As a Bornean (Sarawakian, specifically) myself, I’m always proud to learn and write about Bornean entrepreneurship.
But I’ve been living in Selangor for almost a decade now, and a lot of my work is centred on West Malaysia. Thus, I have very little knowledge on what the Sarawakian and Sabahan startup ecosystem is like, or who the players even are.
Through the fifth edition of the annual Sarawak Shell LiveWIRE programme though, I’ve spoken to 5 winners consisting of local startups that are new to me, and I’d like to introduce them to our readers too.
EdaBeran is an e-commerce marketplace that allows local (mainly Sarawakian) brands to market their cultural products to a global audience. Many times, you’d be hard-pressed to find these microbrands from urban areas, even more so rural ones.
On EdaBeran, there are clothing brands, accessories, and even beauty products from craftsmen and budding entrepreneurs, and the startup claims to reinvest the majority of its profits into the brands it serves.
Moses co-founded the business with his sister, Christal, just a week before the first MCO in 2020 hit. Coming from the Kenyah and Kayan community in the rural parts of Baram, Sarawak gives Moses the drive to prove that an indigenous man like himself can make it in the world and make a difference in rural communities.
He believes that there are 3 ways to develop communities in rural areas: through education, good governance, and entrepreneurship, the latter of which he is taking on and impacting others in the community with.
“Our aim at the moment is to inspire more people, especially in Borneo to enter entrepreneurship. We believe we are capable of being the best storytellers of Borneo,” Moses said.
When the pandemic started, Mohammad Hajib bin Ali saw lots of supermarkets emptied out. That’s when he learnt about food security and realised modern farming could be utilised to sustain our food supply.
Small agricultural farms do not implement high tech which leaves them behind in terms of food production, so he founded Farm4All to introduce modern farming methods such as smart fertigation and hydroponics.
“Our initiatives include introducing farming business models to aspiring young entrepreneurs, providing detailed knowledge to the public regarding modern farming, and also to utilise landfills as agricultural land,” Hajib told Vulcan Post. The first initiative he mentioned reminded me of CocoJack, a startup that’s bringing agritech and education to B40 youths.
At the moment, Farm4All has yet to be launched, and Hajib joined Shell LiveWIRE 2020 in order to have his idea validated and receive mentorship.
The current obstacle he’s facing is the funding needed to implement smart farming, which he’s handling by asking for a grant from the Department of Agriculture and other agencies.
In 2010, Fitriah ran a part-time and small-scale business where she marketed other people’s products, and on the side, she sold fruits by the road.
8 years later, she was producing dried fruit products from terung asam (sour eggplant) under the Kun Product branding, which she claims her company is pioneering in Sarawak.
Going from being an agent to an owner and manufacturer of her own products is a source of pride for her, alongside establishing joint ventures with farmers in remote locations through long-term contracts for cultivation.
“In the next 9 months, I plan to start marketing out of Sarawak, because so far we have only focused on the market in Sarawak. All these plans I had made in 2019, but they had to be postponed due to COVID-19,” Fitriah shared.
If all goes as planned, she will be able to increase farmers’ income, bring in more employment opportunities, and introduce a unique Malaysian product through a fruit that’s associated with the indigenous Dayak people.
Mariadra Beauty is a startup developing beauty care products using local natural resources, started in mid-2018.
“I was captivated by the capabilities of our talented young inventors. Sarawak is also known as one of the richest biodiversity centres in the world. I tried putting the two together [and thought], ‘Why aren’t we standardising our beauty care products with international brands yet?’” Sara Nadia told Vulcan Post.
Under Mariadra Beauty, she runs two lines: Margueritte, a fragrance brand made of local flowers and plants, and Aludra, a skincare brand made with Bornean swiftlet nest extract and other ingredients found mainly in Sarawak. She shared that Aludra has since won several awards and received recognition, nationally and internationally.
Prior to the first MCO, Sara was looking to partner with prospective businesses outside of Malaysia. She’s still keen to collaborate, but said that they needed to be patient for now.
Now that Mariadra Beauty has won Shell LiveWIRE 2020, she’s learnt more practical ways to strategise, market and manage their resources better. With that, she shared, “Our top goals to achieve in 9 months is to be amongst the well-loved brands in Malaysia, and hopefully further than that too!”
“It’s considered as an accidental start where one thing led to another,” Mohammad Hisham Khairul Nasir said. In 2016, upon returning to his hometown Sibu with an Australian Master’s Degree, he was frequently running errands for his mother to buy random groceries or food.
He thought he could be doing so much more, and so he hired his first 2 runners. It only picked up from there. He recalled, “It was supposed to be a ‘for-fun’ or small kampung business to generate side income. But it really gained momentum when an influencer shared our service and we gained significant traction.”
It was officially incorporated as BeliBeli24 in 2017 and was recognised by the Ministry of Finance, but it soon snowballed from being a booking platform for goods and foods to doing food delivery, parcel collection, and even on-demand housekeeping.
Hisham put his foot down and decided that they had to properly set their direction, and shelved BeliBeli24 in 2019 while developing WeGÖ.
Today, WeGÖ is a hyperlocal super app with 4 offerings:
- Services (mobile spas, mobile mechanics, homestay bookings, etc.)
Technology is the one thing he struggled with as the business relied on Google Sheets, WhatsApp, and emails to operate. When GrabFood and foodpanda arrived in his hometown in 2020, WeGÖ was technologically outmatched.
Fortunately, Hisham said they’d raised more than enough funding throughout the MCO to develop their own platform to stay competitive.
“We’ve just finished a majority of the platform and are live-testing the deliveries, e-hailing, and marketplace with the services section coming out later. We are planning to complete it all before July 2021.”
The 5 entrepreneurs will each receive a seed grant of RM6,000 (RM3,000 from Shell with another RM3,000 matched by Tabung Ekonomi Gagasan Anak Sarawak) as well as mentoring and coaching support from Shell LiveWIRE facilitators for the next 9 months.
Editor’s Update: Information in the above paragraph has been edited to reflect greater accuracy of the statement.
The programme identifies entrepreneurs with the potential to innovate and meet real business needs that meet today’s socio-economic needs. Since the Sarawakian edition’s inception in 2016, it’s seen a total of 356 participants and awarded 20 entrepreneurs with startup grants.
I wish this year’s winners the very best in their journey to bring Sarawakian stories and products to light, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on next year’s set of local entrepreneurs too.
- You can learn more about Sarawak Shell LiveWIRE here.
Featured Image Credit: Sarawak Shell LiveWIRE 2020