Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].
‘Middle-class boy’ who has made it, wants to see others do the same
Has been organising a series of successful entrepreneurial events
WRITING a profile on Dhakshinamoorthy Balakrishnan, or ‘Dash’ as he is more popularly known, is pretty much a Sisyphean task: Just when you think you’ve recorded it all, he goes on and does something even more audacious than the last.
The most recent (as at press time) was bringing 250 young people from more than 100 countries around the world, putting them in a hall with 250 Malaysian youth, dividing them into teams of 10, and then giving them three days to come up with mobile apps that can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
This was the Global Startup Youth meet, a satellite event of the Fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) that was held in October, 2013, and just the latest in a series of entrepreneurial events that Dash has been organising over the last few years.
But it really started around 2000 when he set up a company called Warisan Global to raise money to buy the corporate training franchise from India-based global training leader NIIT Limited.
“I felt that there was something wrong here – we would be training Malaysians on how to use other people’s established technology,” he says. “I felt Malaysians should become their own IT experts.”
Still, Warisan Global picked up some training chops, and when he heard that a major telecommunications company was inviting proposals for a corporate social responsibility programme it was running to train children in rural areas on digital literacy, Dash dove in head-first.
More than 100 children from all over the country attended those camps, and a spark was lit in Dash. “The enthusiasm in these children, their ecstasy over learning new things, just made me want to light a hundred more sparks,” says the 48-year-old who hails from an accounting background.
Dash and his wife Vani, who helps him run Warisan Global, became immersed in a series of projects that involved digital literacy and entrepreneurship. Then an email came from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2008, inviting him to be the Malaysian host for Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).
He did so, and was invited to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama and entrepreneurs from all around the world as part of the first GES.
Next in 2011, he announced he wanted to bring some of Silicon Valley’s greatest luminaries to Malaysia, to meet with local entrepreneurs, under the aegis of StartupMalaysia.org which he had just established.
It was a crazy idea, but Silicon Valley Comes To Malaysia (SVC2M) was another great success, bringing the country to the notice of many US investors and entrepreneurs for the first time.
He hasn’t caught his breath since. He was also involved in the 4th GES that was held in Kuala Lumpur, and earlier in 2013, launched his D-Code camp that had developers from Silicon Valley coming here to teach around 400 young people how to code.
No wonder the Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM) invited him to run for president, which he did successfully, though for one term only from April 2013 to April 2014. [Update: His term has been extended].
So why is he doing this all? “I don’t know, I just have this kind of madness,” says Dash. “I want to see a major startup coming out of all this.”
“Don’t get me wrong; I am no saint. I want to make money. I like driving a nice car, and I love going on nice holidays, and I want to make sure my family is taken care of. I know there are easier ways to make money, so why go through all this trouble?
“I think it’s because the entrepreneurial spirit has made me what I am today – I’m just a middle-class kid who has made it, and I really want to see others, with the energy and drive, make it as well,” he says.