The i-Usahawan programme is an initiative by the Ministry of Energy to support young Bruneians to start, own and grow their own business. Through this programme, participants have the opportunity to secure their first contract with the government, government-linked companies (GLCs) and statutory bodies.
Launched in August 2018 in conjunction with the National Youth Day, the programme is a close collaboration between the Ministry of Energy, contract owners and training providers to develop entrepreneurship skills through continuous mentorship throughout the business contract for a minimum of three years.
The programme also acts as a platform for entrepreneurs to grow their business into multinational companies.
The Borneo Bulletin recently spoke with five entrepreneurs under the i-Usahawan programme who have successfully been awarded contracts.
HanR Sdn Bhd
“Don’t be afraid. Take the first step toward realising your dream and really work hard to succeed.”
This advice came from Hairulalimin bin Ramli, one of the owners of HanR Sdn Bhd, a local company that was awarded with its first i-Usahawan contract by a government agency in December 2019.
Under the contract, the company provides the Department of Electrical Services with three years of housekeeping services.
Hairulalimin in an interview recalled that HanR Sdn Bhd started in 2013 to participate in tenders at the oil and gas industry. He and business partner Habib Hakimee managed to secure a project.
“However, without any experience, it failed.”
“After the disappointment, we tried to recover and managed to secure some businesses of air condition maintenance with one of the companies in the oil and gas sector. In 2015, the market was slow so our business also didn’t do well.”
“In 2018, the i-Usahawan programme was introduced and we put our effort into the programme. We changed the company name from HanR ‘Enterprise’ to ‘Sdn Bhd’.
Alhamdulillah, we managed to secure a contract with the Department of Electrical Services.
“When we joined i-Usahawan, we benefitted from the training because previously we didn’t have any experience to participate in tenders.”
Currently, HanR Sdn Bhd only focusses on cleaning services and employs five locals. The company also has some outside clients.
Speaking on challenges, Hairulalimin shared, “We understand that our company cannot offer a high salary to our staff and labour intensive work. The turnover of staff is quite high.
“During COVID-19, cleaning supplies were delayed because Malaysia has movement control restrictions, while in Brunei Darussalam, there were not many changes.”
“In the future we want to expand and also participate in tenders. We are also looking to venture into new areas of business like grass cutting, estate maintenance and others,” he added.
Mohd HMS Enterprise
Another company awarded a contact under the i-Usahawan programme was Mohd HMS Enterprise. The contract was signed last year to provide air-conditioning services and maintenance for Total E&P Borneo BV (TEPB).
For owner of Mohd HMS Enterprise, Mohammad bin Haji Mohd Said, it was determination and willingness to learn that proved to be some of the qualities that helped him to succeed in the highly competitive air-conditioning repair market in the country.
The 33-year-old established the company in 2014 with his former colleague. Without experience in air-conditioning repair, Mohammad had to learn from scratch and managed to acquire on-the-job training and experience from the technician that he hired.
Thanks to his honest way of doing business and providing quality services, things started to flow in with three to four bookings per day in the initial stage to his business doubling at present.
“Apart from the contract, i-Usahawan has helped my business grow since I started small. The programme has provided free training on HSE, providing various knowledge and skills as well as learning materials on how to expand my company.”
“i-Usahawan also helped my company to gain exposure in the local media which help boost my business.
“This has provided me a better understanding of how to manage my business.”
He shared that he has faced many challenges in managing a business.
“The main issue is hiring good and long-term employees. Dissatisfied employees tend to leave and this is hard for the company.
“Due to the high rate of turnover situation, we have received complaints as the quality of work is inconsistent.”
Despite the challenges, he highlighted that it is his priority to provide quality and excellent service, and said this is one of the main reasons that he has gained many repeat customers.
Currently, he has two employees, comprising a supervisor and administration staff.
In term of future plans, he revealed that he hopes for the company to become a well-known brand in Brunei Darussalam and expand as well as hire more local employees. He also hopes to open a store that sells a variety of air-conditioners and other services.
Munch Brunch Canteen
Local start-up Munch Brunch Canteen signed a three-year contract with Brunei Gas Carriers Sdn Bhd (BGC) in 2019 under the i-Usahawan Programme.
Managing Director of Munch Brunch Canteen Hajah Haryanie binti Haji Bujang said, “Under the current contract, Munch Brunch Canteen is supplying manpower to help in office cleaning at BGC, as well as the supplying of sundries and consumables such as tea, coffee, hand sanitiser and soap to the office in Jerudong.”
Having started as a small start-up business which focussed on selling pre-made meals from offices in the surrounding area of the Belait District, she noted the introduction of i-Usahawan in 2018 and took the plunge to register for the programme.
Since then, the contract that she signed has enabled her to expand her experience into cleaning as well as the provision of sundries and consumables to BGC; which she noted was quite difficult at first as the high expectation and regulations that they had to meet were quite a hurdle.
However, over time, she and her staff members slowly developed their skills and experience and were able to meet the needs of BGC.
