There is too much of a desire to see a Malaysian success in tech ecosystem
This makes non-Malaysian talent feel unwelcome, which we can’t afford
GRIDMARKETS is a cool startup doing something really difficult. Having spotted a market opportunity in providing a B2B (business-to-business) platform for parties to buy and sell computational power, it has to crack the technological challenge of doing this.
Then there are the legal challenges and, of course, coming up with the right commercial terms. As its cofounder Hakim Karim tells me, “This is a serious enterprise play.”
Because of this, GridMarkets is not your typical Malaysian, or even Asian, startup. Throw in the fact that it is founded and run by very seasoned industry players with global exposure makes this a startup to follow closely.
Indeed at Echelon in Singapore this past May, I thought they actually had a chance to win as their product, team and targeted market opportunity created a very compelling proposition.
Digital News Asia (DNA) would have hailed GridMarkets as a Malaysian success story if it had won there. It had already won the earlier Echelon Malaysia Satellite pitch in Kuala Lumpur in May, coming up tops from over 20 companies that qualified to pitch.
But it is not a Malaysian company. Hakim is a British citizen and his cofounder Mark Ross is American. The company was set up in Hong Kong.
Does it matter though? Hakim is now based in Kuala Lumpur, while Ross is based in Singapore. This way, both can target different customers and just cover more ground.
In deciding to move out of Hong Kong, as it was too costly, GridMarkets ended up picking Malaysia because of the country’s infrastructure, focus on becoming a data centre hub, and overall liveability. “The food’s great too,” says Hakim.
If you look at the people they have picked, many have international experience. Any Malaysian who joins them will be in a high-performance team and will be the richer for the experience. Does it matter that they are not Malaysian?
To all of us in the private sector, it absolutely does not; but to our policy-makers, it does. While our Prime Minister Najib Razak has just finished what I am sure was an exciting visit to the Silicon Valley, inviting companies from around the world to use Malaysia as their base to grow their business, when it comes to the startup space, public policy is not supportive.
It is ironic that we will give incentives in the hundreds of millions to manufacturing and R&D-based companies if they come here, companies that are already making millions in profits. But there is no financial support for those hoping to build tomorrow’s Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
This is where we can learn a thing or two about how Singapore does it. To them, talent is gold, no matter where it comes from. Just as long as the founders incorporate in Singapore and use it as their operational headquarters, there are funds they can apply for. This approach has even attracted Malaysians to set up there!
They may not get these funds, but the fact that the Singaporean Government is giving them a chance to get some funding is enough to make many feel welcome and pull up sticks to head to the island-republic and pursue their dreams.
In Malaysia, until we start becoming more welcoming to entrepreneurs and their ideas, no matter where they come from, our startup ecosystem will always be missing that little extra sizzle and spark.
Will this change anytime? I think not. I think our policy-makers do not yet see the real value of welcoming non-Malaysians to launch their startups here and be part of our bubbling ecosystem.
Do you agree with me?
Meanwhile, the most popular story of the week was of SecQ.me winning a Cradle Fund grant for US$155,000. It is a Malaysian company, as all the Cradle fund recipients have been.
And finally, please welcome Kelvin Lim, our newest recruit to DNA. He will be handling business development for us. Do contact him if you want to engage with DNA on a commercial basis, via [email protected].
Enjoy the weekend and have a good week ahead.
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