For generations, the popular image of employees holding a job for life, receiving a fixed income and pledging unwavering loyalty to a single entity up until retirement, was very much entrenched. But the mindset of being employed for life is, according to the University of Malta’s Centre for Entrepreneurship & Business Incubation (CEBI) Chairman, Prof. Juanito Camilleri, “slowly, but with increasing momentum, being challenged as young and mid-career professionals are becoming more conscious of the value of their intellectual capital.”
What he describes as an “ongoing renaissance” in Maltese Entrepreneurship, manifest in the surge in graduates and professionals who, midway through their careers are seriously considering starting up their own company, is exactly what persuaded CEBI to launch the Masters in Knowledge-Based Entrepreneurship programme in 2013. Today, over a hundred and twenty have graduated from this programme.
Seeing his role in “training people to come out of their cocoon, unfold their wings and fly in the real-world of starting up their own business venture”, Newspoint Team met with Prof. Camilleri to find out more.
Q. At CEBI, what are the most valuable lessons you teach?...
A. First, that value is largely based on perception, which in turn drives demand. The more benefits people perceive to be drawn from the procurement of a product or service, the higher its value. Value creation is not some accounting exercise, it is borne by a clear understanding of the needs and trends of a target market, and effective communication to convey how one’s products and services meet such needs or trends.
Second, the importance of branding as consumers increasingly align with brands which not only impart good value, but also uphold values they identify with.
Ultimately, we guide students to identify a business opportunity, compile a well-researched business plan, and then how to pitch to finance the business plan towards launching a live start-up.
Q. … and what is the most valuable lesson you’ve been taught?
A. It must be witnessing my students’ personal transformation as they grow in self-confidence. Investors are not really interested in a business plan on paper, but in the ability of the proponents to turn a well thought-out and researched business plan into reality. Entrepreneurs must impart confidence. The training of entrepreneurs often entails very personal journeys and character transformations. Witnessing each of these journeys offers me much food for thought and insights.
Q. Are there disruptive ideas that have had an impact locally in the last few years, that have particularly struck you?
A. “Disruption” in the business dynamic of a sector often results from the deployment of new technologies or the introduction of a new business model. I believe that Information and Communication Technology at large has caused much creative disruption in the past twenty years and increasingly so, more recently. For example, whereas very few locals in Malta used a taxi service up until five years or so ago, today with the touch of an App, one can “hail” a taxi on-line in real-time and pay for it seamlessly with fingerprint authentication via a micropayment system. There are Apps which can monitor our health, help us manage our finance or travel, help us regulate our diet, plan dinner parties for guests with different dietary requirements, in fact there seem to be Apps sprouting out in every sector to address most needs - real or perceived.
No doubt, the technological innovation underway in in this decade will bring fundamental disruption not only in the way we organise ourselves and conduct our business; it will bring “disruption” to our very being.
Q. What do you think about the loss of human element in certain industries?
A. Whether we like it or not, there are many jobs which exist today which will become obsolete due to aspects of artificial intelligence and automation. Nonetheless, other jobs are and will continue to be created as the deployment of such disruptive technologies continues to unfold. How work-life balance will pan out, how human-machine interaction will evolve both in digital as well as in physical space, and how social dynamics will change, has yet to be seen and depends very much on the choices we make, and the values which underpin our choices.
Q. Are start-ups finding the right ecosystem to evolve?
A. As always, there is room for improvement in this regard. This said, it is encouraging to see several business incubators functioning well in Malta, and here I must point out the sterling work being done by Takeoff, the University’s business incubator working under the aegis of CEBI. It is also encouraging to see a Business Angel Network taking shape in Malta, and more incentives at Malta Enterprise aimed at providing seed financing to assist start-ups find their feet. Banks must continue to play a very important role with tailor-made schemes aimed to help nurture start-ups; I feel they must seek to facilitate the on-boarding and financing of new ventures despite the onerous banking regulations they must uphold.
Q. Would you like to see more women enter the world of entrepreneurship?
A. Definitely, and indeed the way the MEnt programme is structured lends itself very well to the enrolment of any working professional – female or male - with family commitments. The course programme is based on four intensive weeks of lectures followed by a period of regular one-to-one mentorship sessions. In short, the commitment in terms of time is flexible and is tailored to people who must juggle multiple things.
The Masters in Knowledge-Based Entrepreneurship is offered both on full-time and part-time basis.
More info and testimonials about this study programme can also be accessed online.