“We have just passed the one year mark (in this contract), and other than generating the steady source of income for the company, we are able to employ six permanent local staff, which includes five cleaners and one office staff, as well as a number of part-time cleaners.”
This success, she noted, was not without its challenges, one of which includes keeping motivation high during turbulent times, which she was able to do by interacting with and addressing her staff every day to assess the current situation so that she could adapt.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hajah Haryanie noted that it did have a significant impact on her business with regard to prices, especially those related to sundries, as they do not have any fixed agreed pricing with suppliers, and that can have a knock-on effect on the ability for them to meet expectations.
“So far, we are able to meet the expectations, but we are still going the extra mile to continue to further improve wherever we can, which we can be able to accomplish with the support and understanding of BGC, which we are grateful for.”
Hajah Haryanie noted that i-Usahawan was beneficial as the mentorship provided was used to full effect to help them gain experience as well as to ask for advice on how to overcome the obstacles they faced in the business.
Asked about the elements that have led to her company’s success so far, she said, “Keeping an open mind, taking in advice given, and accepting any mistakes which we can then try to learn from.”
“Seek for advice if you’re unsure, and most importantly, take the opportunity to expand and develop, as moments such as this only happen when there are actions being taken by open-minded entrepreneurs.”
SB Kani Company
Another success story under i-Usawahan is that of SB Kani Company, which signed a contact with Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd (BSP) in May 2019.
As Managing Director of SB Kani Company Mohd Muammar Aiman bin Haji Sharif explained, among the various services his company provides include grass-cutting services, ditch-cleaning, and light re-grading services for non-hydrocarbon areas for BSP.
“In total, we have 79 staff members, all comprising local employees, with the majority of them totalling 61 staff being grass cutters, while the rest are contracted drivers, foremen, as well as office staff.”
The company formed when Mohd Muammar Aiman, a graduate from Universiti Teknologi Brunei with a degree in mechanical engineering, read a news item related to the i-Usahawan programme in the Borneo Bulletin that caught his eye in 2018 and decided to start a business.
He said that being successful is subjective, but added that, for him, being able to retain most of the locally employed staff members is what he considered his company to be a success.
He also noted their performance in being able to meet expectations.
He said his success did not come easy despite being under i-Usahawan, as he and his company have had to face a fair share of challenges to be where they are today, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting hard on small start-up companies.
“Definitely, as a start-up company, we are affected by many challenges, especially in cash flow early on, which combined with the necessity for sick leave along with self-isolation and quarantine can have a negative impact on work that requires a large amount of manpower, which is what our scope covers,” he shared, adding that they were still able to meet expectations from BSP in terms of work scope.
He added that he hopes to expand their services to residential as well as commercial areas, in terms of grass-cutting.
“For now we are focussing our energy into getting this opportunity we have with BSP done right, while gaining experience and knowledge along the way.
“If this was 10 years ago, you would not think people with minimal experience will be able to venture out to gain contract with large companies.
“But with i-Usahawan, mentorship and sharing of expertise and knowledge with BSP, we as a small start-up companies have a chance against larger companies who are veterans in the sectors and have vastly more knowledge and experience under their belt.”
He noted that i-Usahawan also gave them the confidence to take the leap into entrepreneurship, which Muhd Muammar Aiman would not have imagined doing many years back.
Syarikat Amirah Barakah
Another company under the i-Usahawan programme is Syarikat Amira Barakah, which last year signed a contract for Provision of Canteen and Vending Machine Services at BSP headquarters.
Owner of Syarikat Amira Barakah Dayangku Nur Saffanah binti Pengiran Rahim shared that the company has eight working staff members.
“Syarikat Amira Barakah was the first under i-Usahawan to be awarded with the contract and, being the first ones, we were closely monitored and guided right from the early stage up, which enabled us to setup our operation here at BSP headquarters,” she said.
Catering to the taste buds from a wide variety of nationalities, each with their own taste for cuisine, she also mentioned that, starting at the BSP headquarters, it was a culture shock operating in BSP environment, which includes some strict procedures, especially on health and safety matters.
“When we first started, it was well beyond our expectation and our sales were more than we anticipated, to the point where too many customers came to our canteen, which led to long queues at times.”
She noted that she and her company gradually overcame this hurdle by improving management of the food availability with a digital queue calling system that was introduced along with the use of credit and debit cards to help ease transactions.
Serving more than 400 meals per day prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted that the crisis has had a significant impact on their business, as they were asked to close their premises earlier in March.
While they did re-open near the end of the Ramadhan period for takeaway, business at the canteen was not at its best.
“We resumed business on June 8, with limited seats resulting in around 250 meals being served during the crisis,” she said.
Despite the setback, she hopes that the situation improves and said that she along with her staff members will remain committed to meet expectations.
With business gradually starting back up again, she expressed her gratitude as a company under i-Usahawan, as their continued mentorship, guidance and assistance has been put to great effect to deliver the best possible result.
“It is very reassuring to have such mentorship as we can always refer to them when we have any doubts or assistance that we require,” she said.