Chivas-The Venture: One journey ends, another begins

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 16 - 22, 2017.

THE winner of the first-ever Malaysian round of Chivas Regal’s social entrepreneurship competition, The Venture, is Johor-based community enterprise FOLO Farms. It will now represent the country in the international round in the US later this year.

Founded by Tang Thian Yeong and members of a few families who relocated to Malaysia at the same time, FOLO Farms is on a mission to feed the world with organic, power-packed vegetables through its farming and food initiative.

When the winning team was announced, Tang could hardly contain his excitement. “I am very grateful to Chivas for giving us a chance as social entrepreneurs. We hope to take this opportunity to increase our impact on Malaysia. And I want to say this was totally a team effort.”

FOLO Farms will be Malaysia’s first representative at the upcoming Chivas The Venture global finale in Los Angeles, the US, this July. It will join 29 other finalists from across six continents to pitch for a share of a whopping US$1 million in funding.

It will appear before a panel of expert judges who are looking for social businesses that can offer scalable and sustainable solutions to real world issues.

Chivas The Venture is a global competition to find and support the world’s next generation of social enterprises that are driven to succeed while creating a better future for society.

The winning team of the Malaysian round was announced at the finale event held in Glasshouse at Seputeh in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday. The judging panel comprised Pernod Ricard Malaysia managing director Sebastien Mouquet; Ehon Chan, executive director of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre’s (MaGIC) social entrepreneurship team; The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat; and Freda Liu, a producer and presenter on business radio station BFM 89.9.

In his opening remarks, Mouquet said he was pleased to see the volume and quantity of submissions to Chivas The Venture. “We are proud to know that more than 40 projects were submitted for Chivas The Venture. This shows that Malaysia has the potential to develop good, fair and responsible businesses.”

In the past few months, the judging panel considered more than 40 registered social enterprise projects that had tossed their hats into the ring, and shortlisted four finalists that had produced exceptional social impact in their work.

In the finale event, the four finalists had to make one last pitch before the judges and a live audience. One finalist, however, could not participate for personal reasons. Apart from FOLO Farms, the other social enterprises were The Batik Boutique and DID MY Innovations Sdn Bhd.

Founded in 2013, The Batik Boutique engages and employs women from low-income and vulnerable communities to produce beautiful handmade batik. It provides the poor with skill training and income-generating opportunities, and also promotes ethical fair trade and the ancient art form of batik.

DID MY Innovations is Malaysia’s first virtual call centre operated by the disabled and visually impaired. It offers skill training and employment to differently abled people. The company was born out of the Dialogue in the Dark project, its sister social enterprise company that seeks to raise awareness of people living with vision impairment.

At the live pitch, each of the finalists was given seven minutes to impress the judges, who assessed them on the social benefits of their projects, innovation, presentation skills and affinity to the competition itself.

After each presentation, the judging panel also grilled the finalists on the finer details of their plans.

Though FOLO Farms came out tops, the other finalists remained in good spirits. Amy Blair, the founder of The Batik Boutique, told The Edge that joining Chivas The Venture was in itself a great learning experience that helped sharpen her goals for the company and how to achieve them.

Similarly, DID MY Innovations founder Stevens Chan told The Edge that the team will continue to work hard to help empower and employ people living with disabilities.

Although the finale event marked the end of the Malaysian round of Chivas The Venture, it set in motion the beginning of a new journey for the winner.

The grand prize for the winner is a free pass to Chivas The Venture Accelerator Week, which will be held at the Skoll Centre at Oxford University, the UK, in March. There, the global finalists will take part in intensive business master classes and receive expert mentoring from some of the biggest and most influential names in the game.

Each of the finalists was also given a bottle of Chivas Regal 18 year old.

In his parting words to the finalists, Mouquet said, “Everything is possible. Don’t put a limit on your dreams. You have the passion, you have the skills. Carry on. I want to say they are beautiful ideas, wonderful projects that will be profitable and help people to have better lives. I’m so glad that these projects have demonstrated that we can continue with our founders’ philosophy, since the creation of Chivas, that their success be shared.”

The Chivas story revolves around the pioneering and generous spirit of two brothers who inspired the world’s first luxury whisky almost a century ago, and continues today as these social enterprises live up to the brand’s mantra of “Winning The Right Way”.

MaGIC’s Chan, who was the judging panel’s chairman for the Malaysian round of the competition, also motivated the finalists to ponder on the questions raised by the judges, especially on how to scale and grow the business. He also encouraged them to dream big and think of ways to revolutionise an industry.

“That revolutionary is what we are looking at from all three of you. Our decisions came down to that — a story that we can hopefully package together to then sell as a revolutionary of a specific industry, and I think that’s something that I want you to think about,” he concluded.