Friday, September 19, 2014

The First NYPian to Visit Babson College

What’s a girl to do when she wants to start a food empire?

For Christabel Tan, the answer was simple - enrol in NYP’s Diploma in Food Science & Nutrition, and also learn as much about entrepreneurship as possible.

And what better way to learn about starting your own business than by attending an 8-day Course at the US’s No. 1 college for entrepreneurship?

So Christabel visited Babson College from 6-13 July for a National Youth Leadership Forum on Careers in Business & Innovation. Not only did she get an extraordinary lesson in entrepreneurship and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but she also became the first student from NYP to attend this programme at the prestigious Babson College.

But her trip was almost not to be.

Humble Background, Worried Parents

Christabel comes from an admittedly humble background, and her parents were worried about the $6,000 needed for the trip. This concern was partially set at ease when Christabel told them that NYP would defray some of the cost. To cover the rest, Christabel e-mailed about 50 companies to request for funding.

Eventually, Cocos Industries agreed to help fund the trip, and Christabel only had to fork out $1,000.
But even with funding secured, her mother was still worried about her safety. Christabel is the eldest of three children  in her family, and the trip to Boston would be the furthest she would have travelled, besides being her first solo trip.

Christabel has only been out of the country twice - once to Bangkok for a family vacation, and once to Chengdu on a NYP study trip.

“At first, mum thought that my lecturer would be going with me, so she was okay with it. But when I told her it was a solo trip, she got more worried. My dad? He ‘anything-also-can-one’ lah!” she said with a laugh.
Unfortunately, Christabel was not delivered from Photobombers.
She said, “I am a Christian and I feel that God wanted me to go and would make sure that everything is okay. I even managed to leave my luggage in the kitchen of some food vendors when I was at the Boston airport so that I could do some shopping.”

Gaining an International Perspective on Entrepreneurship
An exterior look at the Babson College.
After a 20-hour flight, which included stopovers in Abu Dhabi and New York,  Christabel finally reached Boston. After a brief campus tour, she settled into her dorm and was ready to join her 200 classmates from around the world in an intensive 8-day entrepreneurship bootcamp.
A look at Christabel's dorm…
...Babson College Beaver Plushie not included.
As the only Singaporean in the class, she became the de-facto translator between the Chinese and American students. She said: “You may think Americans have an accent, but when you go there, everyone speaks like that and it’s YOU who has the accent. And the Chinese there speak such pure Mandarin, it’s hard to understand them! ”

Christabel with the other international participants.
But Singapore’s policy on bilingualism proved to be major boon. She shared, “They have a lot of parties on campus, and when the Americans and Chinese are in their groups, I can understand jokes from both sides.”

An outdoor party...
...with lots of food!
 The students were broken into groups of 20-30 students and assigned exercises designed to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills, such as giving prospective employers a one-minute pitch, or conceptualising hypothetical new products and services and pitching them to the class.
 
As she observed the class, she also learnt Western and Eastern approaches to innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The Americans are very outspoken and they can think of good ideas very quickly, but they can get quite defensive and argumentative and they don’t know how to carry out their ideas, while the Chinese think things through very carefully.”

What it Means to be an Entrepreneur 
Christabel said that the various seminars she attended during the bootcamp left a deep impression on her and it changed the way she views entrepreneurs.

She said, “I always thought that entrepreneurs had to be confident and well-spoken. I learnt that anyone can be an entrepreneur."

“I used to think that all entrepreneurs  have some kind of similar personality, but that’s not true, there are no fixed personality traits for entrepreneurs.”

It also changed the way she viewed ‘The Big Idea’. She said, “Sometimes people think they need to have a new idea to start a business, but there are no really original ideas. If you’ve thought of something, someone else around the world has probably thought of the same thing before. There are 7 billion people in the world, if no one has the same idea as you it is probably a bad idea.”

She also learnt how a small company can make a big impact.

When the class visited an American maker of flashcards, she was surprised at how small the operation was, despite the huge volume of sales. She said, “It taught me the importance of outsourcing.”

The Aspiring Food Entrepreneur Eats…and Eats 
It's good to provide adequate seating for the wild life.
When Christabel first explored Babson College, she found the roaming squirrels and peacocks to be charming.

But it was the college’s cafeteria that really impressed her.

An interior look at Babson College's cafeteria.
She said, “They have very long salad bars with all kinds of vegetables, including some I have never seen before and didn’t know could be eaten raw.”

 

A look at some of the food available at the cafeteria.



You can use the Babson College waffle press to make a waffle!
Her excursions outside of campus also allowed her to confirm some media stereotypes. She said, “You know in those TV shows and movies, they say that the police like to eat doughnuts right? It’s true leh! At the Dunkin Doughnuts you see a lot of them!”
Not pictured: lots of hungry cops.
A Bittersweet Experience

Even though Christabel is grateful for the opportunity to visit Babson College, she deeply regrets not being by her grandfather’s bedside when he passed away. She said that shortly before she left Singapore, her grandfather had been diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and was given 3-6 months to live.

On her third day in Boston, she received a WhatsApp message from her parents informing her that her grandfather had passed away. The news left her depressed and withdrawn from the rest of her classmates, but she decided to soldier on and make the best of the situation.


Christabel says that the experience has given her valuable insights and has allowed her to develop a possible roadmap for her future. She says that she is thinking about starting a non-food business first to learn the ins and outs of running a business.

She said, “To run a food business, you have to hit certain sales targets and the food is perishable.”

Once she’s gotten her feet wet, she would like to try her hand at running a food business. She said, “I have a dream that I will have a food empire around the world and my mother can go around the world trying my food!”

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