Innovation & Technology

A Regional Platform For Learning

Social enterprises from the region attended a master class organised by the SME Academy to learn the finer points of running a business.

Launched earlier this year, a series of classes run by the SME Academy aims to help business owners understand the fundamentals of running a business amid a fast-changing landscape. Classes cover topics ranging from improving productivity and effectively managing cash flow to harnessing technology for growth.

While the courses initially catered to local firms, a one-day SME master class run by the academy on Oct 2 was attended by some 16 social enterprises from the region. Hailing from Indonesia, Philippines and India, among other countries, these start-ups were the finalists of this year's DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia.

Organised by DBS Foundation and NUS Enterprise , the challenge aims to identify and support innovative new ideas and existing social ventures that have the potential to generate positive, scalable and sustainable social impact.

The social enterprises attended sessions that explored topics such as storytelling, managing working capital and measuring social impact. DBS BusinessClass spoke to three of the companies.

Cups that you can eat

Among the attendees of the SME Master Class were the two founders of Indonesia's Evoware, a company that makes edible cups and packaging made from seaweed.

Apart from replacing plastic with a eco-friendlier material, the two-year old business aims to provide an additional source of revenue for the country's seaweed farmers.

"Indonesia is the largest exporter of seaweed. By using seaweed in our products we are helping the farming community," said co-founder David Christian.

"Many of the biodegradable materials out there are also plant-based, which means you have to cut down trees," he added.

The firm's edible cups went on sale last year, while its packaging solution reached the market in September. The cups have been positioned as a fun, novelty product, and customers include restaurants and events organisers. Evoware is currently in talks with large corporates for their packaging solution.

Coming from biotechnology backgrounds, Mr Christian and his co-founder Noryawati Mulyono found the session on working capital particularly useful.

"The sessions made us realise that there are a lot of things we need to learn. At this stage of the company's growth, we cannot stop learning," said Ms Mulyono.

Promoting Sign Language for a more inclusive society

Hong Kong-based SLCO Community Resources aims to promote social inclusion through increased sign bilingualism amongst both deaf and hearing individuals. The company, which was set up in January this year, offers parent-child pre-school language development programme. The programme is Hong Kong’s only early intervention programme for deaf, hearing and special education needs children using both signed and spoken language as medium of instruction. Classes not only stimulates children’s language and cognitive development, but also promotes social inclusion through having a mixture of deaf and hearing individuals.

The firm currently conducts 10 classes a week, and there is a growing waiting list of families wishing to join. However, they face a shortage of trained teachers. The management team also lacks the business experience to expand the business, explained Raymond Lam, a project officer at SLCO.

"We come from the social sector, so learning about the business side of things and building capabilities in areas such as cash flow is important. We need this kind of knowledge to be self-sustainable," he said.

Providing rural communities access to financial services

Two-year old social enterprise Pos!ble.Net developed a digital device that allows communities in rural parts of The Philippines to access financial services that are otherwise unavailable to them.

The device comes in the form of a box that sits in small community stores, and it allows consumers to complete transactions ranging from depositing money into their accounts and paying bills to buying prepaid credits for their phones and even making donations.

"Our mission is to spread the benefits of technology and financial services to communities that are not being served by the banks," said CEO JG Puzon.

The company's boxes feature the services of around 100 different servie providers including telcos,  insurers and banks. Poss!ble.NET charges the agents which house the boxes a small transaction fee and there is also an one-time onboarding fee for new service providers.

Attending the master class allowed Mr Puzon to validate the company's business model, giving him the confidence to embark on the firm's expansion plans.

SME ACADEMY CLASSES

SME Academy classes are run on a quarterly basis in collaboration with SPRING SME Centre. Please note the following:

  • There are limited seats per class, available on a first-come-first-serve basis
  • You can sign up here
  • More foundational courses to be added in subsequent runs

 


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