[Sponsored article] Young entrepreneurs aren’t guaranteed fairy-tale endings. More often than not, the success stories we hear are about billionaires who began with substantial bank accounts or family money . But a growing number of entrepreneurs continue to take the leap from humble beginnings to pursue their passions – and many are making it to the top. Digital platforms have opened up a new world of opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and have also become instrumental to their growth. The range of services provided by technology company Ant Group is helping many to connect more easily with customers, secure loans online or harness blockchain technology. Ant is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, the Chinese e-commerce giant that also owns the South China Morning Post . These five entrepreneurs made use of Ant’s hi-tech tools as they built and nurtured successful businesses from the ground up. Finding success in paradise Indonesian entrepreneur Nengah Natyanta runs a local retail and hospitality empire today, but he started out washing dishes and waiting tables at the Grand Hyatt Bali. Once he managed to save about 15 million rupiah (US$1,020), he opened a small restaurant called Coco with his now-wife, Ni Ketut Siti Maryati, in 2003. Fast-forward to the present day, and their company, Coco Group, comprises convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants and hotels across Bali and Lombok. As the number of Chinese tourists in Bali increased over the years, Natyanta said he wanted to make them feel more at home. So he adopted Alipay, a digital payment platform operated by Ant Group, across Coco Group’s shops and hotels, making it easier for Chinese customers to pay for their purchases. Bali’s tourism industry is frequently faced with challenges, from the impacts of the 2002 bombings to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Natyanta continues to persevere and innovate. “I’m very optimistic about doing business. Even with so many setbacks, we still see growth potential,” he said. Breaking into the egg market It’s not every day that someone quits their day job to sell duck eggs. But Zhao Yong, a native of China’s Shandong province, saw an opportunity and took a risk. He started an online salted egg shop on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao using gift money from his wedding – against the advice of his wife – but the funds quickly dried up. When he got wind that Ant’s SME loan service was lending money to small-business owners, he decided to try his luck. In 2008, Zhao secured a 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) business loan to keep his online shop running. “All my relatives couldn’t believe it, that Ant would grant money to a nobody who had nothing to his name,” he said. Zhao continued to turn to the SME loan service for help with any cash flow issues, and that ongoing support paid off: in 2016, Zhao sold 1.65 million yuan (US$243,000) worth of salted eggs during the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival in China. Today, Zhao’s salted egg empire is hugely successful, reportedly earning him about US$2.5 million annually. Second chance It’s been a bumpy road to prosperity for Chinese entrepreneur Fang Xiaodong. He achieved early success by selling mobile phones after graduating from university, but he said excessive spending eventually left him broke and homeless. One day, Fang awoke to the sounds of someone collecting old clothes, and inspiration struck. He decided to launch a website to recycle and sell second-hand clothing, but struggled to attract customers. Things turned around when he discovered the mini-program feature in the Alipay app. He launched a mini-program called Bai Jing Yu (White Whale), in the hopes of reaching a larger customer base. In only a month, it attracted 200,000 users. The business operates like a social enterprise, offering door-to-door services to collect used clothes which are then recycled for sale or donated to people in need. Once Bai Jing Yu joined its efforts with Alipay Ant Forest – a green initiative that enables entrepreneurs to market sustainable products and also encourages users to adopt a green lifestyle while contributing to reforestation – orders surged. Fang watched his business grow from 200 orders daily to as many as 10,000 orders on weekends. It has stayed strong through the pandemic, collecting enough clothes to have a warehouse bursting at the seams. Crystal-clear transactions After experimenting with selling different wares online through Alibaba’s e-commerce platform starting as early as 2010, Yuan Jing eventually found her calling with a business specialising in decorative glass products such as rhinestones, crystal beads, accessories and ornaments. Today, her company in China, Hubei Jingcan Glass Products Co Ltd, serves clients around the world. Ant Group recently invited Yuan to try Trusple, its new blockchain-backed smart contract platform for cross-border trade by small- and medium-sized enterprises. Yuan was not familiar with blockchain, but welcomed the chance to improve operations with her international customers. Hubei Jingcan Glass Products completed the first transaction on Trusple during the platform’s pre-launch testing period. The company sold products to a buyer in Mexico and received payment the next day via a smart contract generated by Trusple, speeding up a process that had previously taken at least a week and required multiple steps. “With the help of Trusple, the same amount of operating capital can now support more trading orders,” Yuan said. “I’m now aiming to grow my business by 30 per cent next year.” Where Chinese and Italian medicine meet Located in the heart of Rome with a history dating back to 1814, Farmacia San Giacomo may look like a traditional Italian pharmacy selling European products, but inside there’s a different story. Antonio Sacchetti, who has owned the small pharmacy since 1957, is working to develop a new product using Chinese herbs to treat minor headaches and improve general health. “If this is successful, we will become the first pharmacy [in Rome] to sell products with Chinese herbal ingredients,” Sacchetti said. “Our research team has been developing it for months.” Besides introducing Eastern medicine to the Italian population, Farmacia San Giacomo also serves a large Chinese clientele – Sacchetti estimated that pre-pandemic, almost one-third of his customers were Chinese tourists. “To help give them a better and more convenient shopping experience, we brought in Alipay,” he added. By embracing both Chinese traditional medicine and new payment technology, Sacchetti aims to breathe new life into the 200-year-old business and take it to new heights. 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