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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Extraordinary entrepreneurs

Countless choices: Mak (left) and Gan showing off some of their models that were created via 3D printing.

Countless choices: Mak (left) and Gan showing off some of their models that were created via 3D printing.

AN entrepreneur’s life is no walk in the park but the rewards will more than make up for it.

Having the right skills is certainly a must, but more than that, one must have the perseverance and passion to see through an initiative until the end.

It is certainly not easy being an entrepreneur and to help grow these skills among its students, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) president and chief executive officer Prof Datuk Dr Chuah Hean Teik says the university organises a flea market every semester in its Kampar campus for budding entrepreneurs to sell a variety of items.

There is also the Utar Young Entrepreneur Startup Scheme that provides a grant, advisory and consultation support from Utar for students to set up and run businesses based on innovative and practical ideas.

“Utar is very proud of all the young entrepreneurs in the making! They are role models for Utarians to emulate,” says Prof Chuah.

Utar also has a Soft-skills Development Certificate (USSDC) programme which involves experiential learning in training and interaction sessions and activities outside classroom walls.

USSDC recognises students’ achievements and efforts to improve themselves in seven component areas.

For some Utar students and alumni who have become successful entrepreneurs, there are no golden rules to follow. While sharing the numerous pitfalls and secrets to their success, they tell StarEducate that every business is different and so are the situations and circumstances for each individual.

Recipe for success

LIM Hui Leng has given all her time and effort into making her two Ayamazz Roti Impit kiosks at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) Kampar, Perak, a success.

Both kiosks sell chicken nuggets and hotdogs and in under two years, Lim’s business is already booming.

The part-time Master’s in Business student does not only run the push-cart business but has set up a restaurant called deVsion in Kampar New Town and another food stall at a cafeteria on campus.

Her food business has become her “life”, she says.

Happy family: Lim (centre) with her team of part-time workers posing with their push-carts.
Happy family: Lim (centre) with her team of part-time workers posing with their push-carts.

“I start work at 6.30am and by 7.30am, the kiosks are open for business. We close at 6pm but that does not mean I am done.”

Lim adds that she needs to prepare her stock and sales reports but technology has allowed her to do them at home.

On top of that, she needs to purchase supplies everyday and frequents hypermarkets to get them.

She does have help though — there are four part-time helpers running the kiosks.

Things have not always been smooth-sailing as her business was almost closed last year.

“I managed to appeal successfully but it was also a turning point for me as I realised that I had become too reliant on the campus business.”

Lim then decided to expand and move out of campus.

She says it is no easy feat juggling three food outlets while still studying but she pushes herself everyday to do her best.

“Everyone has 24 hours and the additional time and effort put in to succeed is really one’s own decision,” she shares.

“I would not think of giving up the Ayamazz franchise as I feel my life is meaningful with this business.

“My staff and I have been in the business for two years but it always feels like we just started yesterday,” says Lim.

“Everyday we chat with the students and staff on campus and time just flies! I even get excited seeing the rubbish bins filled to the brim with Ayamazz wrappers,” she says.

Printing potential

HOW many of us know what 3D printing is?

When Mak Kwan Wuey first posed that question to his friends, the common response was “Is that like printing 3D images?”

“No one knows about 3D printing,” he laments but he sees this as an advantage because there’s not much competition in the market.

Countless choices: Mak (left) and Gan showing off some of their models that were created via 3D printing.
Countless choices: Mak (left) and Gan showing off some of their models that were created via 3D printing.

Mak explains that 3D printing creates objects using a special printer, building it up layer by layer, and it can be done with any material such as plastic, metal or ceramic.

“You can print almost anything, even food-like cookies ... all that is possible,” he says excitedly.

“3D printing is a commercial technology primarily for rapid prototyping. Multinational companies (MNC) and corporations use it to test out new product designs and functional parts before entering mass production,” explains Mak.

“Since the patent for this (3D printing) technology expired recently, it created an interest among enthusiasts who see great busines potential in it.”

The engineering graduate joined forces with his varsity mates Gan Yu Han and Liu Chee Wei to establish Makerzone Sdn Bhd — an online 3D printing business — to cash in on this relatively new technology in Malaysia.

“I was in Bandung, Indonesia in late 2012 and was chatting with Chee Wei online when he mentioned setting up a business. That’s when the idea was born,” he says when describing the company’s formation.

“We’re equal partners in this company and it is currently an online business,” he adds. He says the most memorable moment was when the company received its first 3D printer from the Netherlands costing about RM8,000 then.

“It is getting cheaper now. The third machine we received a few days ago is only RM2,800 — far better and faster compared to the first generation machines,” Mak adds.

The tech enthusiast says he and his partners still have a long way to go before they achieve their goals for the company.

“The future is mass-customisation instead of mass production. What we see for the future is that anything is customisable for an individual.”

Marketing maths skills

POWERHOUSE Academy founder West Wong Woon Chieng can easily put Charles Eppes from the TV series Numb3rs to shame with his skills in mathematics.

The actuarial science graduate first discovered his love for numbers at the tender age of nine and has been honing his skills ever since.

Adding knowledge: Wong demonstrating his mathematical skills at a mental calculation workshop.
Adding knowledge: Wong demonstrating his mathematical skills at a mental calculation workshop. 

He now runs Powerhouse Academy — a learning centre that focuses on teaching mental calculations to the young and old — together with a partner.

