Digerati50: Taking on the world from Melaka

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].

  • Has built a world-class hi-tech company out of Malaysia
  • Too few E&E talents have guts to be entrepreneurs, he laments
Digerati50: Taking on the world from Melaka

BUILDING a world-class, high-tech startup isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either – just ask Dr Gabriel Walter (pic above) of optical electronics company Quantum Electro Opto Systems Sdn Bhd (QEOS).
Having lived, breathed, and acted by the mantra that ‘nothing is impossible’ for the past five-and-a-half-years, the cofounder of QEOS believes that his company is probably an answer to the question of whether a world-class, technology-intensive startup company based in Malaysia can raise significant funding, survive and grow in valuation.
QEOS is an optical innovations company that has developed breakthrough technologies for the design and high-volume production of multi-gigabit-per-second, high performance, low-cost and energy-efficient optical solutions.
The homegrown company is located in Melaka, with operations in Cupertino, California in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The company says its products are used in everything from optical multimedia devices, audio/ video applications, and various IT applications in the consumer, residential and commercial markets.
QEOS was born out of research that Gabriel and two other world-renowned researchers in this field began undertaking in 2003: Prof Dr Nick Holonyak and Prof Dr Milton Feng of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Dr Holonyak is also the John Bardeen chair professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at the university, and Gabriel’s mentor, co-inventor and cofounder of QEOS. He is also one of the most illustrious scientists in the field of transistor research in the United States.
“Our survival and phenomenal growth for the past five-and-a-half years speak strongly about Malaysia’s funding and financial support ecosystems, technical manpower availability and supporting
infrastructure, including suppliers and services,” says Gabriel, the 36-year-old Sarawakian-born engineer-cum-entrepreneur.
Armed with a grant of under RM5 million (US$1.6 million) by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Gabriel convinced his fellow researchers to set up shop in Melaka in May 2008.
Asked whether Malaysia has the chops to succeed in such a high-tech, manufacturing-based industry, Gabriel remains optimistic as he believes that the nation is blessed with a great economy where the unemployment rate is low and the Government is focused on building a knowledge economy.
He also says Malaysia has a strong pool of technical workers in the E&E sector, but laments the fact that most of these talents “lack the guts or awareness to be true entrepreneurs.”
“It takes a certain kind of leadership to transform a company from a manufacturing, supplier or distributor into a competitive technology company,” he says. “The Government is doing its part, but it’s up to the private entities to take up the challenge, and QEOS is trying to contribute to this by setting a strong example of success.”
Gabriel also believes that for a high-tech business like his to survive, the business plans he and his cofounders have devised will have to continually be flexible.
“As long as the point of origin and the end goal for our company is the same, our plan must be allowed to be flexible in between. Changing variables actually results in better execution of the plan.
“For QEOS, the beginning point was our Tilted Charge Dynamic Technology and the end point was to generate high value for our Intellectual Property (IP) portfolio by demonstrating to the market that the technology has matured.
“Over the years, we have changed our business plan based on the available skill sets, research results and circumstances. The path taken was longer, but we did grow in valuation due to the better execution of the plan, and this ensures that the company continues to be funded.”
As to the one lesson learnt under his mentor [Nick] Holonyak, Gabriel says, “Nick has trained me to ‘always use what I have, not what I want,’ thus enabling me to predict the outcome of my work before doing the work itself.
“The greatest challenge for me then is to understand what I have, in the Malaysian ecosystem,” he says.
[Update: Last week, QEOS announced it had acquired Silicon Valley-based Centric Technologies LLC's IP assets and people in a US$40-million (RM129-million) deal; it also announced its intention to be a leader in the Internet of Things space.] 

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