Reorienting M'sia's entrepreneurial direction

One of the perks of being a freelance journalist is that I get to write for a number of publications and not necessarily for the same kind of industry. So I was happy and quite enthusiastic when I was asked to go for a travel familiarization trip to Tasmania late last month.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor

One of the perks of being a freelance journalist is that I get to write for a number of publications and not necessarily for the same kind of industry. So I was happy and quite enthusiastic when I was asked to go for a travel familiarization trip to Tasmania late last month.

Situated some 240km south of mainland Australia, the small state has often been labeled as somewhat backwater, especially when compared to larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney.

While this may be true insofar as infrastructure and economic development are concerned, Tasmania has its own charms. To begin with, the "under development", for want of a better word, is not necessarily a bad thing.

For instance, in one place I stayed in, the Henry Jones Art Hotel, I discovered that much of the hotel's original infrastructure – walls, roofs and foundation – were preserved when the architects and builders remodeled the hotel some five years ago. This lent the hotel a quaint and unique feel, as there was a mixture of old and new structures inside and outside the building.

Another surprising thing I discovered which impressed me was that some Tasmanians cottage industries were not only alive and well, but running thriving businesses.

Contrary to the belief that Tasmania would be hampered by its small economies of scale, many of these businesses have found niche industries to work in and have managed to find markets for themselves, domestically and internationally.

While some of these businesses have harnessed the use of technology to great effect, I noticed that the use of technology per se is not the driving force behind their success.

Whether it's a salmon farm breeder, a confectionary and chocolate maker, or a homegrown chutney, jams and sauce factory, or one of the many wineries in Tasmania, the one common trait I noticed in these small cottage industries is that the founders all love what they do for a living and are totally passionate about the industries they're in as entrepreneurs.

Of course, merely having passion won't guarantee success. Along with passion and enjoyment in the work they do, they had steely determination, reasonable business savvy, and years of hard work behind them.

They also had help from without – through the form of government grants, angel investors and support from the local government, specifically the tourism arm.

Businesses, I was told, could easily apply for grants, angel investors were on hand to help smaller businesses financially and they also received support in the form of publicity and promotions of local produce from the local authorities.

This is something I feel Malaysia is lacking in.

Despite having quite a few years of development in the technology scene via the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Malaysia, a pool of reasonably talented individuals, and some decent level of investment and funding, Malaysia is still struggling to produce world-class entrepreneurs.

Granted, there have been some local success stories that have made it big here and abroad, but the general sentiment is that we’re still quite far off the mark.

Part of the reason, in my humble opinion, is that the local entrepreneurship scene is fragmented and far from working together to help the ecosystem grow in a more concerted way.

Seed funding for small startups is still scarce and the number of serious angel investors are few and far between. Government grants are being disbursed but only in some selected industries and to a select few.

If Malaysia wants to have continued ambitions in fostering entrepreneurship, the industry, the government and the investment community need to relook at how they do things.

This is especially so in the light of the country facing continued globalization and competition from large countries like China and India, and even smaller countries, like Vietnam. Not forgetting our neighbors like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.

Budding entrepreneurs, on the other hand, should not only look to the government for help, but they need to examine if they have the right approach and attitude to entrepreneurship

Sure they may have many great ideas but are they able to translate their innovation into something marketable? Are their business plans robust enough to withstand the onslaught of competition from their respective fields? And do they have enough passion and staying power to stay in the entrepreneurial race?

Being an entrepreneur is never easy. It requires sacrifice, determination, hard work and a bit of good fortune. And with the rise of many nations around us, it’s only going to get harder for those trying to get into the game.

This is where stakeholders, be they investors, the government, industry associations, and successful entrepreneurs themselves, must put their hands together and help each other, in order to encourage local entrepreneurship to flourish.

At the end of the day, the powers that be should take stock and evaluate exactly where the nation’s entrepreneurship compass is pointing to, and take bold steps to correct it, if it wants the country to navigate itself out of this predicament and create better entrepreneurs for the future.

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