Greasing the cogs of an ecosystem

  • IDA programme to help startups win projects from government and industry players
  • Idea could be useful for Malaysia too, but doubts will remain over ability to execute

Greasing the cogs of an ecosystemAN interesting initiative was just launched in Singapore, and it got me thinking about what would happen if the same were to be introduced in Malaysia as well.
Recently, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), responsible for the development and growth of the information and communications sector, rolled out its in-house accreditation programme called Accreditation@IDA.
According to the government agency, the programme is intended to help startups win projects from government and industry players, as opposed to helping them get funding.
Applicants will undergo rigorous technical, financial and operational evaluation of their products’ core capabilities and claims, in addition to their sustainability and ability to deliver their products as promised.
In tandem with this move, IDA also introduced the Whole-of-Government (WoG) approach, where accredited companies will be considered first for projects, and accreditation can be considered in place of the costly, time-consuming Government Supplier Registration status.
The agency has also inked strategic partnerships with companies and organisations such as Amazon Web Services and Nanyang Polytechnic, where preferred access will be given to accredited startups as well as to provide systems integration support, domain knowledge and capability development.
According to a report by tech news blog e27, over 20 startups have expressed interest, and nine are currently undergoing evaluation.
Of course, news of this accreditation programme, in making its way up north, came with the typical question: How would something like this go over in Malaysia?
To get a sense of how Malaysia’s community would react, one only needs to look at how the initial Computing Professionals Bill 2011 (CPB2011) proposal played out.
Part of the CPB2011 called for the formation of a national body called the Board of Computing Professionals Malaysia (BCPM) that would register and certify ICT professionals, evaluating their qualifications and credentials.
Among the many criticisms of the bill, which is now undergoing a second round of consideration under the purview of the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, were fears that it would stifle innovation and creativity.
The goodwill and good intentions behind such moves to ‘clean up’ any industry should not be dismissed.
In specific situations, nationally recognised accreditation does serve a positive role – and when talking about national critical infrastructure, assurance that you have hired the right people for the job beyond a recommendation or portfolio. It can be critical to ensuring accountability.
So in this respect, accreditation for startups seeking government and corporate contracts sounds like an excellent move in bringing down some barriers when it comes to fledgling enterprises looking for that big break.
Especially in Malaysia where time and time again, we hear about startups seeking business outside the country, as the obstacles to getting a deal signed locally were too high to overcome.
That’s not quite the case down south, as I have had more than one observer repeat a joke to me: “Just sell to SingTel”
Indeed, what a drastically different landscape we would be looking at if government-linked corporations (GLCs) and agencies were voracious customers for services of local startups.
Greasing the cogs of an ecosystemAs it stands, sponsoring accelerator programmes or hackathons appears to be the extent of many GLCs’ dabbling in the startup space.
So perhaps a government-driven accreditation process for startups to evaluate their readiness in fulfilling requirements and providing adequate support might prove useful. Perhaps the backing of a ‘seal of approval’ would eliminate hesitation over adoption.
However, within a Malaysian context, it is hard to discount the general mistrust and lack of faith that persist when such grand goals boil down to execution.
At a time when government funding still outweighs private sector funding, who is to say that it won’t be a case of government-funded startups having an easier time of it, or having such accreditation built into the bureaucratic machinery that governs these mandates?
Where does that leave the stubbornly private-sector-only startups that opted not to go down the path of public funding?
Even if such an accreditation programme was strictly limited, the fact of the matter is that ‘startups’ are meant to grow quickly and fail just as quickly.
If one business model doesn’t work out, savvy founders would not hesitate to pivot to another, and another, before cracking the formula or closing shop altogether.
The startup with the best solution won’t always be the startup that will survive. Many, many other factors determine whether one ends up like Google, or AltaVista.
It is too easy to foresee a case where a startup, in its enthusiasm for getting a crack at a government project, goes through accreditation only to realise that with the exception of that one project, the real core and future of their business (and future funding) actually lies elsewhere. What then?
I’m in the camp that advocates doing things that result in better, stronger startups and entrepreneurs, where the product of their efforts and company of their making can stand on its own without the need for accreditation.
Why be afraid of putting your chips on the same table as the global vendors or veterans?
I’m not entirely opposed to the notion of accreditation but neither would I be jumping for joy at its introduction into the existing machinations that govern how Malaysia’s startup ecosystem operates.
For initiatives like this, the adage applies: The devil’s in the details.
So, let me ask you dear reader, how confident are we about dealing with said devil?
This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.
Related Stories:
BCPM gets second wind with new proposal
1337 to match-make startups with GLCs in new programme
Disrupt: Easier to sell to overseas clients than local ones
Is accreditation a bad thing for Computer Science programs?
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