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It’s not every day that SMEs in Malaysia can say they’re getting support and receiving an extra push in the back to move forward and to widen their horizons. Despite available resources and even government initiatives, the path forward can be a perilous one to navigate.

Rather than a lack of options, new owners might lack the insight or acumen to judge accurately what is holding them back or what is the best lead to pursue. Sometimes, all a business needs is a seasoned mentor who can help them see what the next step to take for growth is.

The Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy SME Innovation Challenge 2016, now in its 4th iteration, endeavours to do just that. Being newcomers in the business scene can be intimidating—the SME Innovation Challenge is designed to provide a basic yet solid foundation in running a new business.

Shortlisted SMEs are invited to participate in two months of structured teaching and business coaching and were given media exposure for their brands.

To determine the winners of the challenge, the participants had to go through three rounds of business proposition pitches to a panel of judges. Shortlisted from an original group of 60, the 20 finalists of the Challenge were further narrowed down to a top six.

At the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2016 Awards Celebration, NutriBrownRice clinched first prize, winning the EcoWorld Entrepreneurship Award worth RM250,000.

Image Credit: Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge

Branden Kuan, co-founder of NutriBrownRice, told Vulcan Post, “I think the key points that helped us win the Challenge are: one, the scalability of our business in the global export of health food products; two, our proprietary high technology processing method that enables us to manufacture a series of highly nutrilicious brown rice drinks, which is difficult to duplicate; and three, our business is led by an experienced management team with a solid track record.”

He also let us in on his plan to utilise the prize money of RM250,000 with most of the cash prize going towards expanding NutriBrownRice’s retail network in Malaysia, particularly by way of advertisement and promotion.

Speaking on his key takeaways from the challenge, Branden said, “Most importantly, never stop learning. I finished my master’s degree more than 10 years ago and I am still eager to learn from the top leaders and CEOs in thriving industries.”

“Never be egoistic, always stay humble. Stay focused as a leader. I have so much respect for the trainers and the judges in the SME Innovation Challenge 2016, as they have shown me real examples on how to lead with humility.”

Image Credit: Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge

Sabah-based fast-food restaurant Borenos took home RM200,000 and the first runner up and healthy snack startup Amazin’ Graze clinched the second runner-up title, winning RM150,000.

Janice Yeo, co-founder of Borenos believes that this is a step towards establishing Borenos as “the pride of Borneo and the icon of Sabah.”

She told us that they’ll be focusing on growth and improvement. They believe in business coaching and staff training, and the prize money will be going into that.

“We would like to continuously work on finding out what is the company’s blind spot and how to close the gap while we prepare to take on new challenges in the future,” she said.

Speaking of the Challenge, she said she has learnt a lot from the experience. “Always have an open mind to whatever comes to you, be coachable at all times. Believe in yourself, there will be guidance along the way and when it comes, accept it gracefully and gratefully.”

Image Credit: Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge

Second runner up Amazin’ Graze shared with Vulcan Post, “I think our strongest point is that we are all very passionate about creating yummy healthy snacks that people love.”

“Secondly, I think our growth and financial numbers are relatively strong for the short period that we have been operating (1.5 years). Lastly, I think we’ve shown a good future potential for the business to become a global health food brand, starting with Asia, and we have a capable team to make it happen.”

They feel that they’ve grown through their experience and said, “We were able to build more confidence and maturity as a team.“

“I feel that we were really able to build greater clarity of who we are and where we want to go and the prize definitely gave us more confidence that we’re going in the right direction.”

These three teams weren’t the only winners of the night. RecomN.com received the RM100,000 Visa Retail Award, which aims to recognise innovative retail businesses.

Image Credit: Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge

Jes Min Lua, the founder of RecomN.com explained that one of their key differentiation points is how her team works to convert customers into strong advocates of their brand.

She said, “The judges were impressed by the vision we had around returning trust into the relationship between a buyer and a supplier of service.  So much of that is now missing, such that when hiring service professionals, the experience is full of mistrust and stress. When people go through a platform such as ours, we remove the risk from both sides of the table.”

Jes Min shared that one thing that she’ll always keep in mind after going through the past four months is about how to create significant and lasting impact.

“I used to think that you need to have a grand, grand plan to make an impact on the world, like creating Facebook or being Mother Teresa.  But actually, the entrepreneurs I met showed me that the ‘product’ or ‘service’ itself hardly matters—the way they change the world is in the love and commitment they pour into their idea,” she said.

Grub Cycle, a social enterprise that combats food wastage by funnelling surplus food items back to the community also did well that night and won not one but two awards: the RM100,000 Manulife Sustainability Award and the HyppTV Viewers’ Choice Award worth RM200,000 in media packages.

Image Credit: Grub Cycle

The team shared with us some of the key lessons they’ve extracted from the challenge, namely, “We learnt that the spirit of entrepreneurship means that you never give up. Keep on doing things until you achieve success, even if you fail multiple times. As the saying goes, success is not final and failure is not fatal.”

“Lastly, we learnt that we have to provide quality solutions to the challenges and issues our customers face, as opposed to what we believe is right for them. Mindset and attitudes are the most important things in life and in business.”

They’re also very excited about what’s coming next for them, now that they have the prize money and media packages in hand.

They said, “For HyppTV, it will be a great marketing platform for us as we have not spent a single cent on marketing as of yet. Our plans to start paid advertising commences in January, so this adds great value to our marketing plans in the future as our reach is magnified with their help.”

“The prize money that we will be receiving from Manulife will be used to expand our business range to accommodate other states such as Penang, Johor and so on. We will be increasing our operations range and we hope to collaborate with other businesses as well as Manulife on matters pertaining to this.”

The combined RM1 million cash prizes from the SME Innovation Challenge 2016 will go a long way towards helping the deserved winners with their expansion strategy and marketing plans.

Congratulations to all of them!

Feature Image Credit: Alliance Bank BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)