Participants of the Alliance Bank BizSmart Academy’s SME Innovation Challenge say the experience has benefited them in many way, whether in terms of exposure, strategy or networking, writes JOY LEE.
WITH startups taking centre stage in recent years, there has been no shortage of available programmes offering funding and coaching to help them grow.
But the real test comes when participants graduate from these programmes and are able to draw from the lessons and experiences they’ve gained to grow to the next level. And past participants of Alliance Bank’s BizSmart Academy seem adept at doing just that.
BizSmart Academy, along with its SME Innovation Challenge, was launched in 2013 to provide a platform for young SMEs and startups with access to coaching, mentoring and funding, as well as an online knowledge bank cum resource centre.
Angeline Choo, co-founder of naturally fermented health drinks producer Bio Tree Biotechnology, has seen sales grow by 21% since her company completed the first cycle of SME Innovation Challenge in December 2013.
“We’ve also expanded our network and increased our product lines. Our strategy is to continue to innovate and create new products that boost the overall well-being for our customers,” she says.
Choo stresses the importance of remembering the purpose of one’s business and of delivering value to grow the company.
Bio Tree Biotechnology is eyeing expansion overseas with a new distribution agreement.
Media boutique agency Bloc 48 also hopes to one day penetrate the regional market. But for the time being, co-founder and chief operating officer Therine Goh is looking to reach advertisers nationwide.
“When we joined the programme, the online marketplace that we launched last year was just a concept on paper. We are happy to share that we have progressed significantly and our beta site went live in September 2015.
“We received a lot of support from the media industry and was able to validate our business concept with our network of SME peers, many of whom we met during the challenge,” says Goh.
Bloc 48, which began in 2012, helps brands connect with specific consumer segments by cultivating long-term emotional relationships with trackable qualitative results. The company has ventured into an online marketplace selling offline ad space.
Goh opines that having the right team is essential in building a company. Teoh Wee Kiat of myBurgerLab agrees.
“Having a strong team is important when one intends to scale up and grow fast effectively,” says Teoh.
The eatery has added two more outlets to its belt, making for a total of four outlets since it participated in the SME Innovation Challenge in 2013.
Teoh adds that the team at myBurgerLab is assessing markets abroad to expand overseas.
For Little Fat Duck co-founder Adel Ishak, participating in the SME Innovation Challenge brought about a big difference for the business, which started as a food truck.
“When we joined the Challenge in 2014, we had only one truck. Three months after the challenge, we launched our first mall outlet. Today, we have six outlets in the Klang Valley, including the truck.
“We have also franchised our brand,” says Adel.
Adel is unperturbed by the challenging economic situation and aims to open another five outlets this year.
Another alumni of the programme, soda drinks producer Tapping Tapir has been growing its line of products as well as its market.
“We continue to drive business in the existing markets both in Malaysia and Singapore. We were also able to increase our distribution to new countries such as the Middle East and Australia,” says co-founder Ivan Lee.
“Our team has learnt to be more strategic with our business goals and objectives. We are also ensuring that our brand and distribution network continues to thrive and remain competitive,” adds Lee.