Brunei Innovation Jam 2014 showcases local diversity of business ideasMadanmohan Rao
Though the southeast Asian kingdom of Brunei is rich in oil and gas reserves, the government and industry bodies are working together to boost entrepreneurship in other sectors as well. Inspired in part by the examples of other small countries such as Dubai and Singapore, the country recently held an Innovation Jam to explore new avenues of innovation for the local industry.
Five teams pitched ideas and business plans for new ventures, and I was honoured to be one of the four judges for this competition, called Empowering Business Facilitation (EBF). The competition was the culmination of a four-day workshop on government intrapreneurship and SME innovation, and involved identifying core local competencies on which to build differentiating ventures.
The workshop covered ideation techniques of divergence (brainstorming, idea generation) and convergence, or narrowing in on a business offering based on user needs and market options. Judging criteria for the Jam included originality, local strengths, business plan, team work, customer empathy and quality of presentation. The contestants came from a wide range of sectors in Brunei: industry, agribusiness, forestry, tourism and aquaculture.
The competing teams were asked to build business plans for a venture which blended local strengths and global trends, drawing on Brunei’s unique assets: rich biodiversity, preserved rainforests, tropical weather, long coastline, cultural heritage, educated citizenry, youthful population, global ties, and safe and secure environment (the country’s name in fact means ‘Abode of Peace’).
One of the business ventures involved patenting, preserving and promoting the local woven textile tradition called tenunan (neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia have a strong batik tradition as well). The proposal also included forming a for-profit industry association to have international roadshows of award-winning tenunan designs, and inviting international designers to stay in Brunei, pick up the style and design ‘fusion’ clothing for the global audience.
Three of the business plans focused on tourism: one was an eco-friendly resort addressing the Islamic tourist market from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and another resort focused on highlighting local cultural activities to international tourists. The team even pitched a creative kind of rope climbing exercise based on the bubu local fish trap, which is made of bamboo and designed in such a way that the fish cannot wriggle out once it enters the tube.
The plan for the third resort included a maritime museum to highlight local history and culture, along with local cuisine and organic farming (tourists can pick fruits and vegetables from the local farm, which can then be cooked in traditional style).
Another business plan (the winner of EBF) focused on a product: designing a hybrid sweet which blended a local crisp cookie (kuih mor) with a core of ice-cream, thus grafting local and Western dessert traditions. The plan included regional pitches to target cultures with similar cuisine, and forming international alliances with the likes of Nestle and Walls to go global.
All five teams have the option of receiving funding or other business incentives to move ahead with the venture or hand it over to other entrepreneurs. Such initiatives for holding awards competitions or crowdsourcing innovations are spreading across the world, and bode well for aspiring startups and investors looking to solve socio-economic problems in a sustainable manner.
The workshop and Innovation Jam was organised by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) and Brunei Industrial Development Authority (BINA), and curated by Singapore-based Business Intelligence Group Asia-Pacific (BIG APC).
In the seminar before the competition, I also shared examples of innovation rankings of countries around the world (Bloomberg’s ranking of the 30 Most Innovative Countries), benchmarking of national policies to promote entrepreneurship and SMEs (UNCTAD’s entrepreneurship policy framework), knowledge management initiatives for innovation (eg. KM in Singapore government and public sector agencies), and startup ecosystems in Asia (eg. Singapore’s annual Echelon startup marketplace, and YourStory’s TechSparks and MobiSparks competitions).
Good examples of national initiatives for entrepreneurship include Start-up Chile, Start-Biz Online (Korea), Vision 2030 (Kenya), Bangladesh Social Enterprise Project (BSEP), Casablanca Technopark Incubation Centre (Morocco), Youth Entrepreneurship Campaign (South Africa) and GroFin (Africa).
While much attention on startups understandably focuses on the exponential trajectory of Internet and mobile markets, it is also important to address innovations in other sectors. Interesting innovations, for example, have arisen in sectors such as tourism (medical tourism, music tourism, and geek tourism: Geeks on a Plane), agri-business (vertical farming, open agri-data, geo-branding), and energy (smart turbines, smart homes).