From government-backed initiatives to new startup beginnings, 2017 marked a number of historical highlights in Brunei particularly in entrepreneurship and tourism. In line with the Royal Proclamation (Titah) of the Sultan in encouraging more youths to pursue entrepreneurship to further diversify the country’s economy, the government has been actively involved with launching programmes, policies and subsidies. As such, many youth startups have cropped out to take advantage of these initiatives in light of the improving ecosystem. The year also saw tourism being marketed more enthusiastically from unveiling new landmarks to revamping local products.
In this article, we have narrowed down 5 major Bruneian events worth mentioning.
1. The 50th Golden Jubilee Celebration
October 2017 was a historical month in the Sultanate as the country witnessed a series of celebrations to commemorate the Monarch’s 50th year as ruler of Brunei. These nationwide events included the Royal Parade- a Royal procession around the capital graced by the Sultan and some members of the royal family seated in a chariot specially made for the Golden Jubilee. Hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, over 60,000 people were reported to have shown up to be part of the momentous occasion. Determined to make the Jubilee a memorable one, the government pulled out all the stops even launching a website and mobile applications dedicated to the historical celebration.
Other noteworthy aspects of the Golden Jubilee included the official inaugurations of two landmarks aimed at drawing in more people to the capital. The first was the Sungai Kebun Bridge later renamed during the grand opening as the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha Bridge, after the Monarch’s wife. As the country’s first cable bridge, the grand opening of the architectural spectacle was accompanied by flashy fireworks and a procession of decorated floats along the river.
Arguably one of the biggest highlights besides the Royal Parade was the unveiling of the Eco-Corridor later aptly renamed to Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas (Golden Jubilee Park). With its sleek designs peppered with a healthy dose of Bruneian cultural heritage, the 12-hectare park overlooks the famed Water Village and is located beside the equally prominent Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien (SOAS) Mosque. The waterfront was also intended to be a part of the Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) Masterplan for national development to revitalise the capital and in turn, improve the socio-economic conditions of the citizens as well as draw in both domestic and foreign visitors.
2. The 1st Startup Weekend Event in Brunei
The Startup Weekend is a familiar global brand known for its 54-hour weekend event gathering groups of people ranging from developers to designers formed into teams to ideate, prototype and pitch startup ideas for new entrepreneurial ventures and usually to potential investors. With over 2000 events in 135 countries participating, Brunei became part of that long list in 2017. The event which drew in 6 teams was brought over by the combined efforts of local startups from The Creative Core BN and East & Charlie, with the support of Progresif and Darussalam Enterprise (DARE), Microsoft Brunei and Google Developer Group Brunei.
The winning team was Living Nest with an idea for a website on furniture where designs are first submitted then voted upon by the public before manufacturing. As part of their win, they also received access pass to the ASEAN Rice Bowl Startup Awards held in Kuala Lumpur in December last year.
3. The Inaugural “Made in Brunei Market Fair” (MIBMF)
Riding on the wave of fostering more homegrown businesses and international cooperation, the Energy and Industry Department at the Prime Minister’s Office (EIDPMO) and Darussalam Enterprise (DARE) hosted the first Made in Brunei Market Fair (MIBMF) which also included invited entrepreneurs from Sabah, Sarawak, Vietnam, Indonesia and China. Moreover, the 3-day Fair was also part of a collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Guangxi Autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China, intended as a local pre-cursor event before the China-ASEAN Expo 2017.
With the showcasing of local products and services of micro, small and medium enterprises (mSMEs) from budding startups to established businesses, the Fair was also meant to test out the potential for exports as well as connecting with investors and distributors to scale up and expand.
At the end of the 3 days, the Fair was regarded as a smashing success engaging nearly 200 businesses where many vendors reported major turnouts and sold out products. One of these successes was Rumah Gelato, an up and coming confectionary business who served almost 1000 cups at the Fair selling out his stock each day. Then there was Dear Daffodils, a micro-business specialising in handcrafted soap who managed to clear their entire stock of 150 soaps in 2 days. Evidently the Fair was not just a platform to promote the mSMEs in Brunei but it also offered the opportunity to be more competitive and get the necessary insights to improve.
4. The Launch of the PPK Entrepreneurship Centre and Training Facility
Moving on, fourth on our list is a double whammy – the launch of the Centre for Capacity Building/Pusat Pembangunan Kapasiti (PPK) training facility to foster industrial skills and the PPK Entrepreneurship Centre to support microbusinesses through affordable rentals. These were both initiated by the Energy and Industry Department, Prime Minister’s Office (EIDPMO) with the intention to diversify employability in Brunei and nurture the growing entrepreneurial environment.
The centre offered training in instrument mechanic, wood working, electrical mechanic, masonry, etc, all of which taking between 3 to 6 months to complete. What’s more, the training was intended to produce ready-to-employ graduates with foreign and local companies pledging 2,836 conditional offers of employment (COE). In fact starting January, the first batch of 619 PPK graduates have already begun work at Hengyi’s refinery and petrochemical plant at Pulau Muara Besar (PMB).
The PPK Entrepreneurship Centre on the other hand was opened shortly after to encourage microbusinesses to make the leap from homes to storefronts, many of which are helmed by young entrepreneurs.
5. The Launch of “The Scoop”
Last on the list of notable events was the introduction of The Scoop, an independent online news outlet gaining steady traction. In light of the sudden closure of the Brunei Times (BT) in 2016, The Scoop emerged like a breath of fresh air, taking over the online readership in Brunei. Founded by four former BT employees, they sought to set themselves apart and instead aimed at delivering something different whilst maintaining quality and insightful news. Despite being a newcomer to the local online news scene, it has already amassed over 10,000 likes on its Facebook page and over 6000 followers on Instagram since its launch in September 2017.
What’s in Store for 2018?
Indeed, we have seen many significant initiatives steering to a more diversified Bruneian economy, However, areas in technology, particularly in gaming and mobile application could use further development. Overall, if 2017 is any indication, the trajectory of the Brunei industrial outlook seems to be leaning towards the entrepreneurial sector – the new and unexplored.
Written by: Mas Dino Radin
Mas Dino Radin is currently a solo founder and CEO of her recently established social enterprise startup called Future Resilience (FutuRe). Beyond that, she’s an all-around hype girl for empowerment. When she isn’t spending all her time hustling her budding startup life or hyping people up to live resiliently, she can be found with her nose buried in books and making the occasional solo travels. Her interests are in sustainability, resilience, urban development, biomimicry and social entrepreneurship. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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