How do you tap into your time in university to get involved with the entrepreneurship community? SMU Snapshots turned to SMU Real Business (SMU RB) for some insight and met with the club’s vice president, Ma Ziyao.

Running a business had never been on the cards for Ziyao. She stumbled upon SMU RB in her first year, and was bought over by the promise of fun activities and sharing sessions with local entrepreneurs the likes of Carousell, Food Panda and Naiise. 

Real-world experience 

Ziyao shares how the club exposes members to the various aspects of entrepreneurship, “we find out which industries our members are interested in, and create opportunities for them to meet and talk to successful entrepreneurs.” Members are brought through the various stages of starting a business – from idea generation and prototype creation to finance planning and pitches to venture capitalists, who may well become future investors.

Every year, SMU RB organises Real Business Weekend, a 52-hour ‘hackathon’ for members to go through the rigours of starting a business. This simulation of an entrepreneur’s world involves coming up with a business idea, having it validated by the market, and presentation of the idea to a panel of judges, comprising two successful entrepreneurs and one venture capitalist, by the end of the weekend.

Experiences like these piqued Ziyao’s curiosity about starting a business. “We regularly have conversations about the health of existing start-ups, keep up-to-date with emerging companies, and all the related news,” she grins, “in SMU RB, I’m surrounded by likeminded people who are always curious and discussing ideas. Every day with SMU RB is different, refreshing and very exciting.”

Get comfortable with failure 

With the inspiration overload in SMU RB, it is no surprise that many members set up their own businesses while still in school. Talking about a former VP of SMU RB, Ziyao shares, “right after stepping down, he started Beureka, a now-successful e-commerce platform that sells beauty products. I once sought advice from him on a business idea, and his comeback was to ‘create a prototype, test it out, and if it works, great, keep growing it. If it doesn’t work, then change it.’ She pauses as if to reflect, “that was a revelation – we must be comfortable with the idea of failure, because otherwise we might never try anything on our own.”

Believe in what you do

One of the most important values that an entrepreneur should have is belief. A source of inspiration that Ziyao refers to regularly is business magnate Elon Musk, “lots of people have ideas, but few actually chase them. For Elon Musk, when he has a spark in his head, his determination makes it a reality. He makes the impossible, possible, and dares to dream.”

Both belief and confidence give people the drive to push ahead, work hard and make sacrifices. Ziyao thinks back to her internship experience with a start-up during her first year in SMU and remarks, “even though we ended work at 7pm, many people left the office only after 9pm. I cannot imagine leading this lifestyle if you are not passionate about what you do – you are sure to burn out.”

Toward the end of our conversation with Ziyao, it is clear that the biggest motivation for her is not the idea of owning a business. She could be happy working for a start-up, for as long she believes in the company’s vision. Like every entrepreneur, Ziyao is fuelled by passion, belief, and the desire to be involved in something that is meaningful to her.