IN today’s challenging economic landscape, finding solutions to business problems is an issue for entrepreneurs and business owners.

The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) provides an answer to this predicament through its Public-Private Research Network (PPRN) initiative which connects businesses and entrepreneurs with higher education institutions.

Through workshops conducted by universities under this initiative, the matching of industries’ technological challenges with solutions from researchers helps to provide innovative solutions to an existing problem through demand-driven research projects with rapid execution and cost-effective basis.

Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) in Nilai, Negri Sembilan — through its Centre of Students’ Entrepreneurship Development — has been engaging with businesses and entrepreneurs to this effect since 2015.

The university’s work in this area culminated in it winning the Best Industry Engagement Award at the MOHE PPRN Awards in Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with the Global Entrepreneurship Community Summit 2017. USIM beat 25 institutions to clinch the award.

Centre of Students’ Entrepreneurship Development director, Dr Ummi Salwa Ahmad Bustamam, said winning the award has increased USIM’s confidence and motivation to organise more PPRN workshops for industries which are facing technical and technological problems.

At a PPRN workshop.

“We did not expect to win the award since our aim of organising the PPRN workshops is to assist industries in getting PPRN grants. As explained by MOHE, USIM won this award due to its consistency in submitting quality PPRN grant application forms to the ministry.

“Moreover, most of the problems have been solved with PPRN grants within the stipulated time frame. Also, this award is in recognition of USIM’s good industry engagement although it is among the younger universities established in the country,” she added.

PPRN grants are awarded for a product innovation that will improve or value add the existing products of the company to the needs of the market; implement a new or significantly improved production process; streamline production to make it more efficient and make better use of state-of-the-art technology; and scale up production.

PPRN commits to match the funds needed, up to RM50,000 per project.

“USIM’s strategic location has not only attracted industries in Negri Sembilan but also other states to join its PPRN workshops. The workshops are open to all businesses and industries which require technical and technology innovation and solutions.

“We disseminate information about the workshops through our networking channels via online and offline platforms. Prior to organising the workshop, the centre forms a group of facilitators consisting of academics and researchers to moderate it.”

Five facilitators assist at a workshop catered for 30 participants. On the day of the workshop, after a briefing on the PPRN grant, participants are grouped and facilitated to identify their technical and technological problems. Facilitators post questions to ensure each participant has pinpointed the real problem. The participant then fills up a form, the details of which must satisfy both the facilitator and the participant.

“Within a week, the centre collects the form and conducts internal screening to ensure its details are complete before submission of the application to the PPRN Unit at MOHE.

“Ultimately, the forms are shortlisted by MOHE for bidding. This process helps MOHE to identify the right industry to receive the PPRN grant.”

Ummi Salwa Ahmad Bustaman (front row, centre) and her team upon receiving the Best Industry Engagement PPRN Award.

The centre’s assistant registrar Siti Norfaza Abd Halit, who is responsible for facilitating PPRN workshops at USIM, gave examples of two applications which were successful in getting PPRN grants.

“KBG Resources manages motoring events in Malaysia and specialises in drag races throughout Peninsular Malaysia. It lacked efficiency in the flag system used in the race line. It was manually operated, causing issues such as having to spend a lot of time to launch each race category, a large crew needed to manage it and since it was manual, race results were often contested,” said Siti Norfaza.

“So a solution was proposed based on consultation between the company and USIM, and the project has been completed.”

The second successful PPRN grant application was submitted by Taqdir Enterprise, which produces smoked meat products. The process of making its products involved pressing the meat in a brick oven which has an airflow system.

“The company needed a technology capable of controlling temperature and heat for the preparation of the meat products.”

From 2015 until 2017, USIM has organised eight series of PPRN workshops with more than 100 companies attending. From the total number of applications submitted to MOHE after the workshops, 24 have been approved for PPRN grants. Of that, 18 or 75 per cent of the problems have been solved.

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