Our understanding of the problem space that SMEs in the APEC region face, particularly when trying to expand their businesses internationally, is deep and multi-faceted. The major issues we've identified can be divided into the following key areas:
Capital Constraints: Many SMEs lack the necessary funding to expand their businesses internationally. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including limited access to loans and high interest rates.
Market Ambiguity: SMEs often face difficulties in validating their products or services for international markets. They may lack the resources or know-how to conduct extensive market research, leading to uncertainties about whether their offerings will be accepted by global consumers.
Lack of Support for Underserved Groups: Traditional methods of international trade and fundraising often leave out underserved communities such as women, minorities, and those from remote and rural areas. These groups often have untapped potential but lack the opportunities and resources to realize it.
What it does
Our proposed solution is to develop a dedicated crowdfunding platform that addresses these challenges head-on. This platform will serve as a digital bridge, connecting SMEs with potential investors and supporters from around the world. It aims to provide an easily accessible alternative financial solution that facilitates not just funding but also market access, exposure, and validation. The platform will leverage the power of the crowd to raise capital, validate product ideas, and serve as a launching pad for SMEs to enter international markets.
Who does the solution serve and what impact does it have on their lives?
Our solution primarily serves SMEs within APEC economies, particularly those run by women, youth, and other traditionally disadvantaged communities. By providing an accessible financial solution, we are not just facilitating business growth but also empowering these groups and promoting inclusivity.
Financial Empowerment: The crowdfunding platform can provide an alternative way to raise capital, freeing SMEs from the constraints of traditional financing methods. It offers a more democratic and accessible means of obtaining the funds necessary for growth, innovation, or market expansion.
Market Validation and Penetration: The platform can offer an opportunity for SMEs to validate their ideas, products, or services on a global stage. It can also serve as a first step toward entering international markets, allowing SMEs to test demand and gather consumer feedback before making significant investments.
Enhancing Digital Transformation: By participating in the crowdfunding process, SMEs can enhance their digital skills and capacities. The experience could serve as a stepping stone for further digital transformation, enabling them to leverage other digital tools and platforms more effectively in the future.
Aligning with APEC
MüLink is closely aligned with APEC's initiatives and strategic directions for SMEs, as articulated in two key documents:
- "Overview of the SME Sector in the APEC Region: Key Issues on Market Access and Internationalization by APEC Policy Support Unit"
- "Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group Strategic Plan 2021 – 2024 at 50th Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group Meeting 21-22 October 2020".
Here's how we align with these:
Improving Business Environment and Reducing Barriers to Trade: As indicated in the APEC Policy Support Unit's study, enhancing the business environment is key. MüLink contributes to this by offering a platform for SMEs to secure funding and test market viability, thereby reducing entry barriers. Additionally, by promoting a cross-border crowdfunding mechanism, MüLink aids in reducing trade barriers.
Formalization of Informal Sectors: The APEC report recognizes the need for formalizing informal sectors. MüLink offers a platform for such enterprises to be part of a structured fundraising system, increasing their visibility and potentially enhancing their productivity.
SME Access to International Markets and GVCs: In alignment with the SME Working Group's Strategic Plan, MüLink facilitates SMEs' access to international markets and Global Value Chains (GVCs) by linking them with potential international backers.
Inclusive Capability Development Towards Digitalization: The Strategic Plan emphasizes digitalization. MüLink inherently improves business skills in the digital economy by offering a digital platform for fundraising and international market testing. This promotes digital transformation and adoption among SMEs, especially those led by women, youth, and traditionally disadvantaged communities.
Access to Finance and Alternative Financial Solutions: MüLink corresponds with the Strategic Plan's focus on financial access by leveraging blockchain technology to provide an alternative financial solution, a crowdfunding mechanism for startups and SMEs. This innovative approach fosters the use of new financial technologies and data-based lending instruments.
How we built it
We harnessed the potential of blockchain technology to build MüLink, providing a platform that is transparent, secure, and efficient. We utilized the ThirdWeb platform for deploying the blockchain and smart contracts on the Goerli Ethereum testnet, ensuring a robust and scalable solution. These smart contracts enable secure, automated transactions between parties. For the front-end of the application, we chose Vue.js and React. Vue.js, known for its adaptability, was used alongside React to create interactive and intuitive user interfaces. Our tech stack, chosen with careful consideration, ensured a seamless, user-friendly experience for our users.
Challenges we ran into
One of the significant challenges we faced was fine-tuning the balance between delivering a flexible solution tailored to diverse MSME needs and maintaining feasibility within our limited time frame. Coupled with the steep learning curve of integrating blockchain technology for the first time, this put our problem-solving skills to the test. Moreover, designing an intuitive and accessible user interface that catered to users with varying degrees of technological proficiency proved to be a challenging yet essential aspect of our development process.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
One accomplishment that we're particularly proud of is overcoming the technical challenges and successfully integrating blockchain technology into our platform. Deciphering the complexities of this technology, especially as it was our first time working with it, and finding effective solutions under the constraints of the hackathon was a significant achievement for us.
Moreover, we are immensely proud of transforming our initial concept into a fully functional prototype. It was gratifying to see our vision of an inclusive and empowering tool for SMEs materialize. This journey has shown us that with determination, collaboration, and innovation, we can create solutions that make a real difference in the world.
What we learned
Throughout this journey, we have learned a tremendous amount, both in understanding the unique challenges faced by SMEs and technically in terms of software development. For the first time, we delved into integrating blockchain technology into our platform, which was a steep but rewarding learning curve. We discovered how this technology could fundamentally change the landscape of crowdfunding by enhancing trust and security.
Participating in the hackathon taught us how to find effective and innovative solutions under time pressure. We learned to work together as a team, think critically, and adapt quickly to overcome the various challenges we encountered during development.
Moreover, time management emerged as a crucial lesson. Balancing the development of different aspects of the platform, ensuring they all come together cohesively, and delivering on time was a test of our project management and coordination skills. This experience has undoubtedly made us better equipped to tackle future challenges in our careers.
What's next for MüLink by Trivery
We have several exciting plans for the evolution and expansion of the MüLink platform:
- Deployment to Mainnet: We are currently operating on a testnet for the proof-of-concept stage. However, in the near future, we plan to deploy the platform to the mainnet of the blockchain. This will enable real transactions and interactions, turning MüLink into a fully functional and live crowdfunding platform for SMEs.
- Multilingual Website: Recognizing the diversity of APEC economies, we plan to create a multilingual website that supports the primary languages of all APEC countries. This will make MüLink accessible to a broader range of SMEs and ensure that users can navigate and understand the platform easily, regardless of their native language.
- Mobile Application: To further increase accessibility and convenience for our users, we intend to develop mobile applications for both Android and iOS platforms. With these applications, users can engage with MüLink anytime and anywhere, from creating and managing their campaigns to exploring and funding potential projects.
These future plans reflect our commitment to making MüLink a universally accessible and user-friendly platform that empowers SMEs across the APEC region and beyond.