Steinbeis Malaysia looking for 100 'gazelles' who want to jump higher

  • Total US$256k reward through Steinbeis Subject Matter Expert (SMX) Solutions Program
  • Looking for SMEs with fire in belly aiming to sharpen competitiveness via innovation

Dr Abdul Reezal Latif, Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation CEO

DECLARING that they are “looking for gazelles”, Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation has launched the first ever innovation crowdsourcing initiative, the SMX Solutions Programme, by a government agency targeting Subject Matter Experts (SMX) from any industry to solve problems that Malaysian Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have.

An incentive of a total cash prize of US$256,000 (RM1 million) is being offered to attract the interest of the SMX who can be anyone above the age of 18 who can combine their expertise with creative problem solving skills to solve the SME problems that Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation will be posting on its website  in the coming weeks.

Explaining the gazelle analogy, Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) chief operating officer, Abdullah Arshad, says that the graceful animal is known for jumping higher than other animals and likewise, through this SMX programme, Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation is hoping to identify SMEs that are already trying to innovate on their own by calling for SMX to help these SMEs solve their problems quicker.

A cash prize of RM10,000 will be offered to the SMX who succeed in helping the SMEs. Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation will chip in RM5,000 with the SMEs matching that with 100 SMEs being helped.

As more than one SMX will likely come forward with solutions, Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation will leave it up to the SMEs to decide on who has come up with the best solution for them. Not all the problems are technical in nature. Some could revolve around marketing, design or business models.

While Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation was created to help industry solve their problems by connecting them to experts who can help them, it had a problem of its own. Lunched since Jan 2015, it has found that SMEs often drop out from engaging with the SMX it has helped connect them to as they get cold feet over the thought of having to share their challenges with an outside party, or just decide to shop around for a government programme that they don’t have to pay for the help.

This despite Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation being “the most cost-effective solution provider to them,” says Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation CEO, Dr Abdul Reezal Latif. But with 84 government agencies responsible for helping SMEs, it is inevitable that an SME will decide to go shopping for help that is offered for free.

And this is happening with SMEs that are motivated and have already made the effort to reach out for help with a problem they are having. For the vast majority of the nation’s 650,000 SMEs, it’s just a monthly battle to keep their cash flow positive, says Arshad.

“They are too busy driving hard, staying ahead of their cash flow. Our challenge is, how can we help them to stop and sharpen their sword through innovation?”

While it has already helped 400 companies, mainly SMEs but even some large ones, since 2015, Reezal and Arshad knew they had to reach out and help more SMEs especially, and also reach out to more SMX to join their programme.

Modelled after the world famous German Steinbeis Institute that is credited with being the secret sauce to the success of the SME powered German economy, Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation has tried to bring industry and academia closer here as well.

AIM’s hope is that by tapping the expertise, experience and model of Steinbeis Institute, Malaysia too can build a bridge between academia and industry to promote effective and efficient cooperation.

In a 2016 interview with DNA, Reezal had explained: “Germany’s unique model is recognised for its successful knowledge and technology transfer from universities and research institutions to industries and companies. And we want to see that happen here as well.”
 And while having helped 400 companies so far is no small feat, the academic-turned-entrepreneur-turned-technocrat has realised that their base of SMX has heavily attracted people from the E&E sector. A diversity of SMX was needed and the importance of this really hit home when during an industry sharing session a few month back, an executive from the food manufacturing sector was able to offer a suggestion to a rubber glove manufacturer’s problem.

“The suggestion actually worked and that made me realise that we must attract a wider variety of SMX to join the Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation to get a richer variety of experiences, know-how and thinking to the problems SMEs are facing.”

Insufficient awareness was a key hurdle that had to be overcome. This is where the RM1 million SMX Solutions Programme comes into the picture. AIM and Steinbeis Malaysia Foundation are hoping that this new programme will help create a greater awareness of its efforts to help SMEs solve their problems and thus help the gazelle’s among them who wish to be more productive and competitive through innovation to jump higher.

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