Ee Ling is the Head of Asia Pacific Business Development, Global Innovation at 500 Startups, a leading early-stage venture capital fund, ecosystems developer, and innovation firm and Co-Founder and CEO of Smarter Me, a K-12 edutech startup. She studied a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) at University of Queensland (UQ).
What was the highlight of your experience living in Queensland?
My best memories in Queensland were made at the International House (IH), a multi-cultural pot of students - there were always interesting people to meet and fascinating stories to hear. The IH student committee went to great lengths to ensure there were ample networking events and opportunities for us to be exposed to and appreciate different cultures, and I hold those memories fondly.
How has your experience in Queensland helped you with your career? Did you work or undertake projects with employers or industry groups during your studies? If yes, how did this experience benefit your career?
During my time in Queensland, I joined AIESEC, a global platform for young people to develop their leadership potential through international internships and volunteer opportunities. While I did not eventually partake in any international internships due to timing reasons, my role in AIESEC involved building up our partners base - which entailed a lot of research, cold calling, and sales pitches. To date, I strongly believe that sales and marketing skills are one of the most underrated but essential skills in business. I'm still honing it today, but AIESEC UQ gave me the first taste of that.
Can you share your student journey (why did you decide to study what you studied and why did you decide to study in Queensland)?
My choice of study was atypical of Asian parenting - my late father believed that finance is "where the money is", and encouraged me to pursue my studies in finance. Given that I had always been intrigued more by commerce than other subjects in high school, I decided to embark on that very path. Unfortunately, as he passed on before I entered university I applied for academic scholarships - and University of Queensland offered me one.
What career-advice would you give to future students thinking about studying in Queensland?
"How would you like your "coming of age" story to be written?" would be what I would ask every student. While you should not neglect having fun, you might want to consider these - How can you find your purpose while you are studying in Queensland? What are the real-world experience (internships, traineeships, job-shadowing) you can undertake to gain a deeper understanding of career paths you may like or that you definitely will not like? Who are the mentors and peers who can help you learn and grow? What are the networks and connections you can form? These years when you are venturing into adulthood is so monumental - and it is when you should focus on developing your self-awareness and self-understanding.
What's the easiest way to develop a social-life in Queensland?
From my personal experience, living on campus (such as International House) and joining clubs and societies were great ways to expand my circle of friends.
What are you doing now in your career?
I'm currently the Head of Asia Pacific Business Development, Global Innovation at 500 Startups, a leading early-stage venture capital fund, ecosystems developer, and innovation firm. In my role, I lead the development of relationships with governments, corporations, and foundations in Asia Pacific to design and develop startups ecosystems and innovation programs, and support them in building relationships with startups around the world. Prior to 500 Startups, I was a Vice President of Investment Banking with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Singapore, executing M&A, equity and debt capital market transactions in Southeast Asia.
I also double-hat as the Co-Founder and CEO of Smarter Me, a K-12 edutech startup headquartered in Singapore, that equips middle and high school students with the skillset, mindset, and heartset to define their own success and happiness in the future. Through digital technology and entrepreneurship education, students develop mastery in problem-solving, critical-thinking, collaboration, and creativity.
Why did you decide to follow your chosen career path?
During my third year in university, two investment bankers from J.P. Morgan came into my Corporate Finance class and shared what they did in the corporate finance department. Hearing what they did on a day-to-day basis was really intriguing. It sounded fun and exciting, and that was what sparked me to start applying to investment banks (IBs). And I spent almost a decade in the industry, helping large, listed companies close billion-dollar acquisitions and raise billions of dollars of funding. I loved it - sure, the hours were long, but the proximity to large corporate leaders and the thrill of closing deals were exhilarating.
However, in 2016, I started questioning my purpose and the impact (or lack thereof) that I was creating. And that's when I decided to take the plunge and venture into entrepreneurship by launching my own education startup. Today, through both Smarter Me and 500 Startups, I've found a way to marry my experience in corporate advisory with my love for startups and founders. Through the startup programs and corporate innovation projects that we run, by helping young people develop an entrepreneurial mindset and helping businesses rethink their business in an agile manner, I am able to see first-hand the impact we can create.