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Monday, 23 November 2015

It all starts with a simple idea

Innovation challenge finalists share stories of how their businesses came about.

Innovation challenge finalists share stories of how their businesses came about.

IF there was one defining character of entrepreneurs, it should be the ability to see an opportunity and grab it.

This can definitely be said of the business owners who have been selected as finalists in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2015.

The challenge is organised on an annual basis under the bank’s BizSmart Academy programme, which offers prizes worth RM1mil in total.

Finalist Derek Toh, who co-founded Wobb, a job-seeking app, had been working in a recruitment firm for awhile when the idea for the business occurred to him.

“Many job seekers today are looking for jobs they can be passionate about and one crucial factor contributing to this is being in a work culture they can fit in.

“Wobb aims to help them find that place,” he said, adding that opportunity to grow within the company is also a big factor among Gen Y job seekers.

The emphasis on helping this generation of seekers led to Wobb using a different way of doing things such as providing applicants with a video of the office of the employer which helps give them an idea of the work culture.

“It is also very easy to send applications using the Wobb app, with active users applying for an average of 11 jobs.

“We vet these applications and some are rejected if we decide they are not the best fit for the job.

“I usually personally email or meet up with these applicants to have frank discussions with them on ways they can improve,” he said, adding that their mission is to see a day when every Malaysian has a job they love.

Also working towards creating happiness in people’s lives are Penny Choo and Giden Lim, who founded a subscription-based flower business called BloomThis.

They offer different packages on their website from one-off to weekly deliveries of fresh flowers curated by them according to seasonal availability.

“Rather than worrying about choosing flowers, customers receiving them can continuously look forward to a nice surprise each week,” Choo said, adding that their flowers are imported which gives them a wider variety.

Choo’s inspiration for the combination of flowers comes from the Internet and from her soon to be mother-in-law who is also Lim’s mother, who has been running a florist shop in Penang for more than 20 years.

Lim said their customers are a mix of individuals and businesses who send the flowers as gifts as well as use it for home or office decoration and they are working towards offering daily deliveries instead of weekly.

Each BloomThis box comes with simple arrangement instructions and Lim said they aim to provide the entire customer experience with the result of a happy and satisfied customer who can also gain a sense of accomplishment at creating simple bouquets.

Purveyors of letterpress paper stationery The Alphabet Press are also finalists in the challenge.

Its brand strategist Cliff Leong and art director Fidella Ch’ng tells a story of tenacity and passion.

“It started as a wish to make letterpress name cards but after going to a number of old printer businesses, we realised that nobody was doing it.

“We then found a letterpress workshop in Australia and signed up to learn more about it.

“When we got back, we searched and eventually found an elderly man who wanted to retire and let go off his letterpress machine.

“He did not want to sell us the machine initially as he could not believe youngsters were interested in such old technology,” Leong said.

It took them two months of continuous meet-ups with the man to convince him they were serious and he eventually sold the machine to them.

They have not looked back since and have come up with various local-flavoured cards, postcards, notebooks and even a limited edition game that features antique lead types, a further nod to their love for letterpress, to the delight of locals looking for something special as well as expatriates and tourists looking for souvenirs.

Finalist Kamae Lee too has a love for beautiful things and shows it through her Simply K range of accessories, particularly the handmade hairbands.

“I was travelling in Thailand when it striked me that I should go into business.

“I was inspired by the earrings I saw and on the spot decided to get some to sell back here,” she said, adding that she was also out of a job then.

The earrings were not as hot as she thought it would be as others were able to offer much lower prices for similar items.

That was when she decided to put up for sale the few hairbands she had bought for herself.

“People loved them and things just started rolling from there.

“I began designing and making my own hairbands as well as expanded to include other accessories and even turbans,” Lee said, adding that she usually comes up with two or three new hairband designs every month through the trial-and-error method.

Lee said that one of the challenges she faces is that she works alone, which can be tedious, but when inspiration strikes, she can make up to 30 hairbands in a day.

Check out the other interview with the remaining finalists in the pages of today’s SMEBiz issue.

Tags / Keywords: Central Region , Alliance Bank , SME Innovation Challenge , BloomThis , Simply K , The Alphabet Press , WOBB

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