(From left) Agropreneur Heineken Laluan and founder of Timogah.com with Sarawak FM deejay Azman Johari and Hassnal Hakim Junaidi (Azam Sarawak Communication Officer) during a recent Sembang Digital Normal Baru radio programme organised by SMA and Azam Sarawak on e-commerce.

With brick-and-mortar businesses forced to close during the movement control order (MCO), the business of selling and buying had to go online. On top of financial assistance through Bantuan Khas Sarawakku Sayang, the Sarawak government was quick to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or sellers who, as MCO was extended through the Ramadan season, depended on the extra income from physical Ramadan bazaars by initiating an online platform — Bazar Rakyat Online Sarawakku Sayang.

Based on a 2011 census, Sarawak recorded 43,830 SME establishments operating mainly in services and manufacturing, representing 97.3 percent of the total business establishments in Sarawak, showing how vital it is to keep SMEs going. In addition, the Sarawak government also launched the Sarawak Productive programme, a series of webinars to create awareness of digital transformation for SMEs.

Meanwhile, the e-Wanita app under Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) with the state Women and Family Department (JWKS) developed by Socoe Sdn Bhd also provides a holistic e-commerce platform for women entrepreneurs to market their products, build networking amongst each other as well communicate with their consumers.

Launched by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg on March 9, 2019 at the state-level Women’s Day event, it was hoped that the online marketplace would provide a platform for women entrepreneurs to reach out to new markets.

As JWKS entrepreneur and founder of AAC Winco Trading Caroline Pany pointed out during the Sembang Digital Normal Baru radio programme organised by SMA and Angkatan Zaman Mansang Sarawak (Azam Sarawak) recently, SMEs like hers were thankful for the foresightedness of the Sarawak government with the digital economy agenda, as they could still make money through platforms like e-Wanita’s ePreneurs mobile app during the MCO.

“I am grateful that even through MCO, we could still take bookings through the ePreneurs app,” she said, as their chance to market their products in the public space was significantly reduced.

Besides serving as an online marketplace for women entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services, she explained that the e-Wanita app also served as a place where entrepreneurs could connect, not just in Sarawak, but also outside Malaysia.

Caroline, who first joined JWKS’ creative sewing courses before joining Sarawak Women’s Aspiration Group (SWAG) initiative co-organised by JWKS and Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, now produces unique beadwork that merges modern and traditional aesthetics along with other bespoke items such as soaps. Meanwhile, under JWKS, she is also prepping her products for export.

“Under e-preneurs, entrepreneurs like Caroline work together with Socoe Sdn Bhd, as well as on product packaging and branding to meet international standards for export,” explained JWKS director Noriah Ahmad.

Entrepreneurs under JWKS’ programme receive guidance and encouragement from JWKS and Socoe and taught how to think “out of the box” on how to improve on their products, and thereby be significant contributors to the economy.

“JWKS has also held several programmes for women who want to expand to online businesses such as Women in Digital Entrepreneurship (WiDE), Digital Entrepreneurship Literacy seminars (SLiDE) and Digital Entrepreneurship for Women (WDiEC),” Noriah said, listing SMA, MDec and Socoe as agencies involved in these programmes aimed to give participants exposure, awareness and knowledge in their transition to e-commerce platforms.

Meanwhile, Timogah.com founder Heineken Laluan logged a significant increase in business during the MCO with his online marketplace which also provides home delivery.

“Timogah.com is an ecommerce platform, which has become the new normal nowadays, giving farmers and rural communities an opportunity to market their agricultural produce online,” said Heineken, who, although he began his work life as a biology teacher, could not ignore his passion for enterprise and left it all to focus 100 percent on Timogah.

While he has become an icon of sorts for agro-preneurs, Heineken’s advice for aspiring youth entrepreneurs was to fix on a business model.

“Before you can start your online business, you need to be clear about your goals. For me, Timogah is not only an application, but it helps target groups such as farmers and rural communities. I didn’t start Timogah to be a trendy business but I imagined it to be a legacy for future generations, in the hopes that it will be remembered as having made an impact and inspiration that we Sarawakians can make something big like Alibaba,” said the shortlisted finalist for Shell’s LiveWIRE Top Ten Innovators Awards 2020.

“Perhaps our rate of internet connectivity may not be uniform across Sarawak compared to other states, but we should be willing to educate people and make them aware of the digital norms that are happening and going on elsewhere, and that we can’t wait. For areas without the internet, for instance, we need to be innovative to overcome those challenges.”

Currently, Timogah is expanding its marketing operations to the Peninsula, where Borneo products have become increasingly popular.

For young entrepreneurs, he emphasised the need to know one’s purpose in life.

“We must know what purpose in life is, when there is a purpose, we have a dream, and when we have a dream we must put in the effort. We have to be brave and be willing to learn and adapt along the way, because book-learning isn’t going to be enough.”

About AZAM Sarawak

Angkatan Zaman Mansang (Azam) which means a “Movement for Progress” is a non-profit and non-governmental organisation which seeks to facilitate development efforts in Sarawak through promoting development communication.