SADIRA Yeong, a third-year Universiti Malaya (UM) pharmacy undergraduate, has done Malaysia proud. She was crowned second out of 56 participants at the Global Students Entrepreneurship Awards (GSEA) 2017 in Frankfurt, Germany, on April 29.
The GSEA is organised by Entrepreneur Organisation and is the premier students’ entrepreneurship competition.
Yeong, the only Asian and female among the top five finalists, even bested business students with her poise, quick thinking and confidence.
Her winning pitch? The creation of “ReadPublic”, an online book price comparison platform aimed at spurring the reading habit among Malaysians.
The ReadPublic journey
Sometime last year, Yeong wanted to buy the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Googling its price, she was aghast to discover that prices ranged from RM13.45 to RM45 depending on the bookstore.
“A 150% difference is huge,” she said. “When I spoke to my friends, I found that one of the main reasons they didn’t buy or read many books was because they were expensive”.
Realising that book pricing discrepancies are a common phenomenon, Yeong further discovered that there weren’t any book price comparison platforms in Malaysia.
Seeing an opportunity at hand, Yeong and her business partner, Yoon Tjun Hung, came together and co-founded ReadPublic.
Key to this initiative would be the support of bookstores. Yeong and Yoon wrote letters, waited at the bookstores and “even spammed their hotlines”. Eventually, a few bookstores gave them support letters.
A few months later, ReadPublic received seed funding of RM150,000 from Cradle Fund, an agency under the Finance Ministry.
“I’m glad Cradle Fund believed in us despite us just being students,” said Yeong.
The eldest of five siblings, Yeong said her family had financial difficulties during her growing up years. Nevertheless, her mother would always remind them that education was the only way out of poverty and often encouraged them to read.
“On average, the Japanese read 17 books per year. Malaysians? Two,” said Yeong.
“We sincerely believe books can change a soul, a community and ultimately, the world. We want reading to be more easily accessible to the public in terms of price, so we chose the name ReadPublic.”
ReadPublic will also act as a marketplace for used books to be bought and sold, and for book lovers to advertise their events. The platform aims to enhance exposure of local bookstores rather than international ones. Starting in Malaysia, the vision is to be present Asean-wide.
Yeong is part of a growing number of student entrepreneurs, also known as “studentpreneurs”.
Recently in Selangor, more than 50 studentpreneurs showcased their enterprises to the community at an event organised by the Ministry of Higher Education, known as “Siswapreneur”.
At the same time, universities are getting more involved in entrepreneurship, which is seen as a great way to hone student talent.
Yeong credits her UM lecturers for being supportive, including listening to her pitch and giving advice on refining her presentation slides.
“I even have two lecturers from the Business Faculty who have been giving me a lot of knowledge on marketing,” she said.
According to Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching, over 60% of students in higher education institutions are involved in entrepreneurship activities and programmes.
Feedback reveals that 3% continue as entrepreneurs after graduation. The goal is to raise this to 5%, based on the ministry’s Entrepreneurship Action Plan 2016-2020.
“We want to equip our students to become job creators and not just job seekers,” said Dr Yap.
New breed of entrepreneurs
The winner of GSEA 2017 was Julian Rios Cantu, an 18-year-old engineering student from Mexico. He developed an early breast cancer detection system after witnessing his mother’s repeated bouts with breast cancer. In coming up with his creation, EVA, he merged technology, entrepreneurship and empathy.
Just like EVA, ReadPublic is the fruition of the personal experiences of its founders. Not forgetting her own challenging upbringing, Yeong has teamed up with Yoon to start a book donation drive which will channel the precious reading material to local orphanages.
Today’s entrepreneurs are clearly not just motivated by financial gain. They also feel a sense of responsibility to make society a better place.
Encompassing this belief, Yeong shared her favourite quote: “Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens and lets in more light.”
* Credit to Yeong and Yoon for contributing to this piece. Yeong can be reached via the ReadPublic Facebook page. ReadPublic aims to go live in July.
- Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at email@example.com. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.