When Datuk Philip Ting, long-time supporter of entrepreneurship education at Swinburne Sarawak and proprietor of Serapi Farm Sdn Bhd, reached out to Dr Gabriel Wee with a proposition to set up an enterprise for fresh vegetable distribution, Dr Gabriel’s eyes lit up.
As a lecturer with the Faculty of Business, Design & Arts, he knew that this would be a prime opportunity for the students and took hold of it. He suggested to turn the vegetables into salad bowls, Datuk Philip agreed and thus, Healthy Delights was born in 2022.
Healthy Delights is designed as a student-led enterprise, where the university’s students run the operations of a food stall selling healthy menu options and fresh vegetables in the university’s cafeteria. They sell salad bowls made with lettuces and cherry tomatoes fresh off the Serapi Farm, and each freshly-harvested vegetable delivery supplies only up to 3 business days. They also offer fruit juices and recently rolled out new offerings, including vegetable juices, a keto lunch box and grilled chicken with macaroni.
When asked about their profit margin, Dr Gabriel said that “It’s very lean. After our initial experience, we reduced our prices for the first semester this year and we are seeing a major increase in sales. We still make enough to achieve a net profit margin of 10-15%, but profitability is not our purpose. Based on the good response, we intend to maintain these prices to promote healthy eating among the Swinburne community.”
The students running the show all come from the Swinburne Sarawak Business Society, which Dr Gabriel established 2 years ago. With 80 members in the club, the opportunity to participate in the business is open to all members. Students can fill in different roles, ranging from the operational roles of Student Manager, Executive and Assistant, to the non-operational Social Media Content Creator role. They operate the stall 3 hours per day, 5 days a week, and receive a salary for their work.
Dr Gabriel spent the first half of 2022 designing a comprehensive HR and operations system prior to launching the business in the second semester of 2022, which established a stable foundation for the students to operate the business. Similar to a regular business’ operations, students have to go through an interview and selection process in order to fill the roles. Students are then able to experience firsthand what F&B entrepreneurship looks like, including procurement, food handling, daily operations, and financial management.
“As an academic with a background in entrepreneurship, I wanted to give my students the experience of running a business as part of their education here at Swinburne,” he said. “I think that it is important for them to be equipped with practical experience as Business graduates. Plus, this is a sandbox for the students, a safe environment for them to learn and experiment. When they seek for business or entrepreneurship experiences beyond the university, the margin of error is small because there will be consequences when they experiment. But I tell my students that over here, the margin of error is larger; they can test things out, fail and start over again.” He believes that when the university acts as a sandbox, students can learn to be creative and innovative in running businesses, so that they can become catalysts for change when they enter the real world. Amidst the work he has put into this, he relates that his greatest satisfaction comes from the genuine connections his students make through the enterprise.
When asked about its future, Dr Gabriel shared that they are looking to move into B2B business now that the B2C business is on track. They are expected to make additional profits which will go into benefiting the Business Society members with learning opportunities. As the enterprise scales, Dr Gabriel envisions a day where they can invest into more advanced equipment, facilities, and perhaps another student-led enterprise.
With continuous efforts from dedicated lecturers like Dr Gabriel alongside supporters committed to entrepreneurship development like Datuk Philip, Swinburne Sarawak will continue to ensure that its graduates will be the next generation, ready for the future.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus.