| Danial Norjidi |
STARTUP companies in Brunei have similar opportunities and challenges as their counterparts in Southeast Asia, and with the right drive for success and support schemes in place, they can venture abroad.
This was said yesterday by Dato Paduka Haji Ali bin Haji Apong, Deputy Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), while delivering a keynote address at the awards ceremony for the Ignite Entrepreneurship Challenge 2014.
“Currently, ongoing collaborations between the BEDB and strategic partners such as AITI and the iCentre have offered programmes and initiatives to enhance and support our technology and innovation ecosystem through competitions such as the Ignite Entrepreneurship Challenge, grant schemes for entrepreneurs and innovators as well as incubation and mentorship for startups at the iCentre,” he said.
It is encouraging, he continued, to see that a growing number of youths with engineering and business backgrounds are coming forward with their innovative startup ideas.
“Collectively, our goal is to create Bruneian success stories that can compete in regional and international markets,” he highlighted. “To compete in the global market, local startups can learn from success stories beyond the Sultanate and adapt their business strategies to align with the technology trends.”
Entrepreneurship in the ICT and technology sector is an ongoing national initiative which the deputy minister says has, over the years, gained momentum, and he highlighted that the growth of the ICT industry can contribute towards the achievement of Brunei’s Vision 2035 to create a dynamic, sustainable economy of highly skilled and well-educated people.
He cited a titah by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam in conjunction with the 26th convocation of Universiti Brunei Darussalam, where the monarch called upon the education sector to assist the development of research and innovation in the field of entrepreneurship that can contribute to economic growth. His Majesty also encouraged students to change their mindset and be more proactive instead of waiting for jobs.
“I encourage the youth to look at entrepreneurship as an alternative employment opportunity to contribute to the development of the nation’s economic environment as well as to reduce our local unemployment levels,” said the deputy minister.
He then cited another titah by His Majesty, in which the monarch highlighted the need for economic growth at a rate of five to six per cent per annum, which will increase the national income from $20 billion today to $80 billion by 2035.
“In order to realise these goals, the Brunei economy needs to be less reliant on the oil and gas sectors,” said the deputy minister. “His Majesty’s government is thus providing various supports to grow and boost the private sector to diversify beyond a hydrocarbon economy.”
One of the diversification efforts, he added, is in supporting and boosting local innovative startups.
Moving on, he spoke on various success stories from around the region. First was that of the customer-to-customer mobile market place app, Carousell, which raised S$1 million in seed funding. Carousell is a market place for selling pre-loved or new items. With the funding, the company is now looking to expand into the Southeast Asia market, focusing on Malaysia and Indonesia. The company is where it is now because of the support of the Singapore government and their own personal savings.
He also touched on Malaysian Internet-based taxi booking service provider MyTeksi Sdn Bhd, which is regionally known as GrabTaxi. Having come from modest beginnings and overcome challenges in getting taxi drivers to adopt their booking app, MyTeksi has raised its funding and loans to US$490 million within the past 12 months to expand its existing market as well as improve service standards across Southeast Asia.
His last example was that of Tokopedia, the largest online marketplace site in Indonesia. Tokopedia, which receives about 10 million visitors a month and has sold 24 million products in its four years of operation, recently announced its approximately US$100 million financing, led by SoftBank Internet and Media Inc. Softbank previously invested in successful tech companies such as Alibaba, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.
“In conclusion, startup companies in Brunei and the Southeast Asia region have similar opportunities and challenges,” he said. “Venturing out into the bigger markets will not be easy, but with a team that is hungry and passionate for success and the availability of various support schemes, our local startups and entrepreneurs can do it.
“Through our various assistance schemes such as the iCentre as well as the Local Enterprise and Applications Product Grant Scheme and the Startup Brunei Grant Scheme, the BEDB is committed to assisting Bruneians with great and innovative ideas,” he highlighted. “You can be catalysts in the country’s economic growth, who can ultimately become role models that can inspire our future generations.
“The ball is in your court,” he added.