Entrepreneurship: What’s that?

On July 13, 2015, I received an email from YSEALI with a banner that screamed,

“CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’VE BEEN SELECTED AS A YSEALI GENERATION:STARTUP WEEKEND ASEAN 2015 FINALIST!!”

And then, it cordially invited me and nine others to spend three days at Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MAGIC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to pitch business ideas and compete against entrepreneurs from all ten ASEAN countries.

Myanmar Delegates

I was excited but I was also feeling super intimidated. I mean I’ve only read about people who are “willing to experiment” &“celebrated failure as a step towards success plus had unyielding persistence” when I google “entrepreneur”. I imagined they wear fitbits, are always talking about “optimizing one’s time” and can always be found in “co-working” spaces. Now I’m actually going to meet them. What’s worse, people are actually going to think I’m one of them. WTF???

Now (at the time of writing this blog) I realize the real reason why I felt uneasy during those three days. I was the NOOB in the room.

→ After all, I just graduated from high school + I had no idea what entrepreneurship was really about + my business idea was honestly a clumsy piece of sh*t I made up for the competition←

(I mean come on…one delegate is a doctor from the Philippines who wanted to build a service that will allow young Filipinos to test for HIV in a discrete manner. A Burmese participant is a founder of GeekGirlsMyanmar, a community aimed to ‘inspire and encourage the next wave of female tech professionals in Myanmar’.)

Key Takeaway: I should have embraced this feeling of uneasiness and approached people who equally impressed and scared me. I missed the chance to make more valuable connections and learn from people who are much more knowledgeable and experienced than me. I’m glad I did develop relationships with a few friends and caring mentors.

What I did:

After the first round of pitching and reshuffling, I joined a group and our goal was to build an app that will connect volunteers in Southeast Asia and promote a culture of giving. I was responsible for reaching out to our target group — young students (age between 16–25) from Malaysia and Myanmar to gauge their interest in our product. While I produced survey after survey, my team members were busy pushing out a business plan and a prototype. The feeling of anxiety and feelings of intimidation by my peers gradually dissipated and was replaced by adrenaline. Wake up, build, get feedback, and rebuild. Now repeat and repeat. We didn’t win but we did make it to the final round (shout out to my awesome team!)

Special Highlight

Up Close and Personal with 68th United States Secretary of State

During the event, John Kerry, the 68th United States Secretary of State visited us! Before his visit, we were instructed to have our IDs on ourselves and wear our official t-shirts. We were only told a special guest will be arriving soon. Many of us could hardly contain our excitement when Mr. Kerry walked in! After all, this is the human embodiment of the Obama’s administration’s pivot on Southeast Asia.

I left Malaysia with this “entrepreneur” batch. I liked it so much that when I got to college, I started reading the business section from nytimes (usually I only pore through the politics & international news). Ijoined a small business venture at my campus and have been enrolling in entrepreneurial challenges till today.

Thank you for reading.

My name is Juliet. My interests are definitely not one-dimensional (hence my handle name: Juliet>1). Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment.

(ႀကိဳက္ရင္ 💚 ေလးကိုႏွိပ္လိုက္ပါ။ ဒီလိုဆိုရင္ သင့္ရဲ႕သူငယ္ခ်င္းေတြလည္း ဂ်ဴးလိယက္ေရးထားတာ ကိုျမင္ပါလိမ့္မယ္။ 🙂)

Final Notes

If you’re from one of the ten ASEAN countries and between the age of 18–35, make sure to check out YSEALI. Here’s more about Startup Weekends, and its organizer, TechStars.

YSEALI also known as Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is a U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development of youth in Southeast Asia. YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region: civic engagement, environment and natural resources management, and entrepreneurship and economic development.


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