From little things, proteins grow

Willie Ng

6 minute read

Willie Ng is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Global Cerah, a Malaysian-based agri-tech start-up that turns waste into protein by integrating waste management and the production of alternative protein sources into a sustainable solution – promoting circular economy excellence. 

He has won numerous awards that commend his involvement in developing green and sustainable solutions for future landscapes, including: 2021 Junior Chamber International (JCI) Asia Pacific Creative Young Entrepreneur Award; 2021 Alibaba Cloud Malaysia Demo Day; and Create@Alibaba 2021 Global Start-up Contest's Most Sustainable ECO Friendly Award. He also placed in the top three for the 2021 JCI World Congress Creative Young Entrepreneurs at Johannesburg. 

Prior to launching Global Cerah, Willie worked in accounting and consulting roles, including with KPMG, PwC and other multi-national companies.

He completed a Master of Accounting at The Australian National University (ANU) in 2015. During his time at the University, Willie was a Student Ambassador for Google and a Global Campus Ambassador for Bloomberg. He was also selected for the prestigious ANU Vice Chancellor’s Student Leadership Program.

In this interview, Willie talks running an agri-tech business, applying his ANU College of Business and Economics degree to break into an unknown business space and his advice on how you can do the same.

Q. Can you tell us about your career path and what led you to establishing Global Cerah?

I am a chartered accountant by profession and have mostly been involved in consulting or accounting roles for the past eight years. Frankly speaking, I initially never thought of launching an agri-tech start-up, because I had not been exposed to the agriculture industry and wasn’t particularly a green finger myself. The turning point for me was joining JCI back in 2014, where I learned of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) as well as the importance of becoming an active citizen that can help society, the environment and future generations. Since then, I’ve been actively involved in workshops and movements related to sustainability management and social enterprise, which ultimately led to the establishment of Global Cerah, after meeting my co-founders in a networking session.

Q. What do you see as challenges and opportunities for the future of waste management in the Asia Pacific region, in light of the UNSDGs?

Challenges are quite diverse and are subject to both external and internal factors – starting with the slow acceptance of sustainable waste treatment among agricultural industries due to higher costs and the ignorance of environmental impacts. Secondly, statutory requirements of proper waste management are not always enforced, and there are often no obvious consequences for those who decide to dispose of waste without consideration of environmental issues. Education is the long-term plan for raising awareness of, and improving solutions for, waste management in society – for the sake of the future of our food ecosystem. 

However, with the UNSDGs – promoted through international organisations, NGOs and social enterprise in the Asia-Pacific region – we are seeing enhanced growth trends of sustainability in society, including the rise of the green economy and a decrease in negative impacts from pollutions. In addition, many multinational companies and government-linked companies have also adopted the UNSDGs as part of their corporate social-responsibility projects, showing the community and the nation their acceptance of the fact that people, planet and profit can co-exist. Lastly, environmentalism is growing amongst youth as movements, social media and education rapidly promote the UNSDGs.

Q. You were the recipient of the 2021 JCI Asia-Pacific Creative Young Entrepreneur Award. What does this award mean for you and Global Cerah? 

It is a great honour to receive such a prestigious award from JCI, a reputable youth organisation known for its active citizenship movements, as this shows that our waste-management solution is building something valuable for our environment and global community.  

The award also attracts stakeholders who are keen to understand more about our solution and its long-term positive impact on the environment. Moreover, this recognition exposes us to international networking with potential investors and our target market.

Q. What are some lessons you would like to share with other aspiring agripreneurs?

• Think big but start small.

One of the first things you need to remember is to set realistic goals. Of course, you should always think big, but it is important to start out small. You can create a five-year business plan, but don’t forget about your short-term requirements. Small steps will build confidence and provide direction for your efforts in the long run. They can also help you to identify your mistakes on the spot. As a result, you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, again and again. Finally, don’t try to take a long leap into the unknown suddenly – it could render all your hard work useless, forcing you to start from nothing again.

• Create something of value.

If you create something of value, your customers will love it. Your business model is more likely to succeed if it improves peoples’ lives in some way. All of the big business names and brands had humble beginnings, but remained focused on adding value to their customers’ lives.

• Enjoy the journey.

If you start freaking out at every mistake you make, or each hurdle you encounter, you will likely feel depressed and your stressful behaviour will affect the overall morale of your team members. This in turn will affect the performance of your business, resulting in poor progress. If you want to stay the course, enjoy the journey every step of the way.  

Q. How did your study at ANU prepare you for your career?

At ANU, I learned to think critically about any business idea, scenario and alternative solution, applicable throughout my career. This is because ANU encourages students to think outside the box, and always be curious about something around you – whether related to your study or not. I still remember what I learned from ANU Vice Chancellor’s Student Leadership Program about implementing critical thinking and creativity to solve problems. 

Not only that, ANU emphasises passion as an important element of success. This is extremely important when you want to start up an agri-tech business, since it is time consuming, requires long-term plans and usually has high failure rates compared to other types of business. A career in agriculture is more than just a job – it is a way of life that agriculturalists love. My passion stems from a deep pride in my heart and the common purpose that all those in agriculture share: to provide the world with quality yet sustainable solutions for the future.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details.