An opportunity of a lifetime came knocking at the doors of INTI International University (INTI) students Nur Syafiyah Nabilah binti. Arman, Zien Lew and fellow Malaysian student, Tan How Ming, who represented Malaysia and outperformed teams across Southeast Asia at last year’s Young South East Asia Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) World of Food Innovation Challenge. Organized by YSEALI and funded by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the challenge aimed to improve the agricultural and fishery yields in Southeast Asia by leveraging technology.
 

Team iSea Forces from Malaysia, (left to right) Nur Syafiyah Nabilah bt. Arman, Dr Wong Ling Shing, Tan How Ming and Zien Lew in Austin, Texas.
With over 200 submissions from across Southeast Asia, the challenge tested the endurance level and skills of the participants in terms of pitching, ideation and communication. 20 teams were then selected to pitch their ideas online from which the judges chose the top 10 teams which included team iSea Forces from INTI. The 10 teams were invited to attend a boot camp in Singapore which was then followed by another online pitching round to select the top three teams.

Under the supervision and guidance of Associate Professor Dr Wong Ling Shing from INTI’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Nur Syafiyah Nabilah bt. Arman, Zien Lew and Tan How Ming edged many other top university teams to secure their place as one of the top three teams of the challenge and proudly represented Malaysia at the U.S. – SEA Ministerial Meeting held in Siem Reap, Cambodia. At the meeting, the trio impressed the audience with their idea on increasing the productivity of fish farming through the usage of a smartphone device application. Their third place win at the prestigious competition came with a study tour to the fastest growing technology hub in United States of America; Austin, Texas.
 

Group photo after meeting Austin City Mayor, Steve Adler (ninth from right).
The fully sponsored study tour for the top three winning teams from Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia started with an exclusive meeting with the Mayor of Austin, Texas, Steve Adler, who personally advised and facilitated the tour to the cradle of creativity and innovation in Austin, Texas. The meeting included Marina Ong, CEO and Chair of the ASIAN Chamber of Commerce of Austin; Savy Buoy, representative from Caring for Cambodia, Austin; Rebecca Acuna, representative of USAID from Bangkok and a representative from National Instruments (NI).

Brushing up on their networking and pitching skills, Nur Syafiyah and Zien Lew presented their YSEALI challenge winning idea to the Chief Executive Officer of CAS Consultation and Services, Mr. Channy Soeur. The three teams were also given the great privilege to present their work to five senior fellows of the IC2 Institute, University of Texas at Austin. IC2 is an institute that promotes innovation and facilitates entrepreneurship efforts in collaboration with multi-disciplinary faculty members. The institute works closely with the local government and private companies such as Cisco, Dell, and NI. The IC2 fellows in attendance included significant figures in academia and successful entrepreneurs who provided constructive comments that greatly benefited the students. Following that, the teams also enjoyed a broadcast workshop conducted by British rocker, Aziz Ibrahim and Senior PR Specialist from City Hall of Austin, Alicia Dean. The teams learned the art of speaking and engaging in front of a broadcasting camera.
 

Team iSea Forces presenting their idea to engineers at National Instrument.
The teams also had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of NI in Austin for a half day tour, where they were exposed to the office environment, work flow, research, and workshops at NI. The company is well known for its open working culture, innovative invention and a long list of patterns. While on the visit, Nur Syafiyah, Zien Lew and How Ming also had the chance to present their work to engineers from NI who were impressed by their presentation and provided feedback and suggestions for improvements.

The study tour was completed with a visit to the famous South by South West Exhibition (SXSW). Being first time participants at such a large scaled exhibition, the students were enamored by the grandeur of the annual SXSW exhibition which spread to almost every corner of Austin, showcasing technology products, cars, music, fashion, and movies among others. It was a playground for top-in-industry players to showcase their products and concepts through which the students took in as much as they could and made each moment at the exhibition count.

Through the study tour, the students have gained meaningful connections and partners from the U.S. to enhance and materialize their idea to positively impact the agricultural growth back in Southeast Asia. Beyond that, the students had the opportunity to absorb the culture there and observe the many technological advancements that are rapidly taking place. Having returned home, team iSea Forces and their mentor, Dr Wong Ling Shing are continuing the ground work to turn their ideas into reality.

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