The news that Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook, renounced his US citizenship and took up residence in Singapore has attracted widespread attention, as well as thrown a spotlight on his supposedly Kardashian-like lifestyle in Singapore. I am not going to get into an argument about the morality of Saverin’s actions. But I think it is more interesting to think about how one spots an entrepreneur.
I know from my time working in the Singapore civil service that Singapore has tried to develop local entrepreneurs and companies. There is an entire public service organisation set up to develop local companies, and another organisation to help the larger ones expand outside Singapore. Then, there are schemes, not unlike those in other countries, to attract individual investors to move to Singapore, with the hope that by investing some money in Singapore, these investors create companies and jobs for locals. Many investors are attracted by the stable political and legal environment, the business-friendly atmosphere and the excellent infrastructure.
My question is how does one assess, before the fact, whether an investor or entrepreneur will indeed have the multiplier effect on the economy that is hoped for. I don’t know much about Saverin but it seems from many press articles that his presence in Singapore has so far been underwhelming to local entrepreneurs.
It’s the same type of question that I have to ask myself everytime I read an application for the Cambridge MBA from an entrepreneur. I have to decide whether an entrepreneur will contribute to, and benefit from, the Cambridge MBA to the same extent as other candidates. This is not an easy decision. Almost by definition, an entrepreneur would have suffered failure along the way and would not have the smooth career that we expect from candidates who have worked in large multi-nationals. Even if an entrepreneur has a successful company by the time he or she applies to the Cambridge MBA, I have to ask myself whether the candidate was plain lucky (no bad thing in and of itself), and how large a role did the candidate play in this venture. My knowledge of facebook’s early days is confined purely to the movie the Social Network but to use that as an example, is the candidate a Zuckerberg who saw the potential and developed a company; or a Severin, who just put in some cash; or the person who did most of the coding; or the twins, one of whom later got an MBA at Oxford.
Ultimately, I rely on several aspects. Like any other candidate, a candidate who is an entrepreneur must demonstrate strong academics and a good GMAT (I am not arguing that these are essential criteria for entrepreneurs, just that these are criteria for everyone on the Cambridge MBA); and have strong references. More importantly, an entrepreneur should demonstrate a sense of maturity from his or her experiences, whether they have been successful or not. Many of the entrepreneurs on the Cambridge MBA have shown courage in one form or another (I know one from the 2010 class who took the brave step and stopped out of a prestigious undergrad degree to focus on his company), and all have shown the resilience to bounce back from failure.
I will be the first to admit that we do not have enough data to say that we have cracked the question of how to spot an entrepreneur. But hopefully, as we attract more entrepreneurs to the program, and have more time to study their track records post-MBA, we will refine our ability to assess such candidates.