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Step in the right direction

A supportive environment during his design and technology classes in secondary school shaped Mr Lee Jia Juen’s (above) penchant for building things and coming up with creative solutions.

Spurred on by his teacher, Mr Lee and his classmates participated in several external design-based and entrepreneurship competitions.

That spark led him to enrol in the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He was attracted to its style of pedagogy, as well as its design-based and hands-on curriculum.

Mr Lee, who is currently pursuing a degree in engineering product development, says: “SUTD’s engineering curriculum focuses on the application of concepts to solve real-world problems.”

He got a taste of that from the very beginning — in his first year, he built a plastic bag dispenser that charges customers when they take too many plastic bags for their purchases.

More recently, he built a tabletop greenhouse that provides a controlled environment to grow herbs for culinary use.

Big dreams
The 22-year-old sophomore is part of the pioneer batch of the SUTD Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP), and is also a recipient of the STEP Scholarship, offered to outstanding students within the programme.

As someone with entrepreneurial dreams, Mr Lee appreciates how STEP provides him with a balance between acquiring technical skills and getting business exposure.

Last year, for example, he attended the eight-week Value-added Innovation Enterprise (VIEW) programme at TU Berlin (Technical University of Berlin), a research university and one of the most prestigious education institutions in Europe. There, he received a crash course on what it takes to be an entrepreneur from those involved in the Berlin start-up scene.

“I developed a business model which I pitched to a group of venture capitalists. I also had the chance to meet a new entrepreneur each day and gained valuable insights on starting a business.”

His experience in Berlin led him to sign up as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the Introduction to Design Course when he returned to SUTD.

Now, he is looking forward to spending a fully-funded semester each in both Silicon Valley in the US and Hangzhou, China.

“The experience will allow me to learn the best of East and West so that I can have a well-rounded and balanced view of global business practices and trends,” says Mr Lee.