Social enterprises learn the finer points of running a business

Some 16 social enterprises from across the region took part in a one-day SME master class run by the SME Academy in October. The SME Academy, presented by DBS BusinessClass and SME Centre@ASME, helps firms build basic business capabilities that will accelerate their pace of innovation, enabling SMEs to be efficient, effective and tech savvy.

The social enterprises, which hailed from Indonesia, Philippines and India, among other countries, explored topics such as storytelling, managing working capital and measuring social impact. These start-ups were the finalists of this year's DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia (SVCA).

Organised by DBS Foundation and NUS Enterprise, the SVCA aims to identify and support innovative new ideas and existing social ventures that have the potential to generate positive, scalable and sustainable social impact.

DBS BusinessClass spoke to three of the companies about their innovative ideas and services.

Cups that you can eat

Indonesia's Evoware, a company that makes edible cups and packaging made from seaweed, was among the attendees of the SME Master Class.

Apart from replacing plastic with an eco-friendlier material, the two-year old business aims to provide an additional source of revenue for the country's seaweed farmers.

"Indonesia is the largest exporter of seaweed. By using seaweed in our products we are helping the farming community," says co-founder David Christian. "Many of the biodegradable materials out there are also plant-based, which means you have to cut down trees.”

Evoware – Edible Sachet and Food Wraps to End Plastic Waste 01:45

The firm's edible cups went on sale last year, while its packaging solution reached the market in September. The cups have been positioned as a fun, novelty product, and customers include restaurants and event organisers. Evoware is currently in talks with large corporates over its packaging solution.

Coming from biotechnology backgrounds, Christian and his co-founder Noryawati Mulyono found the session on working capital particularly useful.

"The sessions made us realise that there are a lot of things we need to learn. At this stage of the company's growth, we cannot stop learning," says Mulyono.

Evoware was one of the two winners in the SVCA Idea Category, earning an SGD 5,000 cash prize, plus mentorship.

Read more: Changing the world with how they do business

Promoting sign language for a more inclusive society

Hong Kong-based SLCO Community Resources aims to promote social inclusion through increased sign bilingualism among both deaf and hearing individuals. The company, which was set up in January this year, offers a parent-child pre-school language development programme.

The programme is Hong Kong’s only early intervention programme for deaf, hearing and special education needs children using both signed and spoken language as medium of instruction. Classes not only stimulate a child’s language and cognitive development, but also promote social inclusion through having a mixture of deaf and hearing individuals.

Fun with Sign and Speech (FS2) - Early Sign Bilingual Development Programme 01:58

The firm currently conducts 10 classes a week, and there is a growing waiting list of families wishing to join. However, they face a shortage of trained teachers. The management team also lacks the business experience to expand the business, explains Raymond Lam, a project officer at SLCO.

We come from the social sector, so learning about the business side of things and building capabilities in areas such as cash flow is important. We need this kind of knowledge to be self-sustainable.

Raymond Lam, SLCO project officer

The social enterprise clinched the Asia For Good Reader’s Choice Award 2017 after being shortlisted as one of the top teams in DBS-NUS SVCA 2017.

Providing rural communities access to financial services

Two-year old social enterprise Pos!ble.Net developed a digital device that allows communities in rural parts of the Philippines to access financial services that are otherwise unavailable to them.

The device comes in the form of a box that sits in small community stores. It allows consumers to complete transactions ranging from depositing money into their accounts and paying bills to buying prepaid credits for their phones and even making donations.

Making Financial Inclusion, POS!BLE 02:00

"Our mission is to spread the benefits of technology and financial services to communities that are not being served by the banks," says CEO JG Puzon.

The company's boxes feature the services of around 100 different service providers including telcos, insurers and banks. Poss!ble.NET charges the agents which house the boxes a small transaction fee and there is also a one-time onboarding fee for new service providers.

Attending the master class allowed Puzon to validate the company's business model, giving him the confidence to embark on the firm's expansion plans.

SME Academy

Launched earlier this year, a series of classes run by the SME Academy aims to help business owners understand the fundamentals of running a business amid a fast-changing landscape. Classes cover topics ranging from improving productivity and effectively managing cash flow to harnessing technology for growth.

SME Academy classes are run on a quarterly basis in collaboration with SPRING SME Centre. There are limited seats per class, available on a first-come-first-serve basis. You can sign up here. More foundational courses are to be added in subsequent runs.

This story was first published on DBS BusinessClass