“We started it because we found that our education system needed improvement, especially in the way Mathematics is taught as a subject,” Wong says.

He adds that he wants to change people’s perception towards mathematics so that everyone young or old can learn it with ease.

The academy was established in 2010 but there were hardly any students in the early days and it was a struggle for him.

Then there were the naysayers who kept telling that it (his business) will not work.

Wong says that he had to “sell” the uniqueness of Mental Arithmetic by distributing flyers and through online marketing.

“We then teamed up with Utar and its Malaysia Mental Literacy Movement (MMLM) and it gave us greater exposure.

“We customise each class to suit our students’ learning ability and that’s why parents seek us out.”

“In addition, our classroom is more practical as we simulate similar real life problems for the students to solve. That helps the student to apply their knowledge in a practical way,” he says.

Wong adds that the academy built its reputation after he attended the World Mental Olympics in Turkey in 2012.

However, Wong is quick to point out there is no guaranteed way to market oneself as it always boils down to trial and error.

Service at your doorstep

Ordering food should be easy, fast and definitely fun.

That is the philosophy behind foodpanda — an online food delivery service.

The company’s marketing director Sidney Ng Leong Sheng says it took a lot of convincing for restaurants to “get on board” and register at its website initially.

Ready to rock: foodpanda's team of riders are all geared up to deliver hot meals to their hungry customers.
Ready to rock: foodpanda's team of riders are all geared up to deliver hot meals to their hungry customers.

“We basically had to sell ‘sandcastles in the air’ to our vendors,” he says, adding that he had to get them to visualise how they could be featured in the company’s website, which at that point, had not been created yet.

The biotechnology graduate beams with pride as he tells how vendors see the company as a business partner by giving them more sales which in turn puts them at a competitive advantage.

“In the beginning, the challenge was convincing restaurants to sign up with us. Now, our focus is on ensuring that we have a quick and efficient food delivery service.

Ng says that most restaurants do not provide delivery services as it is expensive and difficult.

“In terms of operations, it can be a logistical nightmare to manage. We not only liase and coordinate with the (eating) outlets but also the riders (delivery men), call centre and customers while trying to be as efficient as we can.”

The service covers much of the Klang Valley, some parts of Johor Baru and Ipoh.

As for expansion plans, Ng says it will take time. “If we cover more locations, we’ll need more riders and also supervisors to monitor them,” he adds.

“We still get complaints as customers may not understand the complexity that comes with the food delivery business. Many factors are linked to speed and timing.

“But on our end, we are constantly improving ourselves — we are getting in more delivery riders and more call centre agents to cope with the rising demand of food deliveries. So yes, we are still growing, learning, expanding and improving,” he says.

Picture perfect

SOMETIMES you need to know people to earn the chance to pitch your ideas.

Photographer Ryan Foo Hui Bin says that networking is vital in any business and makes it a point to keep in touch with his many friends working in advertising agencies.

Beautiful Pictures director Ryan Foo Hui Bin.
Beautiful Pictures director Ryan Foo Hui Bin.

“When my friends see an opportunity related to my business, they inform me ... in fact, they even try to get meetings and hook me on to the right people in order to secure a job.”

There were even times when his friends had recommended him to their bosses and that gave him a chance to showcase his work to them.

“Once a meeting is arranged ... half the battle is already won,” says the Beautiful Pictures director, who majored in broadcasting

He adds that he usually reads up on a prospective client before a meeting and even forward samples of his work.

The fact that he is in a very competitive industry does not make things any easier for him or his business partner.

Foo says that even after pitching, potential clients will only ask for a quotation and even reject the offer immediately.

Still, the disappointments don’t hurt him as his passion for photography keeps him going.

“I never give up and usually request for feedback from my clients as to how I can further improve my service or product,” he adds.

“We have lots of weddings (to shoot) at the beginning of the year and commercials towards year end ... it keeps us going.”

Music matters

EVOLVING from a niche business to catering to a more regular clientele is Music Master Studio Sdn Bhd director Clement Cheng Chun Yee’s secret to entrepreneurial success.

He started his first shop in 2008 selling high-end vintage guitars but has been in the business since 2004, when he sold the guitars online.

Seasonal: Cheng says that musical instruments are bought based on current trends.
Seasonal: Cheng says that musical instruments are bought based on current trends. 

“I wanted to solve a problem — to help people get their dream guitar,” he says of his early venture during his student days.

“Later, when it became a more serious business, I started selling cheaper guitars that retailed from RM100 onwards.”

The accounting graduate has been passionate about music since he was a 13-year-old and got his first job when he was 18 as a part-time guitar teacher.

Cheng not only deals with the retail business but also provides music lessons, studio rental and musical instrument repair services.

His recording studio has earned a reputation among local artistes, one of whom is Mizz Nina.

To keep abreast with the developments in the business and to ensure he gets quality instruments, Cheng attends music shows or conventions every year that’s also frequented by established suppliers.

The shows are held in Shanghai, the United States and Germany.

He adds that people tend to buy musical instruments based on current trends and that determines the popularity of an instrument during a certain period.

“In 2013 for instance, there was a great interest in the ukulele but that is no longer the case now.

“Currently many people are looking at acoustic guitars and most of them have a particular brand in mind,” adds Cheng.

Tags / Keywords: Education , utar


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