Insken’s holistic approach to helping SMEs
Najihah S 
Firdaus says Insken works with govt agencies to help improve the productivity of SMEs

Businesses wanting to stay ahead of the competition must raise their operating efficiency and  improve productivity with strong technical and soft skills.

This is where Institut Keusahawanan Negara (Insken), which was established in 2003, offers its expertise.

 The agency assists businesses in three stages - start-up, scaling and achieving high performance. 

“Each group of SMEs would have its own set of problems. Start-ups in general will face challenges in getting people to trust their ideas. They need help on validation of products. They also need a lot of convincing to invest in sales and marketing.

“They are mostly financially challenged so they are not able to perform exercises such as market validation and business model canvassing. We will help them with that,” says Insken CEO Muhd Firdaus Azharuddin.

He adds that eight out of 10 start-ups fail and those that make the cut may have difficulty in scaling up.

“Most of them are becoming comfortable and do not see a bigger potential in their business. It is for us to make them realise that it’s time to scale up.”

Firdaus, who is an engineer by training, leads a team of 25, who are mostly in the millennial age group.

“The biggest problem when it comes to entrepreneurs is that they stayed in the informal economy for so long. They will only enter the formal economy when they need to apply for a loan and that will be difficult. Unclear about taxation, they will also have unnecessary concern about the GST. This is why we try to bring them from the informal to the formal economy,” he adds.

Insken conducts about 150 programmes a year. Some 16,000 businesses, comprising mostly start-ups, participated in its programmes last year.

It has over 384 business counsellors comprising individuals who are entrepreneurs or even technical specialists who come in as part-timers to provide their services.

In line with its objective to improve the standard of micro businesses, Insken launched a programme called “Road To Hypermarket” in partnership with the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism. Ultimately, the programme aims to put products made by micro entrepreneurs in hypermarkets.

However, it doesn’t end there. Firdaus points out that placing these products in hypermarkets does not necessarily translate into good sales if there is no proper marketing and promotion.

“We are still seeing a high failure rate for that programme. And the reason is because it does not address the marketing portion of the products. What we did was we inserted the sales and marketing portion into the programme,” says Firdaus.

This is where Insken steps in to provide training to the micro business owners on marketing and promotion.

Upgrading the skills of business owners

Insken also provides consultation and training for individuals who intend to enhance their professionalism.

“We discovered that there is such a thing as ‘founders syndrome’. It is when a business is large enough to be scaled up (to second SME tier) but the owner is too comfortable being on the same threshold,” Firdaus says.

He explains that Insken assists businesses at the scaling up stage through taxation and accounting.

“We outsource our training to a third party, but we provide the content. We find that we get more value out of that,” says Firdaus.

“The ‘founders syndrome’ gets critical at the high performance stage. The founders do not know they need to re-invest in themselves. We have a talent development programme where we take 30 CEOs and CFOs and we put them on a three-phase training.

“This is the first year and the first round was in Penang, and then we took them to Singapore. At the end of the year we will be bringing them to China. We’d like them to see through the lenses of businesses outside Malaysia.”

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 257.