we have received from our donors over the years. It is heartening that they believe in our cause,” Rachel says. The 10th Fundraising Golf Challenge 2019 will be held on 11 July at the Orchid Country Club, Singapore.
Speaking on the entrepreneurship landscape in the country, Rachel comments, “The Singapore government is very supportive in promoting entrepreneurship. There are several grants, funding and subsidies available for those who wish to embark on this path.”
Rachel sees SOE’s work as complementary to government initiatives, and a way of giving back to the country. “When you start a new business, you create lots of jobs. I believe promoting entrepreneurship is a way to sustain society and contribute back to the economy,” she remarks. “We hope to one day franchise SOE out of the country and continue promoting the spirit of enterprise to other parts of Asia,” she concludes.
SOE raises funds through an auction conducted during its annual SOE Fundraising Golf Challenge
This article was first published in the MillionaireAsia Issue 52 - June 2019