- 50 high-growth startups build new networks, gain new friends
- Idea is not to compete with Singapore, says MaGIC CEO
THE Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) was an energised environment on Nov 16, powered by the drive, dreams and ambitions of 50 startups, 37 of which pitched to a full house of more than 150 investors.
It was the pioneer batch of the MaGIC Accelerator Programme (MAP). MaGIC said it expects at least 20% of startups to raise funding within six months.
MAP, inspired by Startup Chile, is a cornerstone programme for MaGIC, bringing as it did 50 startups with high growth potential from around South-East Asia and beyond, into Cyberjaya for a four-month acceleration stint where startups learned how to “do everything better.”
This ranges from improving their product, identifying real users, targeting customers, social marketing, technology adoption, and telling their story in a compelling way.
The programme is entirely funded by the Malaysian Government, which has stipulated that 60% of the startups have to be Malaysian.
The hope is that by bringing in high-growth startups from the region, and beyond, and putting them together, the bar will be raised for Malaysian startups.
This co-mingling will be good for the greater ecosystem as well, with a structured programme in place where the startups travel around the country giving talks and sharing experiences with entrepreneurs and university students.
MaGIC claims that 2,600 Malaysians were engaged through the sharing sessions held across six states and 15 university campuses.
The MAP startups receive a certain amount of money for their expenses and travel to Cyberjaya, but beyond that MAP does not offer funding.
This has actually worked to its favour as startups that participated came because they want to learn, meet regional startups to expand their networks beyond their own country and to be better at what they do.
Keenly aware of the need to keep the bar high, especially for the investors – some of whom had flown in from the United States – MaGIC did not push for all the 50 startups to demonstrate. Those which it felt were not ready did not pitch, had a booth instead, hence the 37 only which pitched.
The outcome was telling. As MOL Global founder Ganesh Kumar Bangah said, “This is the best Demo Day I have attended.”
Meanwhile, Crystal Horse Investments chief executive officer (CEO) Michiel Winds said he felt that the quality of startups was comparable to any accelerator’s Demo Day in Singapore.
One reason for this is that, being a high growth accelerator, MAP was mainly looking at startups that have already been around for a few years, and which were hungry to scale.
On the subject of Singapore, MaGIC CEO Cheryl Yeoh pointed out in her opening remarks that the idea is not to compete with Singapore, which has built a strong startup ecosystem on the back of generous matching grants from its Government partnering with the private sector.
As she repeated during the press conference, a key focus of MAP is really to help startups deepen and widen their networks.
“We have really focused on the human connections and community building. What better platform to form these ties than during a four-month programme where you are all working on your own ideas to tackle the South-East Asian market,” she said.
A ‘platoon format’ was also designed to help foster these strong ties. Startups were clustered into groups of eight, and would set goals and meet every two weeks to share progress with, and support, each other.
MaGIC calls this ‘community accountability’ – aligned with Yeoh had previously described as cohorts. And it plans to extend this community post-MAP by building an alumni network, with an alumni president to be appointed as well, to ensure activities are community-driven.
A strong network of mentors provided a regular flow of idea sharing, experiences and inspiration for MAP participants. This was enhanced by some entrepreneurs dropping by unannounced to share their experiences and meet the startups.
Yeoh and her team put this down to the scale of MAP, which makes it worthwhile for entrepreneurs to drop by unannounced as they know they will be meeting some interesting companies.
Beyond the startups, MaGIC is positioning MAP as a platform for Malaysian corporates to come and learn about startups and what they are doing. Maybank has been a particular strong supporter of MAP, eager as it is to learn about possible disruptions in the banking space.
There was also a ‘telco day’ and ‘logistics day,’ with the relevant corporates visiting the MAP startups.
“Out of this some partnerships have already formed,” claimed Yeoh (pic above).
One eventual crucial partnership that she hopes will be formed through these corporate visits is for the private sector to eventually take over the running of MAP from the Government.
“Hopefully in three to five years, once the market matures and better understands the impact of digital technology,” she said.
And while MaGIC executives are claiming that MAP is arguably the largest accelerator programme in Asia, to the participating startups, value and impact trump size anytime, and it was clear that most of the startups did gain a lot from the programme, be it from the formal components or the informal ones that allowed them to build networks between themselves.
For Dr Yeong Che Fei, an academic at a public university in Malaysia, who is on a year’s sabbatical to help accelerate the growth of DF Automation Sdn Bhd, a robotic company in Malaysia looking for Series A funding, his exposure to MAP has led to a change of mindset.
He said he now realises that Malaysia is a small market, and is exploring overseas expansion.
“I am taking a step to explore having an office in Singapore and Vietnam – which I never thought of in the past. And the best part is that some of the MAP startups from these countries will be introducing me to their contacts,” he said.
Chances are Yeong’s experience is not an isolated one. MaGIC is banking on that to ensure MAP truly becomes a high growth accelerator, and stand apart from the rest.
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