By Ting Claravall and Karen Fernandez
A hair salon that specialises in using organic materials only. A neighbourhood hostel for workers. An online shop selling Sri Lankan teas.
These are just some of the business ideas that will soon be brought to life, thanks to The Big Pitch held on Sunday, 21st June.
In November 2014, CEO Karen Fernandez announced the launch of the first-ever Alumni Development Programme (ADP) designed to provide on-going business support to Aidha graduates. The programme comprised a Business Plan Clinic and comprehensive workshops on topics ranging from cash flow analysis, finance and investment options, marketing for small businesses and communication skills. The Big Pitch was the culmination of the programme
The Big Pitch aimed to give participants the opportunity to present their business ideas to a panel of donors who were also willing to mentor the selected student for a year.
Seven finalists decided to participate in The Big Pitch. And the good news was that all seven finalists secured funding and mentoring from the donors!
One of the finalists was Lilibeth Flores, who graduated in 2014, and dreams of opening up a fresh fruit juice shop in her home province in Northern Luzon in the Philippines.
“I was very nervous! It was my first time presenting in this way. On 24 May I had attended the Communication Workshop but I wasn’t prepared. The rehearsal sessions that Aidha held the Sunday before was really helpful and made me realise how to prepare myself for The Big Pitch. The Mentors gave me ideas on how to present my Business Plan in a better way, like explain why I wanted to sell fresh fruits, the benefits and the types of products I would sell (fresh cut fruits, fruit popsicles, fruit candies, fruit juices). I practiced a lot at home.”
This ‘butterflies-in-the-tummy’ was a common feeling among all the finalists as they presented their pitches, despite diligently preparing and practicing at home. They all reported that they were extremely grateful to have very supportive employers who helped advise them and provided moral support!
‘ADP helped new ideas come out and now I understand cash flow, what is revenue, what is profit and cost. And the 1-to-1 sessions with mentors made me think and helped me realise I need to justify my product decisions with research. It inspired me to develop my business plan even more!” Tumini Sastro
Tumini Sastro, one of the finalists, shared: “I was very nervous and when I arrived at Aidha, I met Karen in the lift. She advised me to ‘just look at a person you’re familiar with and smile at them, and I’m sure they’ll smile back’. So that’s what I did and it worked! I practiced at home over and over again. I almost cried when sharing about my late father but then when I was sharing about my business and seeing them [the panel] so interested, it made me want to speak more and share more!” She plans to open up a dormitory in her hometown to help house workers from out of town who were employed by various factories in their area.
Whether they read their speeches, used slides and photos to present their case, brought packets of tea, or even a box of delicious ayam penyet to sample, there was no mistaking the passion, drive and courage of the participants, which most impressed the donor panel.
One of the panellists, Christine Amoure, co-founder of Women On A Mission (WOAM) said she was ‘deeply impressed’ with what she saw during The Big Pitch.
“Today was wonderful, inspiring and humbling. I was very proud to represent WOAM on Aidha’s donor panel. The seven bright and courageous ladies who pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to us were, in all sincerity, so well prepared and professional in their presentation style and business plans,” Christine went on to say how she was “also deeply touched by their honesty and drive, as they shared their hopes and dreams for building a better life for themselves by starting a business in an area they are passionate about. Already they’ve sacrificed so much – faced with dire poverty back home, they came to Singapore to work, so far away from their families. Now thanks to Aidha’s support, they’re learning to invest in their own future. Clearly, entrepreneurship can blossom anywhere and I’m very grateful that WOAM was a part of this event today.”
In addition to funding, the donors have also generously volunteered to mentor their chosen graduate for a year. What a fantastic opportunity for our Alumni and we hope more Alumni will seize this chance next year!
Here’s what some of the other finalists had to say about the Big Pitch and the ADP Programme:
“I practised while doing the housework,and also with my employers’ children – they enjoyed timekeeping!” Merry Ermalyn Engana
“We were so nervous… but the mentors gave us a lot of advice and tips about our business plans and how to present it and answer questions. Also the Communications Workshop was really helpful.” Radliyah
For a fuller picture of the events of the Big Pitch, click here.