Sata: Sabah’s very own ‘techpreneurial’ story
Registered as the Sabah West Coast Techpreneur Association on August 30 last year, Sata became the first NGO in Sabah to focus on IT-related entrepreneurship development.
Interestingly, the adoption of the word ‘techpreneur’ without the syllable ‘no’ in it was done on purpose to add a more positive character in the name, said founding member and president Darwin Tan.
“It started with a group of people who met at the Technopreneur Academy and Pre-Seed Programme (TAP20) in 2009 and realised that Sabah has many potential ‘techpreneurs’, but lacked support and awareness.
“Hence, Sata was born through initiation of founding members like myself, Saverinus Kitingan (vice president I) and Karon Lo (secretary),” he told BizHive Weekly.
Sata was given a space from the state government under the Ministry of Resource Development and Information Technology under the IT Advancement Unit (UKIT), which was at that time under the helm of Bruno Vun.
“We tell them our dream, in which we need place to grow.
“We’re really grateful for the opportunity.
“Without the ministry giving the chance to us, Sata’s growth will be none or slow.”
A young techopreneur himself with a 15-year experience in IT, agriculture and business management, Tan said Sata would also be a channel of information related to funding or grants available for new ideas, which many in Sabah were not aware of.
“Initially, the body had a humble beginning with only 11 members when it was registered.
In just over a year, it has grown into over 90 members,” he said.
On the organisation’s objectives, Tan revealed that from the beginning, Sata has always strived to have the first incubator in Sabah.
As such, a collaboration between Sata and Kuala Lumpur-based MAD Inc via the Sata-MAD Incubator Initiative was set up last year, aimed towards providing a structured incubation programme to techpreneurs in Sabah.
The programme comprised a comprehensive structured incubation package of open co-working space for entrepreneurs, ‘hand-holding’ them via coaching and mentoring, networking opportunities, entrepreneur circle grouping, business training, marketing network across local and international linkages, as well as funding access with angel investors, venture capital and government funding.
At present, MAD Incubator is the largest private incubator in the country, with its headquarters located in Technology Park Malaysia but has footprints in more than six states namely Selangor, Penang, Kedah, Perak, Johor and Sabah.
It is also on the verge to take over the management of the MSC Malaysia Technology Commercialisation Centre at Malaysian Multimedia University, Cyberjaya from MDeC.
“Our core business is business incubation,” said MAD’s founder Andrew Wong, who is also the current president of National Incubator Network Association (Nina) as well as the country’s representative in the Asia Association of Business Incubators (AABI) and the World Bank Infodev.
Wong added that MAD Incubator had initiated several incubation and entrepreneurs programmes such as the MAD BizStart Membership Programme, BizStart Showcase, MAD Techventures and Technopreneur Open Days to galvanise entrepreneurship in the country, as well as identifying potential entrepreneurs to groom towards meeting its target of more than 1,000 technopreneurs and achieving US$1 million of net worth by 2015.
“MAD aspires to build an incubator in every state by partnering with local economic development organisations (EDOs) such as Sata to develop incubators and incubation programs in the respective states,” said Wong.
‘MAD about NINA’
Apart from MAD, Nina is another key collaborative partner of Sata.
In August this year, both par-ties organised a three-day con-ference on business incubation and entrepreneurship for Asia Pacific in Kota Kinabalu.
Seven persons from Sata were trained in incubation management programme.
“Nina seeks to develop more incubators in Malaysia and looks to Sabah and Sarawak as new frontiers for entrepreneur-ship growth in Malaysia.
This opportunity has given Sata a link to international network and deeper understanding of business incubators,” said Tan.
For Sabah, key industry sectors in focus would be Internet-based business, mobile and cloud computing as well as software services.
“Working together with Sata, NINA foresees more training will be conducted in Kota Kinabalu to train more incubator managers for East Malaysia,” said Tan.
With two key partners, Sata would continue to seek more viable partnerships with other organisations, Tan pointed out.
“We are looking forward to work with other organisations, even at the international level, to expand our network.
“Locally, we have worked with Swepa (Sabah Women Entrepreneur and Professional Association) and Papabos (Per-satuan Austisme Pantai Barat Sabah),” he added.
Besides the afore-mentioned bodies, Sata had also been in-volved with the Malaysian Com-munications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for the ‘Sabah Broadband Promotion’.
“We are also looking forward to the setting up of Sata’s own Koperasi Jaringan Usahawan Teknologi Sabah Bhd (Kejut), which would be the vehicle for business; and hopefully, the main contributor of funding for Sata,” said Tan.
“The Sabah Got Ideas (SGI) programme is one of our greatest achievements in 2010,” high-lighted Tan.
Through SGI, Sata would be creating entrepreneurs by providing platform for them to develop, refine and pitch their ideas with chances to win ‘Mini Startup Package’ of RM5,000 at district-level, and the ‘Grand Startup Package’ worth RM20,000 at final pitching state-level.
The funding, courtesy of the Ministry of Resources Develop-ment and Information Technol-ogy, would to be used to further develop these ideas.
“If the recipient could commer-cialise their ideas within that budget, that would be a success story of another entrepreneur created by Sata and powered by SGI,” enthused Tan.
This year, Sata received just over 100 participants in SGI.
“From next year, we plan to FOUNDING MEMBERS: Tan (left) stands next to a banner depicting Sata’s logo together with Saverinus Kitingan, the organisation’s vice president I.
run the programme in seven districts with a minimum 30 participants in each district.
“That would give us about 210 participants every year, and a total of almost 2,000 by 2020.
“Assuming only 50 per cent new participants yearly, we are still looking at 1,000 potential techpreneurs by 2020,” Tan added.
An enterprising techpreneur, Tan also founded his own com-pany called Borneo E-Expert Sdn Bhd, which received the pre-seed grant to develop a native lan-guage digital dictionaries.
“For the company’s pilot project, we are digitising the kadazan language as a proto-type.
This is an effort towards preserving our culturea and art heritage,” he said.
Key challenges After running SGI for the first time, there would still be obstacles in developing techpreneurs in Sabah, observed Tan.
“We still need to change their mindsets, making them realise that they have ideas.
They also fear about their ideas being stolen or being not good enough.
“Lack of information on fund-ing or grants and platforms available to support the develop-ment of new business ideas also presented another problem to aspiring techpreneurs, along-side lack of basic infrastructure especially in the interior parts of Sabah for them to fully capi-talise on information technol-ogy for business purposes,” he explained.
Nevertheless, Tan emphasised the point that enterprenuers have always been those who created job opportunities.
“Five per cent of entrepre-neurs in the world create 87 per cent of jobs in the market,” he underscored.
Earlier this month, Sata or-ganised an entrepreneurship awareness seminar at with a tag line ‘Tired Looking For Jobs? Create One.
Join SGI’ where Tan urged youths to change their mindsets of focusing on getting jobs after graduation.
“Why not be a techpreneur and create jobs for others instead?” suggested Tan.
“Let me tell you a secret: technology today allows enterprenuers to become tech-noprenuers.
Using e-commerce as platform, an entreprenuer can kick-start a business.
“But there need to be a high awareness to generate this branch of enterpreneurship,” It remains Tan’s vision for Sata and other organisations to create more entrepreneurs towards helping to boost the socio-economic conditions for the people in Sabah.
He believed that by sharing knowledge, Sabahans could create a viable network linking the economy with the commu-nities.
“With the continuous support from the ministry and other organisations, Sata should progress towards organising more programmes that will contribute to the creation and development of entrepreneurship, especially in IT-related field.
We hope that we will grow stronger in membership and move towards our vision – ‘a techpreneur in every family’,” said Tan.