24/06/2021  •  7 mins read

SEEd.Lab - An Innovation Hub for Social Change

In SEEd.Lab, passionate young minds are effecting economic and social change, one innovation at a time.

Chai Li Tiing

Nurul Ezzati Mohamed Nasir was at the final stages of an interview for a civil service job. Staring down the mundane tunnel of a routine 9-to-5, she decided that she could do more.

“I didn’t know where or how to begin, but I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I wanted to help other people with my work,” Ezzati says.

Eager to embark on a new chapter, she set out to improve her entrepreneurship skills through programmes. It was then she chanced upon the concept of social enterprises.

“Though my understanding of the concept was vague at that point, I knew that I could effect change and help the community while making it financially sustainable. So, I decided that it was worth a shot,” says Ezzati, the Chief Executive Officer of Teman Malaysia, a startup providing freelance care companionship services born out of Social Enterprise Education Lab (SEEd.Lab).

SEEd.Lab is Malaysia’s first-of-its-kind social enterprise innovation hub conceived by PETRONAS and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to nurture sustainable business solutions that address social challenges in the country. Modelled around TCS’s Digital Impact Square in Nashik, India, the social enterprises formed within SEEd.Lab are taken on a 12- to 18-month journey through the essential stages of a social enterprise’s growth from ideation, to incubation and finally, commercialisation.

Why social enterprises?

According to a 2018 study by the British Council in collaboration with the United Nations ESCAP and Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives entitled "The State of Social Enterprise in Malaysia", there is still insufficient public and institutional support for non-profits, prompting many to explore social entrepreneurship to ensure the sustainability of their organisations and the continuation of their pursuit.

SEEd.Lab is envisioned as a space where ambitious and passionate youths can nurture their passions and talents into becoming catalysts for positive change in Malaysia through social entrepreneurship, supported by two established corporations such as PETRONAS and TCS.

“Our mission remains absolute as we reflect on the impact of COVID-19 that is still unfolding, giving rise to concerns of more serious economic and social implications for our nation,” said Aidonna Jun Ayub, the Programme Manager of SEEd.Lab.

The primary aim of SEEd.Lab’s first cohort was to address the rising youth unemployment issue in Malaysia through the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities via social enterprises. Moving into the second cohort, SEEd.Lab is casting a wider net in tackling communities’ pain points across different areas including Food and Agriculture, Health and Hygiene, Education and Skills, and Personal and Financial Security.

A McKinsey report, “Scaling the Impact of the Social Enterprise Sector” documented that a 0.9 per cent growth in social enterprises in the Netherlands from 2010 to 2015 brought about more than 60 per cent increase or 25,000 new jobs within the sector. Within the same period, total revenue in the Dutch social enterprise sector rose by 75 per cent to 3.5 billion euros in 2015.

For corporations like PETRONAS and TCS, nurturing social entrepreneurship in Malaysia is not only a means to reduce unemployment. The multifold benefits of a thriving social enterprise sector could generate economic growth, creating a domino effect of positivity in Malaysia.

“We believe that PETRONAS has a role to play in leveraging the expertise, experience and resources at our disposal to contribute towards building a more equitable and sustainable society. SEEd.Lab is an innovation hub, founded on the intent to empower and equip passionate changemakers with the right tools and support in realising their ambitions to effect real change in Malaysia,” said Datuk Md Arif Mahmood, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of PETRONAS Downstream Business and Advisor of SEEd.Lab.

“SEEd.Lab is an innovation hub, founded on the intent to empower and equip passionate changemakers with the right tools and support in realising their ambitions to effect real change in Malaysia.”

Datuk Md Arif Mahmood

Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of PETRONAS Downstream Business, and Advisor of SEEd.Lab

Inside SEEd.Lab

Awareness and confidence in social entrepreneurship are still lacking in Malaysia. According to the same study conducted by the British Council, 37 per cent of social enterprises in Malaysia are profitable while some 63 per cent are at breakeven or have yet to generate profit in the year 2018. Some of the barriers to growth cited range from cash flow problems to inability to obtain financing and grants as well as a lack of access to business support and advice.

