Access to Capital: Inaugural Trip to Southeast Asia Exposes Students to Finance in Action

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For many students, Spring Break means a chance to take time away from their studies and focus on their tans. For a group of 14 MIT Sloan students, Spring Break was an opportunity to embark on an ambitious two-week, three-country international study trip to the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore on the inaugural MIT Sloan Access to Capital tour.

Organized by Taariq Lewis, MBA '09, Chris Mitchell, MBA '10, and Max Sadler, MBA '10, with faculty support from Senior Lecturers Peter Kurzina, Shari Loessberg, and Professor Rick Locke, the Access to Capital tour aims to spotlight entrepreneurial finance around the world, combining in-class case study learning, guest lectures, real-world consulting projects, and experiential travel.

A Deeper Understanding

According to Lewis the tour was conceived as a way to allow students to focus on how private equity, venture capital, and other sources of finance fuel entrepreneurial growth in a region and get a deeper understanding of countries within that region. “As MIT Sloan is a leading center of excellence in the study of finance, it is valuable to have students see how their academic study of finance applies internationally.”

Lewis, Mitchell, SadlerAccess to Capital organizers, (from l to r), Chris Mitchell, MBA '10, Taariq Lewis, MBA '09, and Max Sadler, MBA '10.

For the inaugural trip Lewis and his colleagues chose three countries in Southeast Asia with contrasting political and cultural histories and at different stages of economic development. “Vietnam represents a relatively recent emerging market,” explains Mitchell, “Malaysia is more established, but not yet where Singapore is in terms of infrastructure and economic development. The goal of the trip is to give students a textured understanding of Southeast Asia and how capital is used to create wealth.”

Students also had the opportunity to see how countries in the region were being affected by the global financial crisis. One topic returned to repeatedly was how financial institutions in the region were weathering the storm. “This is an opportunity to see how Southeast Asia is responding to the current financial crisis,” says Lewis, “I don't think there is any other part of the world where we can see such a diversity of responses.”

From Kendall Square to Kuala Lumpur

Prior to leaving on the trip, the group of first- and second-year students participated in a course titled “Venture Capital & Private Equity in Southeast Asia,” a series of weekly seminars led by guest faculty, student, and alumni speakers about the modern historical and economic development of Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Peter Kurzina, who led the class and accompanied the students to Southeast Asia, explains that a goal of the course was to impart a contextual understanding of the three countries. “We do not want just to give the students a business and commercial understanding of the region. We want them to have a historical, cultural, and religious understanding of the area.” In addition to MIT Sloan faculty, students heard from both fellow students and alumni who worked extensively in the region's financial sector.

Study tour participants touring an audio parts manufacturerParticipants in the inaugural MIT Sloan Access to Capital study tour visiting the floor of an audio speaker parts manufacturing plant in Vietnam.

Collaborating in teams, students had the opportunity to apply the knowledge they had learned in the classroom and work with companies in each of the three countries on consulting projects focused around topics of finance. Projects included advising Malaysia Airlines on the best means to finance the purchase of new aircrafts and advising investment firms on mezzanine finance and carbon credit trading. Prior to traveling the students worked with their project sponsors over the Internet and prepared presentations for the companies when they arrived in-country.

The students visited more than 10 companies including investment firms Dragon Capital and Navis Capital Partners, sovereign wealth funds Temesek Holdings and Khazanah Nasional, consumer and investment bank CIMB Group, securities brokerage Saigon Securities, and the Singapore branch of Google.

The International Finance Network

The support of alumni played a key role in the success of the trip. “One of the goals of the Access to Capital project is to expose MIT Sloan students to the international MIT network within finance,” says Lewis. “When we looked at Southeast Asia, we connected to MIT alumni and MIT partners in these financial areas in order for MIT Sloan students to get experiential access.”

Students had the opportunity to meet with alumni throughout the region. The group was hosted in Vietnam by CX Technologies, a leading audio equipment parts manufacturer chaired by Albert Ting, MBA '99. In Singapore they were welcomed by Chris Chia, MBA '98, managing partner at investment firm Kendall Court Capital Partners. Current MIT Sloan Fellow Juan Harris, SF '09, arranged the meeting with his employer, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional. After their two weeks in the region, the students also attended a reception hosted by the Malaysia Alumni Club where they were treated to personal and candid accounts of the region by MIT Sloan alumni who have made their careers in Southeast Asia.

Blurry-eyed and jet lagged, students returned to campus in time for spring classes with a better understanding of finance in action, a broadened perspective of Southeast Asia, and numerous new contacts in the region's financial sectors. With the success of the inaugural trip, preliminary preparations are already underway for next year's Access to Capital tour to East Africa.

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