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NCNU students craft coffee business with government start-up fund

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University entrepreneurship, specifically the transition from passion to career, has been a focal point of the Youth Development Administration’s efforts in recent years. For their business ideas and investment proposal, three students from National Chi Nan University’s (NCNU) Indigenous Culture Industry and Social Work Program for Undergraduate Indigenous Students were awarded NT$1.1 million by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) to make their coffee start-up a dream come true.

Based in Ren’ai Township of Nantou County, the team behind the coffee start-up Lai Bai (來唄工作室) comprises Sunay Mayaw (高國郡) of the Amis tribe, Tiang Tamalasan (黃紹剛) of the Thao tribe, and Lawa Tesing (石翔碩) of the Bunun tribe. Utilizing their different backgrounds and experiences, these entrepreneurial students successfully applied for the MOE’s “U-start Plan for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” receiving NT$1.1 million seed fund in two parts: NT$500,000 in 2020, and NT$600,000 in 2021.

Lai Bai’s business model works with Taiwan’s indigenous communities to market their goods, the implementation of which was received with overwhelming support, gaining considerable traction within the limited time span of the MOE competition. Sunay Mayaw, who goes by Sunay, explains that their company name “Lai Bai (來唄)” is short for “Come have a cup (可來一杯),” because the team wanted to present a positive and inviting image to all clients and customers.

She adds that her team learned an incredible amount by participating in the MOE program, noting that they not only learned from the brightest student competitors from universities around the nation, but also made friends and gained valuable real-life experience that enhances the knowledge and resources one receives from school.

Because for Sunay, her initial passion burned with the hope of revitalizing Taiwan’s diverse indigenous cultures. Through the MOE opportunity, her team now has the means to introduce more resources to tribal communities back home and combat the talent drain. They hope to set a good example for other indigenous youths, whose contemporary vantage and sensibilities would breathe new life into their hometowns.

“We ourselves are classic examples of ‘drifters’ who have moved away from aboriginal settlements,” she explains. “We want to re-set the bar, one that can inspire others like us to honor their roots by returning home and embracing a new style of living.”

Sunay also acknowledges how the Learning and Empowerment Center for Small-business Startup of NCNU (LESSON+) was an invaluable source of resources and feedback for her entrepreneurial dreams. “I already set my goals when I entered college, so I began by choosing courses that would help me attain that goal, such as management, business, and financial classes that focused on how to start and operate a business.”

Crediting the MOE program win with how she has already aligned her academic journey with her start-up aspirations, Sunay stresses the importance of coming up with one’s own blue print for future development, especially for incoming students and those who harbor entrepreneurial dreams upon graduation.

Starting a business is a team effort, and Sunay is adamant about how each team needs a leader to coordinate, monitor the emotional levels of the collaborators involved, and lead discussions on embracing creativity, taking action, and planning for the long run based on dependable analysis and Lai Bai’s intrinsic advantages.

“Because I’m the team leader, I take extra care on stuff like this, to distribute responsibilities based on respective skill sets: research and development, administration, finance, and package design.” The seamless match-up of the right people with the right tasks, she says, is truly the only way forward.

Sunay understands that the hardest parts of running her business include the deployment of resources, team collaboration, tribal acceptance, and genuine consensus. “So you learn to evaluate from different perspectives, to think deeper, to try and work together better, so that balance is achieved.” Regardless of their conflicting opinions, she believes that good communications and positive attitude with a common eye to long-term development will always resolve the latest issue at hand.

“Because we are students, tribal elders often doubt us, our abilities. But we always manage to slowly prove our points right,” she adds. Even if their relative youngness as university students often cast doubt on their elders’ minds, the team did not lose faith. Through mediation by several friendly indigenous residents, concessions on both ends finally sealed the deal.

Looking back, Sunay’s advice for fellow NCNU student entrepreneurs to come is to work their chances the best they can, but to “not blame yourself, because it isn’t a lifestyle that is suited to everyone. We all suffered mistakes during the process. Even with good prospects, preparations for the road ahead go awry.”

But for her team, they managed to pull through, using the first year’s NT$500,000 for trialing distribution and production, and this year’s NT$600,000 for the platform, packaging design, resource consolidation, and marketing. Currently stationed in Nantou’s Mist Plaza, Lai Bai also runs several outlets in the Bunun Qatu community (布農族卡度部落) and the Seediq village Alang Tongan (眉溪部落).

Best wishes to the Lai Bai team!

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