Bringing Mentoring Resources to Budding Entrepreneurs through 3M Inspire Challenge

SINGAPORE, October 10, 2021 – Start-ups, despite their innovative ideas, often face unfair competition from the big and established conglomerates. It often takes them years of struggle to reach significant milestones in the absence of resources. However, imagine what these new businesses could achieve if they had access to the right resources and mentorship, with conglomerates acting as facilitators rather than competition? 

This line of thought was what led to the conceptualisation of the 3M Inspire Challenge which was launched in April this year. The aim of this competition was to encourage young people across six countries of Southeast Asia to come up with innovative solutions for the most pressing issues in the technology and sustainability spaces. On the sidelines of the final stage of the challenge which was held on September 21, vice president and managing director of 3M for the Southeast Asia region Kevin McGuigan spoke with AsiaBizToday about the need and benefits of mentorship for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Need for Convergence

Kevin believes that today’s business environment is right for conglomerates and start-ups to converge and team up to solve bigger issues. While the big businesses offer more resources, funding and a larger customer market, the young businesses bring innovation and disruptiveness to the table. 

3M prides itself for being a global science and innovation company driven by a culture that embraces creativity and collaboration. “When entrepreneurs and start-ups choose to partner with us, we leverage our 51 technology platforms, commercial expertise, and global customer networks to help scale these businesses through innovation. Collaboration is at the heart of the company,” he shares. 

Regardless of their solution, product or innovation,  he challenges all aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on how they can make them more sustainable. This can be in terms of reducing their environmental impacts through greener operations or use of greener materials. 

3M Inspire Challenge

Open to all undergraduate students in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam, The 3M Inspire Challenge encouraged participants to submit their best ideas in the three themes of technology, innovation, and sustainability. The company says this was their effort to motivate young people to apply science and innovation to help make the world a better place. 

The teams shortlisted to partake in the Country-Level Semi-Finals also had the opportunity to be mentored by 3M employees. In this phase, they were provided ideas to refine their concepts based on real-life challenges and insights on what it takes for commercialization. The Country-Level Finalists were also awarded internships at local 3M offices. 

STEM and Diveristy

The company views getting more youths to enter STEM, increasing diversity and inclusion as essential factors in the collaboration that they are seeking. “As a sector, STEM is driven by collaboration and innovation, and the more diversity in terms of geography and gender, culture, and education – the more likely disruptive innovation can prevail,” reasons Kevin. 

This also means that the company focuses on building an inclusive environment where individuals from all experiences, backgrounds and abilities feel safe, valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives, he states. Such a work culture, he says, also enables people to innovate and create better products that meet the diverse needs of our customers, suppliers and channel partners. Thus, it is an entry requirement in The 3M Inspire Challenge for each group to include at least one male and female team member. 

Women in Leadership Roles

Beyond the entry point, there is a need to make the overall work environment conducive for employees to progress professionally, feels Kevin. Specifically women in the workforce, it is important to provide flexible work programs, he adds. “This is because women also take on a higher portion of unpaid care and domestic responsibilities, which has risen in the pandemic. Flexible hours were especially helpful for working parents in this duration,” he points out. 

It is also essential to float mentorship programs that help aspiring employees identify their career goals and support them to expand their networks and access resources for their career development, he says. Creating an organizational culture that champions women leadership, especially from the top, helps recognize and support women to take on leadership roles, he believes. 

The 3M Way

These beliefs also reflect in the organisational policies implemented at 3M. The company sponsors the Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF), an Employee Resource Network, to attract and develop leaders at all levels of the organization to accelerate the inclusion and advancement of women worldwide. Taking lessons from the pandemic, it introduced the Work Your Way initiative that allows employees to choose whether they want to work onsite, remote or a mix of both, empowering them to decide where and when to work. 

With a cumulative goal across all diversity categories to double the pipeline of diverse talent in management globally from 32.6% to 65.2%, 3M is working on removing all individual discretion and bias from hiring processes. It is also investing in a new interview management system focused on skills-based hiring. 

In Singapore, they have partnered with United Women Singapore in the Girls2Pioneers program, which organizes STEM educational activities and mentorships for girls. In the Philippines, 3M also supports academic institute Mano Amiga’s STEM Warriors Camp, a program that provides activities and resources to encourage girls aged 11-17 to enter STEM fields. These partnerships encourage more girls and young women to pursue education and careers in the field, driving gender equity. 

Gender Balanced Workplace

Kevin thinks that any company that wants to make a commitment to improve their standing in terms of diversity and inclusion must start with redesigning the recruitment processes to ensure a fair playing field for all. In order to proactively seek diverse candidates, they should utilise data to choose channels that produce the most diversity and work with specialist recruitment agencies to engage applicants from underrepresented groups. 

“The second step is to introduce employee training to address unconscious biases among staff members. This can help employees identify and understand potential biases and the tools to change them,” he advises. He also suggests supporting gender equity-focused non-profit organizations under the corporate social responsibility domain.