Alliance Bank ups the ante

  • Banking
  • Monday, 21 Jul 2014

PETALING JAYA: Many new entrepreneurs who have made some headway in their businesses would identify with American singer-songwriter Randy Newman’s piece of wisdom: If you are doing something, show up everyday, and something good might happen – it’s not going to happen if you don’t show up.

For the winners of Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd’s inaugural SME Innovation Challenge last year, this quote echoes with their journey in the challenge, from the moment they caught wind of it.

“Sometimes I wonder what if I had not turned on the radio that morning, at that moment to hear the advertisement of the challenge. I don’t know where my business would still be; I would have needed to source for my own funds to amp up our marketing and branding,” Bryan Ong said, adding: “And that would not have given us the opportunity to accelerate our business growth.”

Ong is the runner-up in Alliance Bank Bhd’s SME Innovation Challenge 2013, from which he won RM100,000 that enabled him to boost marketing efforts for his textbook loaning business, TextbookAsia.

The grand prize winner, Christina Ng of Christy Ng Shoes, too, said: “I can’t imagine rolling out the virtual shoe engine on my website without the prize money, and all this if I hadn’t joined and won,”, gesturing to the physical store which her company has bought.

Since winning the RM250,000 in December last year, Ng has sped up the process of launching her online shoe engine which enables customers to personalise their shoes based on a selection of styles and fabrics.

While Ng already has an international reach through her online shoe business since day one, Ong said being part of the challenge had also raised his company’s profile overseas and he had received several calls from interested parties within the Asean region looking to collaborate.

“They are in the book business but not focused only on textbooks. When they called me up, they explained that they discovered us online and through our participation in this challenge, they figured we were a credible company,” he admits.

For both Ng and Ong, where they are now was what they had laid out in the next few years. Ng says she believed she would have taken three to four times longer to get the shoe engine up while the thought of having her own physical store was beyond imagination.

Going Asean was Textbook Asia’s five-year plan and now Asean has come knocking on Ong’s door.

On business volume, both companies have since achieved more than 100% growth in sales. International shoe-buyers which made up 40% of Ng’s total customer base last year is expected to grow to over 50% by end-2014.

Entreprenuers, by nature, are very resourceful people. Of the 13 finalists selected last year, although only two bagged the prizes, the rest continue to look out for opportunities through this network.

Some are even in talks for potential collaborations, Alliance Bank senior vice-president of group business banking strategy Aaron Sum said.

Both Ng and Ong said the rewards of being part of the challenge was far-reaching, that even without the prizes, there was a lot to gain from the experience and extended network.

“Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. And the SME Innovation Challenge and the Bizsmart Academy for small businesses are good platforms to widen and learn from a network of like-minded driven people,” Ng said. “Winning is not all because this is like a university for entrepreneurs; they never teach you these things in school.”

For this year’s challenge, Alliance Bank is looking to up its ante. It aims to select 20 finalists and put them through a structured learning programme and CEO Chatroom series with top business leaders like Eco World Development Bhd director Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin (who is also chief judge for this challenge) and Datuk Ameer Ali Mydin of Mydin Mohamed Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Sum said the bank wanted a mix of SMEs from outside the Klang Valley and Sabah and Sarawak as well. “We have done our roadshow in Penang and Kuala Lumpur and the level of engagement we saw from the crowd was encouraging,” he said, noting the eagerness of the SMEs to break through to the next stage in their businesses.

From the alumni’s feedback, the bank will offer a more practical training that ties back to the real issues entrepreneurs face – talent management, leadership, financing and marketing.

“The bank wants to facilitate the small businesses in tapping into the insights and wisdom of top business leaders, the leadership skills, expose them to smart, low cost, high impact marketing tactics that they can use,” he said.

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