The annual Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge is held with the purpose of assisting SME companies in Malaysia break through to the next phase of growth by providing the three-pronged help of learning, coaching and funding.
A panel of judges comprising established entrepreneurs have selected 20 young SMEs to be coached by prominent Malaysian business leaders for the next two months. At the end of this period, 6 of them will vie for cash and media prizes worth RM1 million.
The following 10 SMEs featured are among the 20 finalists. We spoke to them to get some insight into their stories, struggles and hopes for their continued growth.
1. Amazin’ Graze
The girls at Amazin’ Graze specialise in the art of making healthy, delicious, and affordable treats. Their mission? To change the way people snack.
All three of them enjoy snacking and believe that people should eat right, not eat less. They were frustrated by the lack of healthy, tasty yet affordable snack options in KL and decided to do something to change that.
It was a different sort of hunger that brought them to the SME Innovation Challenge: a hunger to learn. In their words, “We knew that our own knowledge and experience were not sufficient to carry us to the next stage of growth. Hence why we wanted to present ourselves in front of the experienced judges and other SMEs to understand where we can improve.”
Breaking the established eating habits of Malaysians isn’t easy. After all, we love our cheap foods that are rich in flavours but poor in nutritional benefits. According to the team, “We need to educate the general population about the repercussions of not eating well and continuously innovate to ensure that healthy food is accessible for all.”
Maideasy is a booking platform to connect users with a part-time maid through their website or mobile application.
Meriza, one of Maideasy’s co-founders, told Vulcan Post that it started off as what they thought was a simple solution to the problem finding part-time maids.
However, they found that there was a big demand for good quality and convenient great value cleaning services. This, in turn, provided lower income groups with an income opportunity that paid them a fair and liveable wage within the cleaning industry.
Meriza shared that a key lesson that the team has picked up from participating in the SME Innovation Challenge is that every objective and goal in the business must be quantifiable and measurable. She said, “Sometimes it’s hard to do that, but we create relevant KPIs to reach and that makes us evaluate campaigns and projects within the business better.”
Since their inception, Golfreserv, an online golf reservation platform, has evolved from a simple solution for courses that are regularly under capacity, to now being able to offer real-time, targeted discounts and bundles to avid golfers.
Speaking of their target market and why Golfreserv is meeting their needs, they said, “The trend of purchasing golf club memberships has been on a decline for a while now, in the west and here in Malaysia. Golfers these days want to experience different courses instead of being tied down unnecessarily to just one club. The services and facilities offered at different golf clubs also vary.”
They’re participating in the SME Innovation Challenge because they seek insights from reputable veteran coaches and mentors. According to the team, “The knowledge we gained through their expertise has already been implemented in our office and our day-to-day workflow. And the difference is showing!”
4. Grub Cycle
Our elders who have always sternly reminded us not to waste food would be proud of Grub Cycle, who works to combat food wastage by funnelling surplus food items back to the community while subsidising lower income families with basic necessities.
They get food items that may have damaged packaging, mislabelling and are close to the end of their shelf life, but they hope that selling these at bargain prices might make them more appealing to Malaysians.
Incidentally, they are the only social enterprise (SE) in the top 20 stage of the SME Innovation Challenge. They said, “We want to educate and show to the masses that there is more to progress and success than just bringing in money. All social enterprises gauge themselves on impact driven metrics and are not limited to monetary terms.”
Grub Cycle brings social, environmental and economic impact to the public through our efforts in reducing food wastage, saving customers’ expenses as well as helping the underprivileged with their food expenses. We secretly hope that this will give us an extra edge when the finalists are being picked.”
As an owner-only platform that empowers property owners to deal directly with tenants, Speedrent offers a new concept to a relatively mature industry.
According to Wong Whei Meng, the CEO, it has been challenging. He added, “While people are excited about Speedrent, many more doubt that Speedrent could survive this brutal industry. Joining a competition that provides great publicity is crucial for us to get our name out there and gain credibility.”
He states how he is inspired by one of the SME Innovation Challenge’s partners, Eco World who started from 0 and grew to a billion ringgit business in just 3 years. Whei Meng said, “It’s basically a lot of hard work, branding and finally a strong team to execute well. Yet, these fundamentals for a business are always neglected.”
Speedrent sees great opportunity in Klang Valley rental market. “In the coming 12 months, we want to continue to grow organically to show the market that we are here to stay,” said Whei Meng.
When he was a child, Branden Kuan watched his grandparents painstakingly make a brown rice drink for him daily. It required hard work and determination, taking hours of grinding, boiling and stirring. This memory stayed with him all his life.
