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Singapore Entrepreneur Seeks Social Impact On UBC Sauder MBA

MBA student sees Singapore as Asia's answer to Silicon Valley

Klarissa Chow is an entrepreneur through-and-through. She runs two start-ups in Singapore — billed as Asia’s answer to Silicon Valley — all the while studying for an MBA at Canada’s UBC Sauder School of Business.

One is a family business providing customized yet affordable pets’ accessories and homes for small animals. Another venture is a subdivision of Pixel and Code, a brand and web development business, which provides consultancy work focused on potential technology ideas.

Klarissa’s passion for tech stems from her background in computer science — her first university degree. She previously worked as a technical lead specializing in enterprise and multimedia systems.

But, to pursue her ambition to create positive social impact, she moved to the government sector and worked as a project manager under an agency that advocates lifelong learning.

Now a full-time student at the Vancouver-based business school, she is developing business knowledge, expanding her network, and developing her personal character. The city offers much in the way of down-time: trips to go hiking, kayaking, cycling or sightsee-ing are common.

Computer scientists are hot in demand. What made you switch to business management?

In Singapore, it is common for a software engineer to move up to a project or business management position after acquiring experience.

What motivates you to have a positive social impact on society? Should more MBAs consider this?

I am fortunate enough to lead a comfortable life. I had shelter, an abundance of food, and access to education. But we know that today’s society has many problems, from poverty to natural disasters to wages to gender issues.

I believe that technology can be part of the solution to solving these problems. But technology alone is insufficient. For technology to have a positive social impact, [managers] require an understanding of the domain and a “human touch”.

One of the key reasons I chose the UBC Sauder MBA program is because of its strong focus on ethics and sustainability. We already see the growing importance of sustainability — more companies are doing their part, and more people are aware of it.

If business leaders are exposed to the right tools and methodologies, and have the correct mind-set, I believe that they will have a positive impact on the world, for both the current and future generations.

What do you hope to gain from the UBC Sauder MBA?

I want to gain business knowledge, expand my network, and develop my character. This is important for entrepreneurship.

How do UBC Sauder MBAs have fun in Vancouver?

We have fun in school and outside school. There are so many beautiful places around Vancouver. You will never be bored. Every week, you see people organizing trips to go hiking, kayaking, cycling or sightsee-ing. Sometimes, it is as simple as learning a new sport together, or a new language, or trying a new food joint.

What's it like working in a family business compared to a “normal” company?

We have a lot of shared values and cohesiveness. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we know how to complement each other. We support each other and are willing to go an extra mile to help other family members.

On the flip side, you don’t really get an “off” time, because work can happen anytime; a family dinner can end up being a business meeting. Sometimes, things can be tricky when you have to be critical. You definitely do not want strain your relationship with another family member.

Could Singapore become the Asian version of Silicon Valley? What benefits are there for tech start-ups?

Yes, Singapore is an attractive place for start-ups. There is social, economic and political stability. The technology infrastructure is in place and people are willing to try out new technologies.

The government is also very supportive in promoting entrepreneurship. You can expect funding, tax rebates and even guidance from assigned consultants.

Singapore is also very central in terms of access to potential and growing markets like China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.

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