SMU researcher Reddi Kotha wins grant to help startups scale

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SMU Office of Research & Tech Transfer – The Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) has awarded Singapore Management University (SMU) Associate Professor Reddi Kotha and his collaborators a three-year Social Science Research Thematic Grant to study the challenges faced by Singapore startups, and to identify strategic interventions that will help local entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

The MOE Social Science Research Thematic Grant is aimed at enabling high-quality, impactful social science and humanities research on key societal and economic issues affecting Singapore. One especially pertinent issue – in a country where small and medium enterprises employ two thirds of the workforce and account for half of GDP – is the growth of startups.

While startup founders have no shortage of good ideas, they often lack the connections, resources and track records needed to take their businesses to the next level. Startups in Singapore face yet another challenge: because of the country's small market, companies must internationalise early on if their intention is to scale.

To understand these challenges and develop interventions to address them, Professor Kotha plans to invite some 300 entrepreneurs from Singapore-registered startups to participate in a customised research and training programme. Participants will receive training and mentoring at different points along their entrepreneurial journeys, and researchers will track the startups' progress over time.

"This enables us to describe the new business scaling process, identify the factors associated with the scaling up of new businesses and also causally understand what kinds of interventions may be helpful to entrepreneurs to scale their startups," says Professor Kotha. To ensure a broad coverage of industry sectors, participation in the study is by invitation sent to randomly selected entrepreneurs of newly registered firms that are independent new startups.

Training will consist of three main components: first, a basic business skills foundation for entrepreneurs with no prior background in business, which will also serve as a refresher for more experienced entrepreneurs; second, training on business model design and troubleshooting; and third, a programme targeted at startups that are ready to take their business international. On top of this, entrepreneurs will also receive expert mentoring via the SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship's network of established venture capitalists and industry leaders.

The design of the research and training programme was piloted in a study carried out by Professor Kotha and collaborators, which was funded by an MOE Academic Research Fund Tier 1 grant.

"We hope that the [upcoming] training programme will have a positive impact on entrepreneurs, helping them develop deep capabilities to understand the problems with their startup's business models, as well as develop strategic solutions that address the problems associated with the startup's business model," says Professor Kotha. "Entrepreneurs can not only use these capabilities to help their existing firms grow and scale, but can also use them when working on other ideas in the future."


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