What Business Schools Can Do For SMEs To Advance Economic Growth

According to SME Corporation Malaysia, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) account for 98.5 percent of all business establishments in Malaysia and cut across all sizes and sectors. There are almost one million SMEs in Malaysia that contribute over one-third of Malaysia’s GDP. SMEs provide 70% of all jobs, which is about 5.7 million of the country’s workforce.

The World Bank offers similar support of the importance of SMEs to drive economic development in emerging nations. SMEs account for up to 60 percent of total employment and 40 percent of the GDP in emerging nations; however, World Bank indicates that SMEs generally struggle to achieve long-term viability due to an absence of sufficient financing and a lack of critically needed management know-how.

Higher education institutions, being the seats of learning and innovation can not only produce highly-qualified and skilled human resources for the workforce that SMEs need to thrive, they can help nurture new ideas and businesses for SMEs, and even act as the launchpads for the next generation of SMEs.

In its unique ecosystem, Sunway has Sunway University School of Business, which is one of the best business schools globally as it is ranked in the Top 2% of universities in the world in the subject area of Business and Management Studies.

The University has also partnered with the University of Lancaster, as well as Silicon Valley’s University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) to commence bi-directional information exchange with the latter. On top of that, the school has partnered with the Alibaba Business School for the Alibaba Global eCommerce (GET) programme which is integrated into its curriculum.

Unlike any other public or private universities in the world worldwide, Sunway University has set up an ecosystem which draws upon the strength and expertise of its conglomerate parent Sunway Group to serve as an engine of innovation and develop entrepreneurial skills.

It has set up an accelerator and incubator, Sunway iLabs with Sunway Group’s corporate venture capital arm, Sunway Ventures, and is connected to Sunway Group’s regional venture arm Sun Sea Capital which can provide funding to would-be entrepreneurs that could effectively turn their startups into SMEs.

Creating Future-Proof, Enterprise-Ready Graduates

Professor Steve Williams, who has over twenty years of experience as a business dean including serving as a dean at Texas A&M University – Commerce and Joel R. Stubblefield Endowed Chair of Business at the College of Business at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and now heads Sunway University Business School, says the school is aiming to develop a generation of youths who are not only future-proof but enterprise-ready.

“We help transform students into business leaders in a variety of ways. Firstly, we transform students through engagement with our excellent academic staff who are professionally qualified to teach critical business concepts within a world-class curriculum. Secondly, we empower them by developing entrepreneurship skills either to become a leader in the organisations they seek to join or even become entrepreneurs themselves.”

In Sunway University, students are not just taught in the classrooms, but they are also provided with various opportunities, including developing their entrepreneurship skills with Startup Foundry, a game changing elective course which results not just in development of entrepreneurial mindset among the students, but also in creation of new business venture right on campus through experiential learning. Students benefit in terms of skills and employability and graduate with a certificate from both Sunway University and UC Berkeley.

To meet the ever-changing landscape, he said that Sunway University Business School is evolving quickly to ensure that their students stay ahead of the curve.

“When the pandemic hit, we converted quickly to hybrid educational delivery comprised of both online and face-to-face elements. We will continue moving forward with a hybrid delivery mode by applying instructional technology to deliver some course content remotely, which complements, rather than supplants, face-to-face teaching. Well-designed hybrid courses give students the best of both online and in-person learning modalities,” said Professor Williams.

Sunway University Business School has also implemented virtual internships.

“At Sunway University Business School, every student is required to complete a multi-month internship to gain hands-on experience in a business field that interests them. In response to the coronavirus, we have converted some of our traditional internships into the virtual arena. Since employers value candidates with professional experience that reflects real-world working environments, the reality of the pandemic era or even post-pandemic is online work, and our students have the option of completing a virtual internship that better matches both their needs and some employers’ expectations.”

“Business education will continue to change and adapt by using technology to enhance delivery, applying collaboration between academia and industry, and relying on our culture of continuous innovation and improvement.”

Much of the innovation and disruption occurring in industries is happening at the intersection of very different disciplines and technologies.

“As technology and online delivery become major drivers of innovation and as all businesses and all industries are required to innovate to stay relevant and even more so to thrive in this new landscape, business school graduates must have the skills to work well in cross-disciplinary teams,” said Professor Steve Williams.

“To generate the best solutions to complex problems, our new graduates who transition to the workplace must be able to work in cross-functional teams to help solve big-ticket problems.”

“We are striving to develop cross-functional skills in our graduates not to enable them to become disciplinary experts, but rather to enable them to listen to others and approach solutions with an open mind while being able to communicate effectively with diverse constituents and to view challenges from different perspectives that promote creativity and novel approaches.”

Professor Steve Williams says that the University will be launching its Sustainable Business Research Cluster. The Cluster will encourage university-wide collaboration with other Schools to address high impact societal and industry concerns using a cross-disciplinary academic team working with post-doctoral fellows.

“Sunway University believes strongly that the best, and perhaps the only, way to help solve big-ticket challenges is to work across disciplines and engage with multiple stakeholders and the Cluster will help us do so.”

Upskilling SMEs

With Sunway’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, students are also empowered to learn additional entrepreneurship skills and put theory into practice by working with corporations and SMEs.

Sunway University Business School academics provide contract research, consultancy, and upskilling programmes through the iLabs Foundry, one of the three agile teams of Sunway Innovation Labs (iLabs) that bridges the gap between academia and industry.

One of its first projects – eCommerce Jumpstart Programme was conducted in partnership with players in the digital ecosystem such as Brian Wong, Vice President of Alibaba Group; Hans-Peter Ressel, Founder and CEO of Momentum Commerce and Co-Founder of Lazada; Yeoh Chen Chow, Co-Founder of Fave; Nadhir Ashafiq, Co-Founder and Executive Director of TheLorry; government agencies such as MDEC, aimed at helping Malaysian retail and SMEs entrepreneurs on their digital transformation journey to weather through the economic downturn they were facing during the first movement control order. Approximately 1,600 SMEs across the nation participated in the eCommerce Jumpstart Programme. Last year, Sunway University Business School provided expertise to SMEs through Alliance Bank’s Biz Smart Initiative. The digital marketing workshops attracted more than 30 SMEs. Most recently the University signed an MOU with Alliance Bank Malaysia to provide courses to help upskill SMEs workforce through iLabs Foundry.

Companies of any size, including SMEs with business challenges can also tap into the digitally-savvy student through iLabs Foundry Solutions Lab to accelerate business innovation. Companies can request for their projects to be matched with students with the skills within three weeks. Additionally, the Make-it Challenge also provides companies an avenue to come together with students to solve challenges related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“We imagine Sunway City Kuala Lumpur as a ‘living lab” where entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, students, researchers, startups, and corporations come together to “test bed” solutions to real world business challenges, foster innovations, and incubate ideas,” said Professor Steve Williams.

Professor Steve Williams (Ph.D. University of Nebraska, USA) is the dean of Sunway University Business School. He comes to Sunway University after serving as dean at Texas A&M University – Commerce, and from serving as dean and Joel R. Stubblefield Endowed Chair of Business at the College of Business at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.  He is author of the popular textbook, “Making Better Business Decisions: Understanding and Improving Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills,” as well as several dozen articles in prominent journals. With over twenty years of experience as a business dean, his research interests include managerial risk behavior, the effects of mood on decision making, creative problem solving, and generational influences in education and the workplace.

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