Digerati50: Building a talent pool with those itchy hands

  • Parlays experience as entrepreneur to stress need for more collaboration
  • Ecosystem lacks those passionate about believing they can fix things


Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles the 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2018-2019 (Vol 3), a special print publication released in March 2018. The digital version can be downloaded from the link at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of The Center of Applied Data Science (CADS) ASEAN's first and only one-stop platform and center of excellence for Data Science.

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Digerati50: Building a talent pool with those itchy hands

WHAT do you do if you've managed to raise more than US$2 million (RM7.9 million) for your startup? If you're Ashran Ghazi (pic), you parlay your years of experience in construction, oil and gas, media and communication, event management, and human capital development into a job working with Malaysian entrepreneurs to create even more value.

As the CEO of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) since 2016, he is tasked to help build an ecosystem for entrepreneurs in order to catalyse creativity and innovation for the country. The strategy for 2018 onwards is to create innovation superclusters for areas such as smart cities, agro tech, digital health, mobility and clean energy. The end goal is to accelerate Malaysia's national economic transformation to fulfil its goal to become a top 20 nation by 2050.

His strategy for MaGIC mirrors the days when he was working for his social-network startup Joota: Both are looking to create value through a culture of collaboration for mutual benefit.

"Our end goal is to ensure that the ecosystem we build is one that is sustainable and community centric," says Ashran. He believes that there is enough funding, a large enough market, and enough talent in the ecosystem for progress to be made. He talks about nudging the players onwards to connect to each other in such a way that it "needs little or no push from the government to continue".

For example, entrepreneurs by nature are driven and focused, which unfortunately means they may be missing opportunities outside their sightline. Ashran feels that MaGIC should help them see beyond their boundaries. "I've gone through that exact same journey before when I was an entrepreneur," he says, referring to his single-mindedness. "I was fixated by a model and an approach but sometimes that path may not be ready or even right for you."

As a result, MaGIC is taking time and effort to play a middle man role of sorts. The problem, he insists, is not lack of funds or lack of entrepreneurs. "The problem is about how you help build that last mile refinement of the entrepreneur so that they can talk in the right lingo to the VCs."

He also feels that VCs are leaving too much talent on the table, typically seeing between 150 to 200 startups in a year and investing in maybe five, tops. What happens to the rest, he asks. "I'd like to believe that not everyone sucks."

As Ashran points out, VCs aren't in a capacity development role, but some entrepreneurs just need that nudge to cross the line.

He's not only referring to the MaGIC Global Accelerator Program (GAP) which aims to accelerate startups to be "investment-ready" in four months, but also more customised programs tailored to individual companies.

"We need to frame our thinking beyond programs per se," he admits. "Being too program centric sometimes dampens the ability of creating exponential entrepreneurs."

The solution for an entrepreneur can be as simple as a direct talk: "If somebody sits down with the guy, dude why did you present it that way? They can't see your market, they can't see your position. Let's tweak that a little bit and maybe when you go back you got a better chance."

Ashran also hopes that Malaysian entrepreneurs have the right spirit deep down inside. "You got to be strong on the why you're doing it," he says, adding that although a high income and wealth creation are obvious reasons, "entrepreneurs can't have that as a primary motivation".

Rather, he feels that entrepreneurs need to be passionate about thinking that there are things that need to be fixed. "They may not be technically competent to be able to do those things but they have a clarity on how they think things can be solved," he clarifies. "That's the thinking that we feel is lacking in the talent pool."

And that’s one of his goals as well. To build a critical mass of people with itchy hands to solve problems.


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