Designers and developers, living together … what next?

  • 10 designers and developers to live, design and code their apps together
  • Not quite ‘Big Brother,' community spirit and mentorship part of the programme
Designers and developers, living together … what next?

THE tech startup scene in Malaysia has certainly changed in the last few years, from a mere few blips on the radar to a host of conference, bootcamp or pitching events taking place almost every week.
 
Government largesse has been largely generous, either through grants or programmes; while Malaysian-founded startups are no longer treated as ugly stepchildren by the greater investor community.
 
In fact, with so much going on right now, the challenge is standing out from the herd. Petaling Jaya-based boutique creative digital agency Pixaworks Creative Sdn Bhd believes it has an answer with the ‘StartupHouse’ programme it is kicking off.
 
The idea is to bring together 10 designers and developers to live, design and code their apps for three months at a house in the smart city of Cyberjaya, guided by experienced mentors.
 
And unlike many other bootcamps or entrepreneur programmes, there will not be any ‘lock-in.’ “For StartupHouse, we’re not planning to take any equity or provide long-term incubation for the teams for now,” says Pixaworks creative director Inbaraj Suppiah.
 
“That’s also one of the main features of this programme, we don’t want the startups to be tied down to us – but if the opportunity arises, we may explore that later by setting up a separate incubator,” he says in an email to Digital News Asia (DNA).
 
Pixaworks is working with its main sponsor Geomash Sdn Bhd, a Kuala Lumpur-based digital mapping solution provider, and luminaries from the Malaysian startup ecosystem. For the pilot project, StartupHouse is looking for five teams, preferably with one app developer and one designer each.
 
Over the three months of the programme, the teams will be coached to refine and validate their ideas before building their apps. Participants will be provided accommodation and free meals for the duration.
 
Mentors who have agreed to take part, according to Inbaraj, include 1337 Ventures founder Bikesh Lakhmichand, also a DNA Digerati50; and Groupon international vice president of Asia Pacific Joel Neoh, whom Inbaraj says would be interested to invest in any successful apps that come out of the programme.
 
Other mentors are MAD Incubator’s Andrew Wong; Kashminder Singh, cofounder of web/ mobile company WatchTower & Friends (WTF) as well as the local crowdfunding platform pitchIN; and Damien Santer, who has also been incubating a few startups through his company GeoMash.
 
Inbaraj himself has been actively involved in the local startup scene through OpenCoffeeClubKL, a monthly networking meetup for startups.
 
“The mentors will be conducting two to three workshops each during the three months, and will be spending time with the teams, although any additional hours are optional,” he says.
 
“The mentors will also be supporting the teams remotely via e-mail/ chat. We’ll set up all the communication tools, and I’ll be also appointing two experienced developers as resident mentors to live there full-time, to coach the teams.
 
“We’re still discussing with a few potential candidates [as resident mentors] as the ones who initially agreed decided to apply for the programme instead,” he chuckles.
 
Upon graduation, the StartupHouse teams will have the opportunity to demo their apps to potential investors, Pixaworks said in a statement. There will also be additional cash incentives through various sponsors and partners, but the primary focus of this programme will be to get the teams to complete their Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
 
“A lot of friends in the startup scene have been asking me to run my own co-working space or startup incubator, so I decided to go with the StartupHouse idea instead. It’ll be a more casual, relaxed accelerator with a major unique point – instead of working in an office, teams will be living together for three months,” says Inbaraj, also the programme director of StartupHouse.
 
“Basically the participants will get an intensive ‘bootcamp’ experience, to motivate them to complete their MVP apps. This is not a competition. We want to encourage high community spirit so that the teams will help each other to complete their projects, instead of competing with each other,” says Inbaraj.
 
“I think having the teams living together for three months will create a totally different dynamic. Our aim is to create a more casual ‘accelerator’ programme compared with existing programmes. The short one-week bootcamps are all focused on ideation, but we’ll be focused strictly on building an MVP app.
 
“As for the skillsets, we want preferably one developer and one designer since the focus of this programme is to build a prototype app. We can accept teams with two developers, but the requirement will be at least one developer in a team.
 
“For UI/ UX (user interface/ experience) design, I may assign my own designers from my agency Pixaworks to help the teams if necessary.
 
“I'm also talking to a few experienced designers and developers to be the resident mentors for this programme, so they will spend a fixed number of hours with the teams every week to help plug any missing skillsets and coach the teams along the way,” he tells DNA.
 
StartupHouse will shortlist potential participants in mid-December, and they will then be invited to pitch ideas. The final participants are expected to be confirmed by the end of the month, and the programme will kick off in January, 2015.
 
Designers and developers, living together … what next?Government support, not aid
 
Another difference: Pixaworks didn’t leap to get government funding for the programme, although it is asking the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to send some mentors its way.
 
MaGIC is interested to collaborate with this programme, and also to help promote it because it has recognised me as a community leader, but it is not officially endorsing it yet,” says Inbaraj (pic).
 
“I’m not asking for any sponsorship from MaGIC because I want to keep it a privately-funded initiative for now,” he adds.
 
Neither is it looking to the usual suspects for help – housing the event in Cyberjaya, a key part of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) which aims to boost the ICT industry in Malaysia, was just a fluke.
 
“The reason we’re doing it in Cyberjaya is because Subhome, a property management group, has offered a condo unit at Cyber Heights Villa for six months for us to run the pilot project. Initially we were planning to do it in a bungalow somewhere in Petaling Jaya,” says Inbaraj.
 
However, parties like Cyberjaya master developer Setia Haruman and landowner Cyberview are not involved, and neither is Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC), which oversees MSC Malaysia.
 
Cyberview is in fact aiming to transform the city of Cyberjaya into a global tech hub, while MDeC is also the lead agency for the Digital Malaysia programme, which seeks to transform the nation into a fully developed digital economy by 2020.
 
Digital Malaysia launched in June, 2012, with three initial thrusts:

  • To move Malaysia from being supply- to demand-focused, or to reallocate resources to more demand-focused activities;
  • To shift behaviour from being consumption- to production-centric, or to change consumer mindset so prevalent in technology use so that Malaysian individuals and businesses produce as much as they consume from digital technologies; and
  • Evolve from low knowledge-add to high knowledge-add, or increasing the development of local talent in key industries to become innovators and knowledge workers.

StartupHouse may be doing it on its own, with the help of GeoMash, but certainly the programme is very much in line with the second and third thrusts.
 
Entrepreneurship has been recognised as a key driver for economic transformation, which is why MDeC has been engaging with the ecosystem more intensely in the last couple of years.
 
It held a series of events in conjunction with the fourth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Kuala Lumpur in 2013, in which it was also heavily involved in; began a partnership with Silicon Valley’s Founder Institute earlier that year; and this year launched programmes with Singapore’s JFDI.Asia and MIT’s Global Startup Labs.
 
Meanwhile, StartupHouse itself is looking especially for web or mobile apps with high potential commercial value.
 
For more information or to apply, go to http://mystartuphouse.com or http://facebook.com/mystartuphouse.

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