Sometimes, the best way to address a problem is to look at it in a new way: it allows a broad range of fresh ideas to emerge, that might help to solve it. With this in mind, IFTM scholar Mr. Geraldo Tou invites undergraduates enrolled on the Entrepreneurship course to step away from well-trodden paths.
“Under traditional education models, students taking this subject are required to develop an idea, and later carry out market research on it,” he says. “We take a reverse-thinking approach, doing the market research first: once we have understood the market needs, we start to generate new ideas.”
The IFTM academic says “entrepreneurship needs creativity and innovation”. A successful concept, he argues, “is far more important” than operational aspects, for a new business to gain traction.
“After experiencing and discussing a hands-on project” completed on his Entrepreneurship course, students “can start learning the theorical part, and verify whether it matches our field experience,” says Mr. Tou.
Students say the approach gives them a good understanding of theorical concepts and a clearer grasp of the subject than they might otherwise obtain. To help that process, the course curriculum features a mixture of individual and group projects.
Unveiling the ‘pain points’
One of the most praised individual project business ideas generated among the students who attended the course in the first semester of the current academic year, was put forward by Sky Ching Tin Hou. He is a student in the Tourism Event Management Bachelor’s Degree Programme.
Sky’s suggestion was strikingly simple: to offer small spaces for rental by students, allowing them to gather in an informal environment to work on their academic projects.
“As university students, we need to do lots of projects,” he explains. “However, restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have made it harder for us to find suitable places for group discussion. In libraries, we cannot speak loudly, nor eat snacks. In cafes, we cannot quite focus, as they are really noisy.”
Mr. Tou says the idea directly addressed a ‘customer need’ – otherwise known as a ‘pain point’ in entrepreneurship jargon – experienced by the whole class. “To grow a business, we need to unveil the clients’ ‘pain points’, help clients to solve a problem: that is the importance of really understanding clients’ needs,” he says.
While the individual project portion of the Entrepreneurship course focuses on stimulating student creativity and observation, group undertakings require undergraduates to research a particular problem and come up with solutions. In the first semester, 3 topics were tabled. They were: how to increase insurance customers’ awareness of cover for critical illness; how to engage younger generations of people – not only the elderly – in activities hosted by local community centres, and so promote social cohesion; and how to tackle business risk, such as seasonal and diurnal fluctuation in demand, faced by fruit juice retailers.
One group of students, including Henry Kuok Hoi Bong, addressed the critical illness insurance topic. The Tourism Event Management student says he and his classmates decided to do a series of street interviews with Macao people, to grasp their views on the topic. “We were thinking about using online questionnaires, but considered that method was likely to limit our access to elderly interviewees,” he says.
Mr. Tou states that open interviews can help collect extra, unsolicited, but still useful information. In addition, face-to-face communication is “important in business, as this is how customer relationships and customer loyalty are built,” he says. He hopes the street interviews were seen as “a chance for students to build their confidence in communicating with others.”
Student Henry praises the way Mr. Tou tackles teaching relating to entrepreneurship. “I’ve learnt to think from different angles,” says Henry. The IFTM undergraduate points out that throughout the course, the class members were constantly faced with questions that required them to combine novel concepts with existing ones, to come up with fresh ideas. “This refreshed my view of entrepreneurship, as well as giving me more self-confidence,” he adds.
Novelty and retailing
Another group of undergraduates, including Ivy Leong Ian Chi, selected the project on fruit juice shops. Ivy is a student in the Tourism Event Management programme.
She says the group project made her aware of the need for stores to “launch new products from time to time, and to improve promotion as well as packaging,” to attract and keep consumers. “If a shop offers only the same single product, customers might feel bored.”
Ivy highlights that the Entrepreneurship course provides students with opportunities to engage with local businesses. “We went on site visits to some exhibitions, and listened to presentations by sector representatives. We needed to do a lot of discussing as well,” she says. “All this helped us integrate practical experience with academic knowledge, and really made learning more effective.”
Mr. Tou says the success of the Entrepreneurship course is also due to students’ hard work and enthusiasm. For instance, Sky, Henry and Ivy each shone in a particular area. “Sky pinpointed the ‘pain point’ very precisely, being an issue shared by all the other students as well,” he states. Henry’s group had “drafted engaging” visual materials on critical illness and the importance of personal financial management. Ivy’s group “brought out innovative and fresh ideas to promote the fruit juice business,” Mr. Tou adds.
Apart from the hard work and engagement of students, also contributing to the success of the course was Mr. Tou inviting a number of industry experts as mentors for the group projects, providing insights to students about the industry, operational processes and customer needs. IFTM alumna Ms. Krystal Sio Hio I, currently working in the insurance sector, took the part of a consultant in order to help students research the topic of critical illness and insurance coverage. “I explained to them how insurance works, and what people can do in terms of their own personal financial planning,” she says.
Ms. Sio notes that hands-on projects are “beneficial” to students, allowing them to amass skills and knowledge that will be useful to them in their careers. She praises the results and ideas generated by the Entrepreneurship class regarding insurance coverage. “I too learned something from the presentation by the students,” she says.