Let not Borneo 744 become a white elephant

A section of the interior of Block B at Borneo 744.

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By Lian Cheng

TUCKED away at the far end of Bintawa, one of the oldest industrial estates in Kuching, is the fully operational Borneo 744. It is not quite receiving the attention it deserves.

Understandable, of course. The project is the brainchild of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who called it the `Blue Ocean Entrepreneur Town’ and termed it as “the first of its kind in Malaysia, set up to nurture creative talents in entrepreneurship”.

But with the change of government and Najib charged for corruption, Borneo 744, which could have been the next big thing in Sarawak, is now somewhat forgotten.

Sensing that the project might now be in an awkward position, DayakDaily visited the site to see how this initiative is faring.

It turns out that Borneo 744 is a well designed, modern looking and upbeat place to hang out, especially for young startup entrepreneurs. Situated about 7km from the city centre, the present Borneo 744 is a stark difference from the rundown Public Works Department mechanical workshop it once was.

Being close to a river, the place is windy and spacious. Spanning 10 acres and with a built-up area of 120,000 sq ft., it is divided into five main blocks made mostly from container material but colourfully coated. Each block is designated for a specific purpose.

As Najib had envisioned, it is a centre for incubation, networking and collaboration for all entrepreneur types, where young startups can rent just a tablespace as an office, use the internet to push their products online, and to meet other young entrepreneurs for brainstorming and to compare notes.

A well-designed retro style Stock Yard Food Court.
Chairs made from used tyres and old iron containers used as tables at Stock Yard Food Court.

Block A, which is also called Stock Yard, is made up of the Black Box, booth area, the Stock Yard Food Court and an area for activities or recreation.

From the exterior, Black Box is literally a huge black box that Nur’Liani Kiplie, the operation coordinator (Community and Outreach) of Sarawak MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) called the ‘Dark Hall’. The Dark Hall, in fact, is a performing space that can hold 450 people if they are standing or between 300 and 350 if everyone is seated.

Nur’Liani Kiplie
The Black Box, which is also called `Dark Hall’, is a performing space.

While the Black Box appears dark and mysterious, the food court is a cool and relaxing place.  Its retro design with decorative items dates back to the sixties and seventies. Rusty barrels and iron container tables as well as iron chairs, old bicycles, grandma’s glass containers and walls made up of old window frames give it a creative and carefree ambience.

The booth area, consisting of open booths and `caged spaces’, give options to clients to either rent a conventional booth or one that looks like a cage, where the vendor may lock their products inside during non-operating hours.

Another section of Block A is an empty space that is meant for recreational activities, including skating, a function that will be held this week, according to Nur’Liani.

Cool place to chill out in Block B of Borneo 744.

Block B is another cool place which Nur’Liani called `co-working’ space. Fully air-conditioned, it is an open space where one section is used to provide computer and wifi services, another section being designated for office space where a young entrepreneur may rent a desk that he or she can call an office. There are also sections designated as exhibition space, discussion corners, a mini stage for training purpose as well as conference rooms.

Block C and D offers storage space designated mainly for cultural and artistic items or products, while Block E contains offices that may also be used as living spaces. Presently, Block E is fully rented by the White Rajah production team.

According to Nur’Liani, almost every month, a big event will be held at Borneo 744, and every now and then, some smaller events.

In terms of startups, there are already more than 10 young entrepreneurs registered with Sarawak MaGIC, which is running Block B.

For young startups, an office desk at Block B means a company.

All facilities to create space to nurture young entrepreneurs or startups are already available at Borneo 744. The federal and Sarawak governments should cast aside their differences and continue to promote and develop the place so that it will become a place where young minds meet and brilliant ideas take off. — DayakDaily