Supporting the next generation of young entrepreneurs


This post is sponsored by Alliance Bank.

The problem

Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) make up 98.5% of business establishments in Malaysia, and contributed 38.3% to Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018. However, it is estimated the success rate for start-ups is 20%. Start-ups face various challenges to get their businesses off the ground as they lack access to networking, branding, mentoring, and funding opportunities.

  • Difficulty in financing

SMEs, in general, face difficulty in obtaining financing for their business start-ups because they are categorised as high-risk profiles with no proven record of success. This is also due to stringent lending policies in place whereby a business needs to be in operation for at least three years to be eligible to apply for a loan with a financial institution.

The success rate for a new start-up is considerably low because they are unable to secure financing for their business operations to pay for their overhead costs that include payroll, business equipment, office rentals, and so forth. Most of the time, they resort to taking up personal loans, or borrow from family and friends to keep the business going.

  • Lack of experience

New start-ups also lack the experience in managing a business, hence, there is a real need for mentoring, coaching and guidance from experienced business owners. Being new to running a business, young entrepreneurs struggle to create and maintain a business at a profitable level.

Most entrepreneurs learn their lessons largely through trial and error because they do not have guidance from an experienced mentor who can share insights and tips on what to do, and not to do, as business owners.

The solution: BizSmart® Challenge

Alliance Bank (“the Bank”) is cognisant of the struggles experienced by local SMEs and want to assist this SME community. It is on a mission to help young businesses obtain financing for their business, receive structured mentoring lessons from successful business leaders, gain opportunities to network with other businesses, and elevate their brand name.

To do this, the bank launched the BizSmart® Challenge in 2013 with the aim to support and inspire the next generation of young entrepreneurs. Held annually, the BizSmart® Challenge is a unique and innovative programme combining business education, mentoring, funding and media coverage opportunities for local businesses.

The innovative game changer

In 2018, the bank took the BizSmart® Challenge to a new level of scale and impact. The Alliance Bank-EcoWorld BizSmart® Challenge became Malaysia’s first reality TV business programme by a financial institution when it aired on AXN Asia and Astro Awani.

The programme offered a total of RM1 million in cash and media coverage prizes, and up to RM5 million collateral-free financing to the top 20 finalists.

The BizSmart® Challenge achieved a total viewership of 1.06 million unique viewers, and a social media reach of 2.38 million. The annual BizSmart® Challenge continues to nurture the next generation of young Malaysian entrepreneurs. High-potential SMEs are coached, and winners are provided funding to implement their business ideas.

Since the launch of BizSmart® Challenge, the programme has received more than 1,700 entries from young Malaysian businesses and empowered over 130 SMEs with high potential in their entrepreneurial journeys.

Is your brand the next big brand?

The Alliance Bank-EcoWorld BizSmart® Challenge returns for its sixth season and is now receiving applications for passionate and motivated business owners. This year, the prize quantum has improved to over RM1.5 million in cash, product sponsorships, and media coverage prizes.

The top 20 finalists will also have the option of applying for up to RM5 million in collateral-free financing, and assigned a dedicated SME banking advisory team to help them to grow their business.

For the first time, the BizSmart® Challenge will introduce the Instagram Story Business Pitch where participants can bring their business pitches to life in video. This creative and innovative way of pitching helps finalists to improve their chances of being selected as one of the top 20 finalists. This is now open until 17 February 2020.

The BizSmart® Challenge welcomes participation from all SMEs registered in Malaysia that have been in operation between one and five years, with an annual turnover of less than RM50 million.

Entrepreneurs may submit their application online no later than 17 February 2020 at

The BizSmart® Challenge is presented in collaboration with BFM89.9 – The Business Station, Manulife Insurance, Visa Malaysia, Media Prima TV Networks, Celcom Axiata, and Katchi Group .

For its efforts, Alliance Bank received the silver award for “Excellence in Integrated Marketing” at Marketing Excellence Awards 2019 for its BizSmart® Challenge marketing programme. This is in recognition of the bank’s role in helping and inspiring young businesses in their entrepreneurial journey.

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