By YAM PHUI YEE
The Global Entrepreneurship Week hopes to open up opportunities for young people interested in turning their ideas into business ventures.
TECH guys Mike Tee and Devan Singaram initially only intended to be bystanders, documenting how social entrepreneurs are using creative business solutions to address the needs of various communities. However, their friend Puah Sze Ning’s experience inspired them to plunge into the business of effecting change.
She had returned from the Mangkuwagu Forest Reserve in Sabah, excited about a partnership with the locals there.
“I travelled for eight hours on logging roads into the village. There was no piped water and electricity, but they have solar power and Internet access,” says Sze Ning, 24.
In Mangkuwagu, Sze Ning met sisters Mazeline and Malina Soning, who have founded the Sinompuru Women’s Group with 16 single mothers and elderly women from the Rungus tribe in Kampung Tinangol, Kudat.
The women have embarked on an income generating project – making handicraft – but do not know how to sell them to a bigger market.
Sze Ning shared her experience with her friends Mike and Devan, and they then hit upon the idea of setting up a website to sell the Rungus handicraft online.
And so, after about two-and-a-half months of test runs, their website, www.elevyn.com (elevyn is pronounced eleven), was launched yesterday (making it 11/11/2008).
The website is opening up the global market for handicraft by Sabah’s indigenous people like the Rungus and Murut. The website has attracted many shoppers; they even had a buyer from Norway.
Elevyn is however not all about selling, but raising funds to benefit local communities.
Customers are also known as “sponsors” because 5% of the sales proceeds go towards a particular local need, such as helping an artisan repair her home to prepare for the rainy season, buy books and school uniforms for the local children , or buy a tree to reforest the wildlands.
Elevyn also tracks how much funds have been raised to meet each need. It is the ideas behind social enterprises like Elevyn that will be highlighted at the inaugural Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) happening across the country next week, from Nov 17-23.
It aims to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, and engage, inspire, connect and mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs. The event involves 75 countries and stemmed from previous national-level events by Britain’s Make Your Mark and the United States’ Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Young people like Mike, Devan and Sze Ning are the prime movers in the shift towards more creative entrepreneurship.
As social entrepreneurs, they have to explore different ways of generating revenue apart from grabbing the conventional huge profit margin.
With their low commission earnings, Mike says they have to expand and work with more groups in Malaysia and other countries to increase their sales volume. Sze Ning has been tagging along with non-government organisations who work among indigenous people to look for potential partners.
The new economy is an idea economy, says Dhakshinamoorthy Balakrishnan, CEO of Warisan Global, the organiser of GEW. Powerful ideas will change the world, he says.
“The objective of GEW is to ultimately inspire enterprising behaviours like solving problems, connecting with people, generating idea and creativity. We also want to instill in youths that there are no infrastructure in the world to stop anyone from thinking and unleashing their ideas,” says Dhakshinamoorthy, or Dash.
He gives the example of Unleashing It website (www.unleashingideas. org/unleash) where youths can take part in a global discussion and pose a challenge or provide ideas and solutions to the challenges.
Thanks to the Internet, aspiring entrepreneurs can take their ideas straight to the global market without having to spend years growing the business locally.
“The time when people stay in employment until they get the gold watch is over,” says Dash.
He adds that the good news is that ideas do not have to come from the boardroom alone now and young people have the opportunity to ride on the changing landscape by adopting an entrepreneur’s mindset and behaviours.
As long as people have access to the Internet, they will be connected to the global market.
“Rural youths have different challenges but it doesn’t make them less creative or smart. Connecting with urban or global youths will only open up their ideas to people outside,” he says.
During the GEW, 42 Rural Internet Centres in the country will showcase the works of local entrepreneurs, provide training and networking opportunities and encourage entrepreneurship. In Sabah and Sarawak, the state libraries will be used to promote entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship through talks, discussions and mentoring programme.
“I think there is a lot of emphasis in Malaysian universities on passing exams. I wish the emphasis is also on developing an entrepreneurial behaviour by linking with other local universities. It is happening and we are slowly seeing a change of mindset,” says Dash.
Online magazine Malaysia Entrepreneurs (www.entrepreneurs.my) founder Daniel CerVentus Lim, 27, is excited about GEW because he wants to see more young Malaysians passionate about being entrepreneurs.
He wishes that being an entrepreneur is among the top five careers in South-East Asia, like how it is in the Silicon Valley. But for that to happen, mindsets need to change.
“When our girlfriend’s mother asks what we do, and we say we manage a website, blogsite or a consulting company, she will ask, ‘You don’t work for people?’.
“Then, the next question will be, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’,” Daniel relates, adding that they are in fact the ones employing others to work. He started his first online business in his teens, and now consults on Internet strategies and organise tech-related events.
Although there are successful entrepreneurs here, Daniel laments the lack of iconic entrepreneurs like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in Malaysia.
Daniel and other like-minded youths will be facilitating participatory workshops called Start-up Camp during the GEW.
“It’s basically a sharing platform, like a melting pot of entrepreneurs. Participating in events is a way for entrepreneurs to give back,” says Daniel, who will be speaking on using open source for businesses.
GEW is also an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to network, share and exchange ideas and tap on the opportunities available as there will be stakeholders and investors attending the event.
Mike from Elevyn will also be speaking on the pre-seed fund they received, how entrepreneurs can ace in their pitch, and 10 ideas you should not come up with. There will also be a session on how ideas brewed over conversations at the mamak stall can become business ideas.
Youth is certainly not a disadvantage when it comes to being entrepreneurs. “There are more opportunities, funds and grants and technology is cheap enough today. The chances to succeed are higher now as compared to 20 years ago,” says Mike. Elevyn has received funds from the Multimedia Development Corporation’s Technopreneur Pre-Seed Fund Programme and was a finalist in the Youth Social Entrepreneurship Initiative .
“It doesn’t matter how small you are or what your limitations are, as long as your ideas are big, and you are daring enough to act upon them,” says Dash.
This article appeared on the Star Online, 12 November 2008 , you can view original article here here.