When he decided to start his own company together with his sister-in-law, they developed an instant brown rice drink trademarked as NutriBrownRice.
According to Branden, “We invented the brown rice high-tech processing methods and we will continue to apply innovative and lean marketing for NutriBrownRice. We aim to influence and develop healthier generations who are much more health-conscious than before. This will bring brown rice consumption to a whole new level and experience. If you dislike eating it, why not drink it?”
The proprietary high-tech processing method they developed that transforms the rough brown rice into ultra-fine instant brown rice powder has won them multiple awards and recognition from several government-linked agencies and private organisations.
He sees the SME Innovation Challenge as a great platform to inspire Malaysians to understand the importance of staying healthy through the food that we consume daily.
7. VivaQueenBee.com (VQB)
VQB is a one-stop online shop for toiletries and cosmetics brands from around the world that are free from harmful ingredients, and are Muslim-friendly (either halal certified or vegetarian). Currently, they carry almost 30 brands and have more than 300 products.
According to Azrina Naimuddin, one of the co-founders, when starting out, they had a misconception that everyone will love her idea and her business. She candidly admitted, “I thought it was a brilliant idea and it was a really humbling experience when I found out that not everyone agrees with me.”
They joined the SME Innovation Challenge as part of a litmus test to see if the team has the right mindset and courage to compete with the best business minds out there. Azrina said, “Having strangers judging our business also made us take a step back and look at our business from their eyes too—a realistic look at where we are now and what we must do to improve and innovate.”
8. Happy Bunch
The team at Happy Bunch appear to be the personification of their name; it’s no surprise when you find out that they’re in charge of curating one arrangement of flowers daily for delivery within the Klang Valley.
Although there are other flower delivery services out there, they don’t see the other players as rivals. They said, “We keep an eye on what they are doing, but we are not reactive to their strategies or tactics. We believe that there is a much bigger fish out there and that’s the gifting industry. We compete in their space.
We are in the business of delivering happiness and we are using flowers to do just that. We’re very focused on improving the way we do things but keep to our mantra of simple, affordable and convenient.”
One of the things they’ve picked up from the SME Innovation Challenge is the importance of teamwork to reach new heights. They said, “We’ve learnt that ‘alone we can go fast, together we can go far’. Success is never just about you and your co-founder; your team and also your peers (other startups and entrepreneurs) are instrumental in this journey.”
Borenos Fried Chicken prides itself on being the 1st local fast food brand in Sabah. Unlike many international fast food chains, they provide a comforting local touch by having local-made ginger with wild honey tea and home-recipe chicken porridge for the elderly or people who don’t feel like having something fried.
Another advantage that they have over international franchises is that they cycle the earnings and benefits back to Sabah itself. Indirectly, they help the local businesses through engaging them as suppliers and partners. According to the team, “This would be Borenos’ main priority: supporting the locals and growing the business to contribute in boosting the economy.”
Using the lessons they’ve learnt from the SME Innovation Challenge, they want to continue to maintain the quality of food which they believe cannot be compromised. Secondly, Borenos will increase its market presence by increasing its marketing efforts and keeping the food value for money. They said, “We will apply everything we’ve learnt from the trainings and make it happen no matter what it takes.”
10. Techcare Innovation
With a name that stands for “Technology that cares”, Techcare Innovation lives up to its moniker by providing compact, portable and affordable rehabilitation devices. They strongly believe that biomedical innovation is crucial to maximise the scientific discoveries which improve individual health.
During a hospital visit, one of the co-founders, Khor Kang Xiang, realised that rehabilitation machines are very costly even with relatively simple mechanisms. He said, “Up to 95% of medical devices are imported from overseas as developing healthcare devices is very challenging, requiring a lot of effort in research, clinical trials and certification before it can reach the market.”
The team shared that their biggest struggle to date was understanding the requirements to fit the needs of the physicians and patients. With limited clinical knowledge, they had to spend a lot of time understanding the rehabilitation process, fundamental problem and figuring out the right method to solve the problem. They said, “We overcame it by collaborating with several clinical organisations that have vast experience in the rehabilitation field.”
They told us that they joined this SME Innovation Challenge to learn. “We wanted to meet and learn from successful entrepreneurs like Tan Sri Liew from Eco World. We also want to network with other entrepreneurs from various sectors. Lastly, we want to learn and improve our business skills in the training programmes provided.”
This is the first of a 2-part series highlighting the 20 finalists of the Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge 2016.