What is entrepreneurship?
What is a business? Is it just about revenues, net profits and creditors? For some, it is an alternative to salaried work, giving one the freedom to choose one’s destiny and for managing time.
For others, it may be about the means to provide better education for their children and for them to lead a better life.
Yet for others, it may be loftier ambitions, not content with a shophouse, or fondly known as “rumah kedai”, to having outlets nationwide or even building their towers and stamping their mark in the corporate world. But it is not an easy ride. They work hard but still challenges come in various guises, from applying for business permits, meeting tax obligations, getting the various funding to facing competition, both domestic and foreign.
And success did come, albeit not to all.
Despite the sprouting of megamalls and large shopping complexes, it has not killed the micro SMEs like your neighbourhood nasi lemak makcik or your auto workshop.
It is their determination to survive that continues to see the evolvement of SMEs from the agricultural to distribution business in the early days.
As they venture into higher value added activities, SMEs are in various sectors – you name it – from medical devices to aerospace.
In Malaysia, SMEs consist of 97.3% of all businesses in the country, accounting for 52.7% of total employment and contributing 32% to gross domestic product (GDP).
The common phrase when it comes to describing SMEs is that they are the backbone of the economy, not just in Malaysia, but for most other countries as well.
In Kenya, the government is using SMEs as a tool for poverty eradication.
Its Trade Ministry permanent secretary, Silas Njiru, said that trade and investment initiatives would be promoted to fight poverty.
“By empowering small-scale business owners to do business, they will in turn offer employment to unemployed Kenyans,” he said during the launch of 60 websites for SMEs in 2009, developed with the United States Aid Agency and the Export Promotion Council Trade Development Program.
Also in 2009, US President Barack Obama made entrepreneurship a critical pillar of US global engagement.
Since then, the US Government has committed to supporting entrepreneurship to channel entrepreneurs’ creativity, innovation and potential to create economic opportunities around the world.
Recently, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) 2013 saw 5,000 delegates from 123 countries and 105 speakers from 26 countries coming to Malaysia to talk about entrepreneurship and its future. It was not just talk. In Malaysia, there are also concrete actions as seen in the creation of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) for Malaysian SMEs.
It will serve as a one-stop centre for entrepreneurs seeking financing from banks or venture capitalists.
It will also be an incubator for start-ups.
And in early November, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the setting up of a social business fund under MaGIC during the 5th Global Social Business Summit.
The fund will be used to help the start-up of social business enterprises.
Also, recently, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) did a study on the impact of SMEs on job creation and poverty reduction in developing countries. Titled Is Small Still Beautiful? Literature Review of Recent Empirical Evidence on the Contribution of SMEs to Employment Creation, the organisations found the results encouraging.
The study examined almost 50 research studies and concluded that SMEs provide two-thirds of all formal jobs in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and 80% in low income countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Not just employment alone, they are also contributing to the wellbeing of the society through their drive for innovation and business acumen of commercialising their discoveries and expertise.
All great companies today, from Konosuke Matsushita’s Panasonic, Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz’s Mercedes to Bill Gate’s Microsoft were once SMEs, with a start-up in some unknown location before they became some of the most treasured blue chips in various stock exchanges today.
Propelling humanity forward, the founders of these esteemed businesses have changed the way people travel, communicate, work and simply how people live.
And in Malaysia, there are SMEs that have grown to be listed on Bursa’s Main Market, with some making the list of top 100 companies in terms of market capitalisation.
But far from just stocks, bonds, warrants and other financial instruments in play, SMEs, as the basic building block of any economies around the world, are contributing to the society’s well-being.
And The Star Business Award, or SOBA, will continue to be there to recognise our most inspiring SMEs.
Not just that, we will be watching their every step, just like an aspiring athlete who will fly our flag high on the international arena.
After all, it is an endurance race with no end in sight for the entrepreneur.