Three core activities: Connectors, Gap-Fillers and Storytellers
GREAT2014 event, MaGIC Startup Academy and Asean Accelerator to launch
THE Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) was officially launched in April, envisioned as a one-stop shop for entrepreneurship and tasked with building up the ecosystem in the country.
After months of head-hunting and speculation, the Malaysian Government announced it had appointed as chief executive officer Cheryl Yeoh (pic), a Malaysian entrepreneur who had launched a startup in New York, made it in Silicon Valley and saw it sold off WalMart Labs, the investment arm of the US retail giant.
When she took the role, Yeoh told Digital News Asia (DNA) that her first task would be to map out the ecosystem and identify the gaps. She and the team she was building up spent four months doing that, and late last month she sat down to a chat with DNA to lay out her blueprint.
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MaGIC’s underlying mission is to “fill the gaps and connect the dots,” as she puts it. The overarching vision is to act as a catalyst to transform Malaysia into the regional startup capital.
“In a way, we want to put Malaysia on the map. A lot of the times, regional and international VCs (venture capitalists) bypass us, but the fact is that we have a lot of really successful tech companies and entrepreneurs – they’re just not known,” she says.
This, despite the fact that Malaysia has produced the most number of tech IPOs (initial public offerings) and has some of the largest Internet companies in South-East Asia, she laments.
Among them are MyEG, the e-government service provider; Catcha Group’s iCar, iBuy and iProperty; regional online recruitment player JobStreet.com; and even less well-known but no less phenomenally successful companies like Fusionex. Early in October, dotcom pioneer MOL Global will be listing on Nasdaq.
Indeed, in August, a blog post on the Malaysian edition of Business Insider listing the eight biggest Internet companies in South-East Asia noted that six of them are from Malaysia – and four of them are Catcha companies, including Rev Asia, which incidentally runs the Malaysian edition of Business Insider.
This lack of disclosure aside; and despite an inexplicable reference to MySpace as a Malaysian company that is preparing for an IPO – which could be a mistaken reference to MOL Global’s impending listing – the gist of the blog post is true enough.
Yet regional and international investors believe the regional startup hub is down south, a problem that Yeoh is keenly aware of, and a misperception she is intent on correcting.
Thus, MaGIC’s mission statement is to increase the number of Malaysian regional and global success stories, and under this mission statement, there are three core activities the MaGIC team has settled on: Connectors, Gap-Fillers and Storytellers.
The ‘Connectors’ thrust essentially works on the resources already available in Malaysia, as well as the community, and a co-working space at MaGIC, according to Yeoh.
“We found out, through our mapping exercise, that there are 74 government agencies supporting entrepreneurship in various sectors and throughout various lifecycles,” she says.
Then there are private bodies and programmes, which together with the agencies above, make up a total of more than 160 points of contact available to entrepreneurs.
MaGIC hopes to make it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate this maze, via two means: A physical and a virtual portal.
“The physical part is the one-stop shop mandate when MaGIC was created, which will be called MaGIC Central, where we will be partnering with 25 agencies to begin with,” says Yeoh. [MaGIC Central was earlier described as the MaGIC Interactive Centre]
These agencies would set up shop or have resources available at the MaGIC building in Cyberjaya. Agencies which have agreed to come on board include Malaysia Venture Capital Management (Mavcap); Malaysia Debt Ventures; Teraju (the Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit); the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia or MyIPO; and national ICT custodian Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC).
But this won’t just be a physical centre, says Yeoh. “We are going to have weekly, monthly and quarterly events which will be theme-driven. So one month, it could be about funding, another month it could be about training, or how to take your company to an IPO, and so on.”
That one-stop shop mandate won’t be purely physical either. “When you think about, today not a lot of people ‘walk-in’ anymore, they use virtual tools,” she says.
Thus MaGIC will also make use of hotlines and Google Hangouts where entrepreneurs can schedule appointments with the agencies above.
“There are all these great resources … but it’s very hard for people to connect. If I cannot navigate the ecosystem, how can you expect someone from more remote areas to do so?” Yeoh says.
“Not only do we direct you to the right agency, we also track. We not only get you to the right person in the right department, we will set up a survey to see if you’re successful. If not, you come back to us and we’ll make sure that you’re redirected to the right person,” she says.
“That’s the ‘physical’ part. The virtual part is where the 180 or so agencies that we’re mapping out come in. We’re publishing it as a MaGIC resource tool that would be available on our website – you can find out about all the various programmes from your home,” she adds.
The GREAT event
Both resources will be launched at the four-day GREAT (Gathering of Rising Entrepreneurs Acting Together) 2014 event that will be launched by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sept 17.
MaGIC is billing it as “the ultimate gathering of Malaysian entrepreneurs, startups and funders” that will allow aspiring entrepreneurs to tap into and interact with the ecosystem.
To be hosted at MaGIC, it will revolve around six industry clusters (food, agriculture, technology, lifestyle, creative arts and women), and include about 95 workshops and speeches by a host of Malaysian and international personalities and entrepreneurs.
“It’s basically an outreach programme where we’re expecting 5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs. We have so many programmes, there’s something for everyone – the food entrepreneurs, the retail entrepreneurs, the social entrepreneurs, and so on,” says Yeoh.
“It’s meant really to get people excited around entrepreneurship,” she adds.
Cohorts and communities
The other aspect of building a community is the proximity aspect. MaGIC has co-working space for up to 150 entrepreneurs, with 50 spots already taken up. The idea is to get like-minded people together so that they can share information and experience.
“We believe in building startup communities. When I started my company in New York, and again in the Valley, it was very much community-driven,” says Yeoh.
“It’s the serendipity aspect of it,” she says, adding that when people work in close physical spaces, they tend to talk to each other more, and may discover they are working on similar problems and thus put their heads together.
“In Malaysia, what I’ve noticed is people working in pockets. They don’t have a space.
“All the co-working spaces are about RM450 to RM600 (US$188) per month, so they prefer to go to Starbucks or work from their homes – but when that happens, there’s no exchange of information.
“So what we’re trying to create is not merely a co-working space, but a community around that co-working space. They come out, and share and work together,” she says.
The other part of this is something Yeoh strongly believes in – ‘cohorts.’
“Think about it: Usually, your best friends are from high school or college. You went through the same selection process, the same batch, the same orientation, and you graduated together.
“That’s the kind of community we’re trying to create, because such people tend to help each other out more. And to build startup communities, the cohort is very important,” she adds.
The co-working space at MaGIC offers rates as low as RM150 a month, RM30 a day, and even RM200 for a minimum of three months. Facilities there include the usual Internet connectivity, meeting and training rooms, and even 3D printers.
Next Page: Gap-fillers and storytellers – the Academy and the Accelerator