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Engineer today, entrepreneur tomorrow: How fintech is leveling the entrepreneurial playing field

Max Kantelia

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Singapore  /  Thu, June 13, 2019  /  04:45 pm
Engineer today, entrepreneur tomorrow: How fintech is leveling the entrepreneurial playing field

Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is seeing rapid growth in digital payment platforms. (Shutterstock/File)

Southeast Asia’s financial technology (fintech) market is among the fastest-growing in the world, with estimates placing expected market growth to reach up to US$100 billion by 2020. According to a Deloitte report, fintech investments in Southeast Asia soared by over 30 percent to nearly $6 billion over the course of 2018 alone.

Today, Singapore remains the region’s fintech hotspot and a prominent leader in the global sector, with over 490 fintech companies operating within its borders. However, neighboring markets are not far behind–for one, Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is seeing rapid growth in digital payment platforms.

Consequently, we have also begun to see a transformation in the profiles of business leaders in this new economy. Many of the founders of today’s top unicorns weren’t computer science majors or holding distinguished MBAs–Evan Spiegel of Snapchat studied product design, while mobile trading app Robinhood’s Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt studied mathematics and physics.

In Asia, the story is no different, with the surge in startup success stories from the likes of Go-Jek, Grab and Lazada. Thanks to improved education, technological advancement, and increased government investment, the past decade has witnessed the rise of a new breed of entrepreneurs in the region.

Mastering the mindset

Generally, the wider perception is that in entrepreneurship, you have to be a “natural” to succeed. However, I believe that entrepreneurship, just like any skill or field of study, is learned and not acquired. The purpose of education, though, is not simply to teach. Rather, it is to create the optimal conditions in which students can learn, acquiring and sharpening the insights and qualities that they need to succeed in the real world.

In this respect, theoretical knowledge alone is not enough. Students need adequate mentorship, opportunities to showcase their entrepreneurial abilities, and room to explore hands-on applications of their skills. Thus, it is crucial for academic institutions to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in their students, nurturing a new generation that can innovate, think outside the box, and willingly take on the risks to try new things.

Coupled with the fact that the significant majority of businesses in the country are regarded as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the benefits of formalizing the culture of entrepreneurship elevates the career choice with a greater sense of legitimacy.

Despite ranking 94th place in the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index, Indonesia has made significant inroads formalizing the culture of entrepreneurship in the country.

Today, the School of Business and Management ITB–Bandung Institute of Technology offers a Bachelor's Degree in Entrepreneurship. Noted for its competitiveness as one of the best business schools in the country, students are able to learn the ins-and-outs of establishing a business, risk analysis, and developing business strategies in light of technological advancements.

Meanwhile, Tangerang’s Surya University offers a Technopreneurship course that blends emerging tech and entrepreneurship topics together, asking students to focus on a specific sector as they pursue their studies, whether it be in the sciences, energy, information and communications technology (ICT) or proptech (technology for the real estate space).

For some others, entrepreneurship is a legacy process, through the generational transfer of ownership in family businesses. The prolific nature of family businesses goes to show that an entrepreneurial mindset can be both encouraged or fostered from a young age. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in Asia, where 85 percent of the most prominent businesses are family-owned.

Much like the culture of South Korea’s chaebol, family businesses in Indonesia will account for almost half of businesses in the country by 2025. Though an emerging economy, studies have shown that Indonesian family-owned businesses are markedly more prepared than their ASEAN counterparts when it comes to a succession plan, with 78 percent having a successor in mind.

It was also found that these businesses tended to be more progressive in their approach with decision-making rooted in factors such as capability and experience rather than gender. With such a forward-thinking approach to the propagation of the family business model, young entrepreneurs, irrespective of gender and background, are encouraged early on that there are certainly benefits to starting your own business and being your own boss. For these businesses, keeping it in the family doesn’t necessarily need to be a thing of the past.

Read also: Musings on fintech and gen-tech initiatives

A sight for fresh eyes

Today’s tech entrepreneurs are successful because they bridge the gap between business and consumer with innovative solutions. Part of this involves identifying the pain points of traditional processes and challenging the existing systems that have been in place for decades.

Because they're working with a clean slate, startups are often more tuned in to what matters to today's consumers, innovating around their needs and leveraging data and technology to deliver digital solutions that are less expensive and more consumer-friendly. In doing so, these entrepreneurs have disrupted the way we communicate, transact, order food, and commute.

While technical expertise is necessary for forward-thinking entrepreneurs to turn their revolutionary ideas into reality, the all-encompassing nature of technology tends to attract individuals from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Technology is constantly evolving with changing times, and with that, it’s only natural that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs may not necessarily have or require the much-coveted credentials that we’ve seen in the past, whether that’s a postgraduate degree from a prominent business school or an MBA.

Built with the premise of disruption, the field of fintech especially shows great promise in bringing diversity to the entrepreneurial landscape, where the re-evaluation of existing financial infrastructures, whether it be bank accounts, loans, credit cards, and insurance, benefits from fresh eyes.

Entrepreneurs from a myriad of disciplines, whether it be computer science, mathematics, engineering, philosophy, or law, can bring about significant advancements such as mobile banking, virtual wallets, and the use of AI to manage personal and speculative finances.

In a world dominated by innovative ideas and new technology, today’s entrepreneur has the chance to explore uncharted territories and potentially create something which could be of great significance in the future. As technology changes, so too do the industries that use it. As such, it's natural that today's entrepreneur no longer has the same credentials or backgrounds that we’ve both recognized and championed in the past.

The tech challenges of the future will demand deeper industry expertise, creative thinking, and more diverse perspectives. In this respect, there’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs who may not necessarily fit into the typical Silicon Valley mold to shine. (mut)

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The writer is the co-founder of Zilliqa.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.