Digerati50: Playing midwife to new startups

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].

  • Soft-spoken government exec with hard-hitting ideas, and a real passion
  • ‘A good ecosystem depends on good relationships, high trust and flat societies’
Digerati50: Playing midwife to new startups

IT’S not every day that you hear of an executive who claims to have a job he likes, let alone it being his ‘dream job.’
But there’s Nazrin Hassan, Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd chief executive officer, who shows an undeniable passion for a job he clearly thrives on.
“The best part of my job is when entrepreneurs come back and tell me that I’ve helped them get their feet wet in business; or better still, if we’re told their products and services have been commercialised,” Nazrin once told a local business magazine in 2008.
“We understand what it is to be an entrepreneur as most of us (in Cradle), including myself, have been there and done that. So it’s very gratifying to find out that we’ve managed to help fellow technopreneurs grow, and this is why I enjoy my job,” he added.
The head of Cradle since 2007, these days he can boast of a number of successful programmes for the Ministry of Finance agency that he describes as Malaysia’s early stage entrepreneur ecosystem influencer.
This includes the Coach & Grow Programme (CGP), which has seen through more than 270 technology companies at all stages since it started in 2011; lobbying the Government and successfully pushing for the Angel Tax Incentive; and the setting up of a RM60-million (US$18.5-million) combined public-private venture capital fund called Cradle Seed Ventures, with partner e-government services company MyEG Services Bhd.
Nazrin firmly believes that Malaysia is indeed a blessed country and despite the constant criticism levelled at its education system, it is undeniable that the nation is one of the best talent exporters in the world.
Underpinning this strength is the fact that the quality of Malaysian human capital is acknowledged globally.
“I truly believe that if more Malaysians are exposed to the global fraternity and opportunities … in one generation from now, we could create a generation of Malaysian entrepreneurs who are ready to be regional or global companies, and will not find the thought daunting.
“Cradle will help in its own way, by strengthening the early-stage ecosystem and making the effort to ‘internationalise’ our entrepreneurs earlier on in their stage of growth,” Nazrin says.
Having led Cradle for six years now, the soft-spoken executive says if he could, he would have asked for Cradle Fund to have been made independent far earlier on, perhaps in 2005.
“I would have taken a more holistic approach earlier too, instead of remaining focused on just being a funding agency. In a nascent ecosystem like Malaysia, you cannot be just a part of the ‘reaping,’ you have to be a part of the ‘planting’ too.
“You cannot wait for the private sector to take the lead all the time. Sometimes, the leadership is not there and not all private sector parties are equally capable in developing countries. The gaps in a nascent ecosystem are not going to fill themselves up if no one steps in to do it,” he says.
Nazrin isn’t blind to some of the challenges still facing the ecosystem. And isn’t afraid to voice his thoughts either: “I think Malaysia is a country with too many social hierarchies and strata. Too many titles and protocols – we elevate VIPs to the status of kings and emperors.
“A good ecosystem depends on good relationships, high trust and flat societies with less hierarchy.
“If Malaysia wants to rise faster, we need to get leaders who have the common touch, the humility and who make themselves approachable and accessible to the public. If we can move to a more ‘informal’ society, we can get more entrepreneurs in our society to succeed.
“We cannot be a more benevolent society if we keep putting distance between the leaders and the followers. That’s my frank belief,” he adds.

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