Al-Huffaz, Ameenfarm and Yuwal top DARe’s Accelerate programme

Startup founders from L to R pitching at DARe last Saturday: Sim from Yuwal, Loqman from Al-Huffaz and Irwandy from Ameenfarms.

Islamic education startup Al-Huffaz Management, fertigation based crop farm Ameenfarm and travel e-wallet Yuwal will go onto pitch their businesses to regional investors after being selected as the top three startups in the culmination of the latest cycle of DARe’s Accelerate programme.

The judging panel selected the top three startups during a final pitch event last Saturday from 25 participants that completed the fully sponsored 14 week entrepreneurship development programme – which has been conducted virtually since March due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

DARe CEO Javed Ahmad said despite the pandemic causing a downturn in select sectors, securing investment is still viable for startups, considering the track record of businesses founded during times of crisis.

“If we look at the funds invested during times of crisis they have the potential to outperform investments at any other time (upon recovery),” he said. “If startups can be agile, adaptable in embracing the new norm and addressing pain points it will set them up for future success.”

Over 100 startups have completed Accelerate – formerly known as Startup Bootcamp – since the programme started in 2016. Collectively they have raised over US$1 million in investment and generated over 450 jobs.

Yuwal co-founder and operation manager Sim Hau Wei said they are looking to secure investment regionally for their e-wallet – which functions on mobile or as physical debit card – before it launches its beta version in the first quarter of next year.

“We are an e-wallet that carries no transaction fees, and helps users perform budgeting and spend analysis,” said Sim. “Although Yuwal can be used by anyone, and accepted by any seller taking Visa/Mastercard, we are targeting the pain points of millenials who complain about paying high foreign exchange or transaction fees whenever using their bank cards when travelling.”

The e-wallet looks to earn through subscription fees for premium services and a cut from the standard interchange fees charged to merchants accepting card payments.

Yuwal has raised $350,000 in angel investment and self-funding and is seeking another $350,000 to finance a year’s operation and bring their product to market.

Founder of Ameenfarm Hj Irwandy Hj Lois is looking to transform his four hectare farm in Kilanas into an agricultural centre that will produce crops using the latest technologies, host workshops and receive tourists.

The 46-year-old is looking to raise $400,000 to finance the centre’s construction, and is hoping his consistent track record of supplying to major supermarkets will boost investor confidence.

“We are currently producing three tonnes (of crops) monthly, but we cycle the types of fruits of vegetables we plant based on customer demand,” said Hj Irwandy.

The most popular planted varieties include Japanese cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chillies, eggplant and melons. Ameenfarm has been a trainer and consultant for high tech farming for the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, and has jointly organized fertigation training with the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood, which has potential to be marketed commercially to other farmers.

Meanwhile Al-Huffaz Management – who were part of the first cycle of Accelerate -have since established themselves as leading provider for Al-Quran education in Brunei, conducting around 2,000 classes weekly at customers’ homes, taught by a pool of 250 Islamic educators.

Founder of Al-Huffaz Management Loqman Hamdan is now seeking $300,000 to expand further locally and abroad by developing their online platform to deliver pre-recorded content and host interactive classes.

With a potential market size of 34,950 students locally – equivalent to 10% of Brunei’s Muslim population – Al-Huffaz can generate more than $20 million in annual revenue from classes, which are priced at $100 monthly for four classes for one to two persons.

Managing Partner of International Markets at Golden Equator Group Adam Flinter, whose firm Golden Equator Consulting is the appointed trainer for the latest cycle, commended the participants for their determination to complete the programme and continuing to do business despite the ongoing pandemic.

“I’ve seen startups make great revenue in the past couple of months by slightly shifting their business model to ensure their survival,” said Flinter. “If you are still strong after this period passes, then it is a good sign for the future health of the business.” 

The other judges for the final Accelerate pitch were co-founder of Bake Culture Nicky Wong and business consultant Jeffery Low.