Clarion call for mentors sparks Digerati50 networking session

  • Multimedia minister aims to start new chapter of cooperation with industry
  • Renuka Sena ignites call for 1,000 mentors to turbo boost local connectedness


Clarion call for mentors sparks Digerati50 networking session


THE inaugural DNA Digerati50 networking cocktail in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, brought together entrepreneurs and technocrats from the pioneer batch of Digerati50 in 2014, the second batch in 2016 and the current 2018 batch for a long overdue session to deepen existing connections between them and to forge new ones.

Of the 143 total Digerati50 (there were some repeat Digerati50), 75 made it for a memorable evening of conversation and making new connections. Among those eager to make new connections was Gobind Singh Deo (pic), the Malaysian Minister of Communications and Multimedia.

Cognisant of the fact that ministers will come and go but the industry remains, Gobind told the Digerati50: “I give you the assurance that whatever we can do, we’ll work together and make it happen. I hope to start a new chapter [of cooperation] between industry and my ministry.”

This new chapter that Gobind aims to write will be based on listening and joint action. “Let’s connect to make sure the problems are addressed. All of us need to sit together and talk.”

His words were music to the ears of the Digerati50 and sent a surge of optimism through them, that in Gobind, they would have the ear of a minister ready to listen and act on issues that can help move the digital ecosystem forward.

And whether by chance or it was a sign, Gobind’s choice of the word “connect” resonated strongly with the sense of mission that one particular Digerati50 had.

For a few days prior to the event, an upset Renuka Sena (pic, below), CEO of Proficeo Sdn Bhd and a 2016 Digerati50, had asked DNA for the opportunity to address her fellow entrepreneurs. She had a clarion call to make and wanted to seize the moment that gave her an audience of her fellow peers and the minister overseeing the growth of Malaysia’s Digital Economy.

For Renuka was upset about connections, or to be precise the “lack of local connectedness” that the Malaysian startup ecosystem is said to suffer from according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 (GSER 2018).

The report pegs Kuala Lumpur as an Activation Phase ecosystem, which means it is at the nascent stage of building a more close-knit community comprising of entrepreneurs, investors and experts. This local connectedness is important, especially in terms of relationships with other founders, because it correlates with stronger startup performance.

“When I first read it, it upset me because I know via the CGP (Coach & Grow Programme) and all other Proficeo programmes, we have been working hard to build this very connectedness since 2011,” she said.

Not blind to the weaknesses of the ecosystem, Renuka acknowledges that she would have wholly agreed with the report, had it made this remark in 2011.  

But it was a tough pill to swallow in 2018 for Renuka, especially since, as ecosystem builders, Proficeo has been actively getting VCs, angels, CGP alumni, professionals, universities and corporates involved in the various aspects of the CGP programme.

And it wasn’t just Proficeo that was building this ecosystem connectedness. Renuka points to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Cradle and other agencies which have been doing a lot to build these networks.


Clarion call for mentors sparks Digerati50 networking session


The fact that their efforts had not moved the needle much was chastening to Renuka. Equally sobering was a call by Nazrin Hassan, the late founding CEO of Cradle who pointed out to Renuka that what all of them had been doing was only a drop in the ocean. 

“On deeper reflection, I would concede that Nazrin was right. The connectedness to date in Malaysia is still very much siloed and is government or agency led. The answer, Renuka felt, was to find a way to bridge all SMEs, professionals and investors and for this to happen, “it would have to be private sector led to achieve an impact,” she says.

To rally the ecosystem around to the urgency and importance of creating this greater connectedness, Renuka has created a call to action for 1,000 mentors. It is no doubt a big target the dimunitive IP lawyer turned business coach has set. Can it be achieved?

“I have to believe it’s possible. I know that it’s not a matter of whether there are mentors out there that are willing to share – there are and I know for a fact that its probably due to lack of avenues or platforms that many of them are not connected.”

Renuka’s confidence is not based on prayer because experience has thought her that mentoring actually creates a win-win situation. “Not only does it feel really good to have helped someone else, but more importantly, the mentors always tell me that they learned a lot by participating.”

Since 2011, Proficeo has involved 250+ individuals in various forms of mentoring through its CGP, e-usahawan, micro and social enterprises or sessions with brick and mortar or O2O (offline to online) companies.

This adds up to around 50% of the graduates from her various programmes. She is confident of achieving 500 mentors by end 2018 and 1,000 by 2019. And confident she can do it faster if she has help from her fellow Digerati50. “As I say to all my students, use the Pareto Principle – 20% of the Digerati alone should be able to give me 80% of this number because they come from well defined and diverse networks themselves. I’m confident it’s not impossible.”

Minister Gobind, who was listening intently to Renuka’s pitch clearly shares her confidence. He ended his own speech by telling the Digerati50, “let us appreciate what we have achieved, what it is we must achieve and most importantly what it is all of us can achieve!” Renuka with her 1,000 mentors call to action, couldn’t have said it better.

But will the ecosystem pull together to help itself through her clarion call?  Sign up here if you want to help move the needle.


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