One of the key learnings from the first cohort echoes the finding of the study. “Most investors favour startups that have commercialised or have some traction in the market, creating higher barriers of entry which would then impair the growth of these newly minted startups. This is where SEEd.Lab comes in,” Jun explains.

By leveraging the strengths of PETRONAS and TCS, SEEd.Lab helps to open doors to opportunities, tap into existing and new networks, and create access to ready markets for the ventures.

“Being able to connect to the right people in the right space and having the opportunity to convince them to take a chance on the solutions or products is imperative for these ventures to grow further. SEEd.Lab aims to support the social enterprises through some of these challenges,” Jun relays further.

One of these social enterprises, Foodlab, is a cloud kitchen venture that supports food entrepreneurs by providing not only kitchen space with basic commercial equipment, but also assistance in marketing, packaging, accounting, sales tracking, and business registration.

“Through PETRONAS, we were able to secure a collaboration with PETRONAS Dagangan Berhad. Our ‘foodpreneurs’ were able to expose their brands through placements in selected Kedai Mesra at PETRONAS service stations citywide,” says Zahaby Zainuddin, the CEO of Foodlab.

Teman Malaysia, another social enterprise incubated in SEEd.Lab, was able to secure a grant from PETRONAS Refinery and Petrochemicals Corporation which will enable them to expand their business into Johor.

“We were able to tap into the strengths and resources of PETRONAS and TCS during our time in SEEd.Lab. The mentoring and panel sessions with the leaders such as Datuk Arif from PETRONAS allowed us to tap in the minds of those who have real business and leadership experiences, to get an even broader perspective on our ideas so that we can improve upon them,” Ezzati adds.

Driven by passion

From Cohort 1, three social enterprises incubated in SEEd.Lab have graduated from the programme. Foodlab, Teman Malaysia, and SOLVNEX, which runs a publicly accessible Machine Learning-powered platform that connects gig professionals with organisations, are now actively in business and looking for avenues to expand and grow.

Having gone through the programme, these three social enterprises tested their products, services and business models in a safe space, and went through numerous iterations to improve their solutions prior to launching them into the market.

“These startups are definitely the cream of the crop who persevered through the challenges, driven by their willpower to effect positive social impact – even in this challenging pandemic,” Jun enthuses.

While these social enterprises are ready for the next steps of their venture, they will continue to have access to the support system built during their time in the programme.

“Being able to connect to the right people in the right space and having the opportunity to convince them to take a chance on the solutions or products is imperative for these ventures to grow further. SEEd.Lab aims to support the social enterprises through some of these challenges.”

Aidonna Jun Ayub

Programme Manager, SEEd.Lab

With Cohort 2 kickstarting soon in August 2021, SEEd.Lab continues to welcome aspiring social entrepreneurs.

“The programme is by no means a walk in the park, and while having business and technical experience and skills can be helpful, we believe in the power of passion, drive, creativity and an entrepreneurship mindset, which play a big role in shaping their journey with the programme," Jun explains.

At the core of the SEEd.Lab programme is collaboration. Jun notes that SEEd.Lab is always on the lookout for partners who share its vision for a better, more sustainable Malaysia.

"We envision a robust domain expert network to provide invaluable insights that will enrich the learning experience and entrepreneurial journey of these SEEd.lings,” Jun adds.

"We need more corporations, financial institutions and industry heavyweights to get involved in creating a healthy and robust ecosystem for social enterprises in Malaysia. Combining our expertise and resources with the passion from these young entrepreneurs, we can generate economic growth and directly address community pain points for a better Malaysia," says Datuk Arif, calling upon other organisations to join in the movement.

Those who are interested to sign-up for, partner with or join SEEd.Lab can visit www.seedlab.my for more information.

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