Entrepreneurial spirit: Proud SOBA 2023 Mikro awards winners (from left) Maria, Izuan, Azrina and Nurulziaty together with RHB Bank Bhd SME banking head Yip How Nang (centre) during the SOBA 2023 Gala Night event on March 7.

MICRO enterprises play an important part in the Malaysian economy.

According to the Statistics Department, out of 1,173,601 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) registered for business in 2022, around 78.7% or 923,667 were micro businesses.

It comprised most of Malaysia’s workforce, making it a noteworthy segment contributing towards the country’s gross domestic product. However, many micro enterprises still find it difficult to obtain financial support.

SMEs, particularly micro enterprises, face challenges in obtaining financing, constrained either due to poor credit worthiness, weak recording of financial accounts or lack of business viability.

Many micro enterprises are unable to penetrate new and larger markets beyond their hometown or districts.

For those reasons and more, the Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) 2023 had added a new category specifically to highlight noteworthy micro enterprises that have displayed great potential for business growth in the market and have contributed to the nation’s economy

Called the SOBA Mikro Recognition Award, participants for this category join only through nomination by SOBA sponsors.

This year saw five winners for this category, four of which are from RHB Bank Bhd’s nominations.

Entrepreneurial journey

Debab Berapi Food and Services

What started out as a way to cope with the high cost of living in Kuala Lumpur in 2014 turned into a successful business for Azrina Non, the owner of Debab Berapi Food and Services.

She specialised in mini catering services providing ready-to-cook meals, catering to the evolving preferences and needs of her customers.

When the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic struck, she trimmed her operations down and started to leverage on the RHB #JomBiz programme.

“It allowed us to maintain the same level of quality and service with a smaller team while keeping our operating costs lower.”

Today, her company is based in Bentong, Pahang, offering a range of versatile ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook products that include specialties such as sambal ikan talang and kambing perap.

Mamayaya Enterprise

Mamayaya Enterprise founder Maria Md Aris launched her business in 2019 in order to enjoy the flexibility of staying home with her newborn baby.

Her husband then joined her and they embarked on an entrepreneurial journey that offered various specialised blended spices to create delicious, full-fledged meals for busy working parents who seek easier solutions when providing meals for their families.

“This was a personal interest of mine, which I noticed was an untapped market that has the potential for growth, so I decided to venture into it,” Maria explained.

From a husband-and-wife team, the company has expanded to include two temporary employees and a permanent one in Rawang.

JZ Dolce Empire

Nurulziaty Huda Ahmad Bahiki of JZ Dolce Empire quit her shift job in 2013 to spend time with her husband while starting her entrepreneurial journey in the baking business.

The founder’s passion in baking gained her a Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia dalam Pastri levels 2 and 3 in 2014, which gave her the technical expertise for the delicacies she creates.

She was backed up by her husband and three other staff members, working out of their home in Cheras.

She has since cultivated a coterie of loyal customers who appreciate her product quality.

I Heart Design

Despite being an architect, I Heart Design founder Izuan Idris began his journey in 2011 as a part-timer.

“I create visually appealing designs for a variety of mediums, including book covers, magazines, social media posts and banners,” he explained, saying that he also offers bespoke designs to clients.

Through his friend’s encouragement, he formalised his business by registering it as a company and transitioned into full-time entrepreneurship in 2018, dedicated towards the growth and success of his business.

His expertise has earned his company a range of clients from government agencies like Muzium Negara, Akademi Sains Malaysia, and the Health Ministry, to state-level organisations such as the Penang Women’s Development Corporation.

Overcoming barriers

Being a micro entrepreneur means facing various business risks and challenges.

One that stood out for Azrina was the manpower fluctuation that significantly impacted her operations.

“I realised the importance of developing comprehensive plans with backup strategies and clearly defined timelines,” she said.

Doing so allowed her to better manage expectations and address obstacles that arise, ensuring smooth operations even in the face of staffing fluctuations.Sales inconsistency following the Covid-19 pandemic had worried Maria initially.

“Then I took proactive steps by conducting thorough research and refining my recipes.”

She also observed emerging trends to gain a deeper understanding of her target audience.

By adapting to the evolving market conditions and fine-tuning her approach, she was able to stabilise sales during those turbulent times.

Nurulziaty’s main obstacle was facing intense pricing competition from other vendors within the industry.

“I then began recognising the importance of understanding my customers’ preferences and staying attuned to market trends.

Through that, I used targeted advertising campaigns to reach specific audiences, which helped boost sales and distinguished my business from competitors.”

Izuan’s challenge came in the form of delays from the printing company contracted for the job during the completion of the Muzium Negara project.

Although he managed to solve the problem, the unexpected hurdle resulted in financial losses that he had to personally cover to ensure timely delivery.

“This experience served as a pivotal lesson, emphasising the importance of always having backup plans when collaborating with external parties and budgeting for unforeseen circumstances.”

RHB #JomBiz

Much of these SOBA Mikro winners attribute their success to joining the RHB #JomBiz programme.

“One of the most significant highlights for my business was being named the champion of the RHB #JomBiz programme and winning RM30,000 in seed funding,” Azrina shared.

It played a role in shaping the trajectory of her business.

“I gained valuable insights into sales strategies and logistics management which are crucial aspects for business growth.”

The seed funding allowed her to develop and expand her business operations, while the programme’s networking opportunities put her in touch with fellow entrepreneurs and cultivate relationships with loyal customers over time.

Similarly, Maria said RHB #JomBiz’s seed funding enabled her to upgrade her packaging and branding.

“The programme provided essential training on logistics management and overall business development,” she said.

The seed funding also helped increase her raw material stocks, which was instrumental for an increase in sales.

“Participating in the RHB #JomBiz programme marks a significant milestone of my entrepreneurial journey,” said Nurulziaty.

The seed funding allowed her to enhance various aspects of her business, while the programme offered crucial training in logistics management and overall business development.

“There was also the chance to network and exchange ideas with fellow entrepreneurs through the programme that contributed to the growth and expansion of my business which I am grateful for.”

Izuan said the RHB #JomBiz’s seed funding enabled him to upgrade his tools and equipment, while the programme provided vital training on logistics management, professional employee and business management and overall business development.

“Moreover, through the programme, I had the opportunity to connect with a network of entrepreneurs, with whom I still maintain strong relationships.

“We often collaborate to support each other’s businesses and share insights.”

RHB Banking Group chief sustainability and communications officer Norazzah Sulaiman shared that, “RHB Bank is committed to empowering micro enterprises through initiatives like the #JomBiz programme, which provides not only financial support but also comprehensive training and networking opportunities.

“We believe that by equipping these businesses with the necessary tools and knowledge, we can help them overcome challenges and drive sustainable growth.

“The success stories of our #JomBiz participants, as seen in the SOBA Mikro awards, are a testament to the potential and resilience of micro enterprises in Malaysia.

“We are proud to be part of their journey and will continue to support their aspirations and contributions to the economy,” she said.

To know more about RHB #JomBiz programme, visit rhbgroup.com/jombiz

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