MiE Featured Alumni- Tan Xiao

When education becomes serious business

BY Debby Ling


For the Minor in Entrepreneurship undergraduate and co-founder of Inspira Education, entrepreneurship was a chance encounter that he came to fall in love with. 

Tan Xiao, a fourth year undergraduate from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, co-founded the successful venture, Inspira Education, last year with his course-mates. Through engaging science workshops, Tan Xiao and his team works to bring the love of science to primary school students nation-wide by actively engaging the youth through the conduction of experiments and the demonstration of exciting science phenomenon.

Prior to starting his own business, he had also been involved in volunteering science teaching at various schools.

It might come as a surprise then, that Tan Xiao himself confesses to hating science during his secondary and junior college days. He chanced upon Youtube videos of online science lectures one day and was intrigued by the difference in approach and teaching style – these videos eventually changed his life.

“Previously I didn't like science, now I don’t understand why people don’t like it,” he quipped.

Starting Inspira Education was a perfect blend of both his passions as he strove to inspire young science students to not only develop an interest in science, but spark that interest in their peers as well. For Tan Xiao, the importance of Inspira Education as a social enterprise and its potential positive impacts on the education landscape in Singapore was of his main consideration.

“Entrepreneurship is not merely about starting a business to learn money, sometimes people start a business because they really like what they do, and it so happens to earn money,” he said.

“It’s really a win-win situation.”

The road to starting with Inspira Education however, was not rosy. Even with a firm business idea in mind, as well as the robust support from mentors in the Minor in Entrepreneurship Programme, Tan Xiao and his team faced almost 200 rejections from educational institutions before landing on their first successful venture.

He cites the indomitable spirit of his team and their ability to bounce back from failures as one of the key reasons why they were able to succeed.

“If just one of us thought of quitting, we would not have been able to make it,” he mused, “When we fail, we were just thinking that it wasn’t our time yet – that the market needs time to accept us. It might have been a lie to ourselves, but it’s really the mindset that is important.”

A break-through came when the team decided to visit a children’s carnival to solicit for participants. The response was overwhelming and classes were oversubscribed. The business took off from then to become the profitable venture that it is today.

Apart from his work with Inspira Education and his involvement in a URECA research programme, Tan Xiao also commits his time to the NTU Entrepreneurship Society where he serves as vice-president. Amongst other works in the pipeline, he is working towards a start-up fair where aspiring entrepreneurs from NTU would be able to interact freely with potential investors.

Reflecting on his foray into entrepreneurship, Tan Xiao emphasized that the sense of satisfaction he derived from the start-up is far more than he has ever had with his previous internships.

“There is a saying that if you work in an area you like, you wouldn’t really be working,” he said, “Taking it a step further, if you start a business that you like, you really don’t have to work for your whole life.”