Makerspace movement gets further boost from Sunway iLabs launch

  • Includes 3D printers, robotics, VR, AR & electronics to promote design thinking
  • Students engage with industry mentors to solve Sunway Group problems

The various partners for Sunway iLabs Makerspace. Jeffrey Cheah, founder and chairman of Sunway Group is 4th from left.

SUNWAY iLabs, a non-profit incubator and accelerator, launched its Sunway iLabs Makerspace on October 8. Equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, electronic gadgets and tools to build virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic applications, the makerspace located on the Ground Floor of Sunway University is open to students and entrepreneurs.

Commemorating the launch were the director general of higher education, Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir; founding trustree of Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, Jeffrey Cheah; and director of Sunway iLabs, Matt van Leeuwen.

In his speech, Cheah acknowledged the fast pace of technological advancement. “In order to get ahead, mindsets must change. We cannot overcome the challenges of the digital age with an analogue mindset.”

Along with five initial industry partners namely Google, General Electric, NEC Corporation, Hitachi Sunway and Xperanti, the newly set up makerspace aims to equip students and entrepreneurs with a collaborative space and tools for innovation.

Beyond industry partnerships, Sunway iLabs also announced three new international collaborations with the European Commission-funded South East Asia Social Innovation Network (SEASIN), the University of California (UC), Berkeley; and Silicon Valley accelerator, A3 Global Collider, to provide students and entrepreneurs with additional sources of capital, mentorship and links to international markets. SEASIN contributed Funding of US$36,000 (RM150,000) was received from to purchase tools and equipment, and run community outreach events.

Commenting on the various partners they have put together, Cheah adds: “As mentors, we have the best entrepreneurial and innovative minds from UC Berkeley, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors, and global tech companies. Equipping our youth with the right tools and the right mentors are more important than ever before.” He reminded the audience that globalisation, urbanisation and digitisation are powerful forces that are reshaping the world and blurring boundaries where competition is no more just within borders but with the entire world.

“Speaking from personal experience, I urge all aspiring entrepreneurs to be realistic while seeking to realise your dreams. It won't always be smooth sailing. Taking risks also means being prepared for setbacks. It is vital that you remain robust, resilient and resourceful to be successful.”

While the current space can accommodate around 50 people, there are plans to scale up on campus and include makerspaces with tools for metal, wood and fashion applications. “Our vision for the makerspace is to become a creative space where youth can learn to become makers and problem solvers of tomorrow,” van Leeuwen shares. With users having guided access to the right tools, he is confident of seeing “more viable solutions that solve real market problems.”

Sunway University also organises programmes to ensure the Sunway iLabs Makerspace is used fully and constructively, which include the Make It Challenge and a three day UC Berkeley entrepreneurship bootcamp.

During the Make It Challenge, teams had the opportunity to come up with solutions for problems statements sourced from Sunway Group. “We encourage students to build diverse teams, because by embracing diversity, they open themselves up to different perspectives which lead to more innovative solutions,” said van Leeuwen.

As for students from the bootcamp, they will have access to industry mentors in the following weeks to build real prototypes using the tools in the makerspace. “They will then pitch to senior leaders in Sunway. I think that is design thinking in practice. But we don’t want to stop there, we would like to use Sunway City as a testbed for innovations that come out of this competition,” van Leeuwen shares.

Sam Shafie, the cofounder of the equity crowdfunding platform, PitchIN, which recently ran a fundraising campaign for Me.reka Makerspace was also present at the launch.

Sharing his thoughts on the maker movement, he believes other schools in Malaysia should follow suit: “I think we need more of such initiatives. It is crucial for students to adopt design thinking, away from their normal classes.”

Indeed, getting away from the normal education routine and preparing them with new skills demanded by the maturation of new technologies is a key motivator for Sunway Group to add the makerspace component to their education services.

“In this day and age, we need more than ever an education system that can create a talent pool with skill sets that can help us prepare for this new world, what we call the fourth industrial revolution. To do that, we need a new generation of leaders and problem solvers to rise. Those who can define problems; those who can come up with ideas; and those who can turn these ideas into real solutions,” explains van Leeuwen.

In claiming Sunway University to be the first in Malaysia to have an industry-focused and student-run Makerspace, Sunway Group has just set the bar higher in the Malaysian higher education system.

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