Govt guys to start-ups: Think big, go for it

  • Don’t wait for only sanctioned stuff, says deputy minister
  • Have large ambitions, says quasi-government agency head

A PRESS conference held to congratulate five start-ups chosen to go to Silicon Valley for a four-week entrepreneurship learning and networking tour saw pep talks to “do your own thing” coming from the most unusual of sources: The Government Guys.

“I would like to urge university students to be more outgoing and to think about becoming entrepreneurs,” said Dato' Saifuddin Abdullah, Deputy Minister of Higher Education.

“Please don’t wait for the student affairs department to invite you do something or to attend some entrepreneurial event,” he said at a press conference on June 20.

“There are lots of activities and opportunities happening outside university walls; go and take part. Gatecrash if you have to – it doesn’t have to be sanctioned events or programs. As long as you can learn something, just go out and do it.

He however did mutter something about not taking part in street demonstrations.

Saifuddin’s views on getting out of the comfort zone were echoed by Datuk Mohd Badlisham Ghazali, chief executive officer of the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the custodian of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) project.

“We need entrepreneurs with larger ambitions and visions because it is always going to be a changing landscape,” he said.

On the five entrepreneurs going to Silicon Valley, he said, “Some of them will perhaps fail, but hopefully in that process they would have still learned enough to pivot and do the next big thing.”

The June 20 press conference marked the final phase of a long journey that began with last October’s ‘Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia’ (SVC2M) conference. “At last,” Saifuddin said when congratulating the five who made the final cut.

 “When we started all this, when we told the Prime Minister what we intended to do, there was the worry at the back of my mind – what if we couldn’t get even one, let alone five, start-ups which can qualify?” he said. “I’m glad that we have been able to walk the talk.”

SVC2M was attended by 300 invited guests as well as 700 entrepreneurs who “won” admission by pitching their ideas before the conference which was also attended by 17 Silicon Valley icons, investors and luminaries, including founder Jeff Hoffman and YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim.

Then 100 start-ups were selected for a two-day boot camp, after which they took part in an online video pitching competition that whittled them down to 10.

In March, the best five were selected after another mentoring boot camp organized by the Global Innovation through Science and Technology initiative funded by the US State Department and implemented by the non-profit CRDF Global.

“Throughout all of this, judging was done by panels comprising local and international experts,” said founder ‘Dash’ Dhakshinamoorthy.

Govt guys to start-ups: Think big, go for itThe grand winner was Piktochart (pic) whose co-founder Goh Ai Ching will travel to Silicon Valley on a “full scholarship” sponsored by GIST and The company has developed a web application that allows users to make meaningful infographics with little hassle.

“We wanted to develop an app that makes information more beautiful,” Goh said, adding that last month, during the “Enter the Tiger’s Lair” final pitching competition stage of the GIST boot camp, the company had just begun monetizing its app.

“We had 100 ‘Pro’ subscribers, making up US$2,000 in revenue; today, we have 1,000 subscribers and US$20,000 in revenue,” she said.

Another full scholarship winner was OctoApp, whose Valley trip is being sponsored by MDeC and Microsoft.

“Ours is a Facebook app that helps small businesses do marketing,” said founder Bryan Gan.

He said many small businesses have little idea on how to do marketing, whether offline or online. “OctoApp helps them build customer relationships using social networks, on Facebook. We help them automate and schedule their posts, and also optimize and analyze their Facebook friends’ or followers’ engagement to help them make it all more viral.”

FanXT, which takes the ‘US-centricness’ out of the fantasy sports genre, develops games that run on the Web, mobile, Facebook, iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms, and soon, the company said, Google TV and Yahoo! TV.

“We develop these games for the global market,” says its founder Melvin Wong.

“We just launched our Fantasy Euro 2012 game,” he said. “We had originally targeted 50,000 users, and it’s good to know that we’ve exceeded this, with nearly 60,000 users.”

Two start-ups on partial scholarships, sponsored by MDeC, are SecQme and Voucheres.
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Startups and VCs: A two-way street

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