“SMEs serve as the engine for economic growth and prosperity in APEC. And the rapid development of digitization has changed the way SMEs do business.” - Dr Li Wei-Sen of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Capacity Building Center

APEC’s online-to-offline strategy makes it easy, and profitable, for small businesses help others

For Lin Chong-Wey, the idea was to help his once active but now elderly grandmother and her friends keep up their visits to favorite restaurants and take part in family outings.  

But the mobile and web applications that he and his team developed to help them have quickly grown into a successful social enterprise with a turnover of USD1 million annually.

Now available in 15 cities in Chinese Taipei as well as in Singapore; Hong Kong, China; and Malaysia, the app and web services are increasing accessibility for the elderly, disabled and other less mobile people.

“We have expanded quickly in three years. We are partnering with governments and other companies and NGOs,” said Dr Lin, a university professor based in in Chinese Taipei and an expert in information and data sciences.

Dr Lin credits in part his participation in APEC workshops and seminars focused on assisting SMEs grow their operations online across the region, including through industry and government collaboration.

These events are part of the APEC O2O Initiative, which aims to make trading across borders easier, cheaper and faster for micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses, including by building resilience and best practice.

“SMEs serve as the engine for economic growth and prosperity in APEC,” said Dr Li Wei-Sen, executive director of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Capacity Building Center. “And the rapid development of digitization has changed the way SMEs do business,” said Dr Li who has worked on building business continuity among SMEs.

“SMEs now are facing possible impacts triggered by natural disasters or cyberattacks that could both cause business interruptions in physical or virtual ways,” Dr. Li added. “The promotion of business continuity plans in Chinese Taipei, has introduced standard operating procedures for SMEs to follow that should be an implementing model for digital resilience.”

Tech startups, SMEs and young entrepreneurs with O2O best practice gathered from across the region for an APEC forum in Ho Chi Minh City in September. The aim was to learn from each other as well as from corporates and other experts on how to strengthen their business plans.

Viet Nam, which is hosting APEC meetings this year, is focused on enhancing digital competitiveness and resilience of SMEs for increased economic growth.

Some small business leaders taking part had five minutes to present their plans to a “board” of peers and leaders and face a further 10 minutes of questions, before receiving feedback and advice. O2O refers to “online to offline,” a business strategy that draws customers from the internet into physical stores.

Dr Lin’s enterprise, called OurCityLove, provides a range of detailed online information about disabled-friendly restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and other businesses, allowing less mobile people to plan their visits and participate in society with more confidence.

An app, for example, provides audio information via blue tooth for the visually impaired once you enter a museum about its exhibits and services, or a train station about timetables or the location of platforms and amenities. It also sends emergency messages on mobiles for the hearing impaired.

“We empower the disabled, give them the confidence to become more mobile and independent,” said Dr Lin, whose company also trains disabled people to work as “surveyors and consultants” and pays them to provide data on infrastructure and feedback on businesses they have visited.

Fifty per cent of annual revenues generated from Dr Lin’s enterprise goes to supporting programs or organizations helping people with disabilities.