Accelerator, reimagined by Sunway Group's iLabs

  • 20 chosen startups will have a one month sprint to show they deserve to stay in
  • Mentors will be identified based on needs of startups, not their availability

 

Accelerator, reimagined by Sunway Group's iLabs

 

IT IS safe to say that the accelerator space in Malaysia and probably Southeast Asia will not be the same again from today. You can pin this down to the Malaysian-based, regional Sunway conglomerate launching its iLabs Accelerator Programme on Nov 15 with a call for submissions.

Read Also: Sunway iLabs offers US$477K to 10 startups

Sure, there may be other conglomerates that have launched accelerators, hoping to absorb any innovation that comes out from those programmes into their corporate DNA, but those accelerators have all followed the same template:

  • Work with an established party to run their accelerator
  • Pick interesting ideas by smart people
  • Bring them together with other smart people with their respective ideas
  • Put them together for three to four months
  • Offer structured programmes around various aspects of building out their ideas or products into at least a minimum viable product, or a stronger market-oriented commercial product
  • Spice up the class sessions with mentors and speakers to inspire them

What Sunway Group has done instead is to use its Sunway iLabs to run its accelerator. Established this year, iLabs acts as an in-house incubator that is a partnership between Sunway University, Sunway Group, and its corporate venture capital arm, Sunway Ventures, to work closely together to foster entrepreneurship and stimulate market-driven innovations that will help the Sunway Group become more competitive in the Digital Economy.

And it has brought in an entrepreneur, Matt van Leeuwen, who has also had experience trying to bridge universities in Malaysia with industry thanks to a stint with the national commercialisation agency, Platcom Ventures Sdn Bhd, to run iLabs which officially sits under Sunway University as part of the Provost office.

Despite the considerable resources it has, Sunway is not running the accelerator on its own but with angel club, Nexea Angels as a partner. It’s an unusual move as one typically does not see angel investor clubs involved in running accelerator programmes.

Acknowledging this, Ben Lim, one of the founders of Nexea tells DNA that he and his co-founder, Noomi Fessler have worked with many startups over the past two to three years, helping to validate their business models and growth strategies.

“As a result, we understand well what is needed for early stage startups to get funded. We liked iLabs’ focus on creating investible startups and felt it would be good to come in and support their accelerator as partners.”

The partnership also helps create a stronger deal flow for their angel investors besides giving them time to really know the startups well so they can decide on which ones to work with beyond the accelerator programme.

A one-month sprint to become the chosen ones

Sunway’s accelerator is also unique in that it has been designed to challenge 20 entrepreneur teams, pitting them against each other in a one-month sprint to achieve as much progress as possible before selecting up to a maximum of 10 teams to receive US$11,960 (RM50,000) each to be used over the remaining five months of their accelerator programme to achieve as much growth as possible.

And those 10 startups that get chosen will have a lot of resources at their disposal, starting with the 12 business units of the multi-billion ringgit Sunway conglomerate and their pain points, while receiving tailored mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and professional managers throughout their remaining five-month stint.

Explaining this approach, van Leeuwen points out, “Startups need three things above all, money, mentorship and markets.” And the Sunway Group has plenty to offer in terms of mentorship and markets while iLabs with its ecosystem links offers another deep set of mentors.

Mentors are not picked beforehand based on availability and interest to be part of the accelerator but rather, iLabs will go out and look for specific skill sets that the startups need. And these needs will change throughout the six-month journey in the accelerator.

But that is fine by van Leeuwen as iLabs aims to make sure that any help the startups need, addresses a specific pain point they need to overcome in their journey to building a better company in their six-month accelerator journey. “And we aim to provide them with the right mentors at the right time.”

With van Leeuwen noting that poorly drawn up agreements or failure to clearly specify ownership structure are leading causes for startup failure, the programme has partnered with legal firm Chooi & Company to ensure a strong legal framework exists for the chosen startups. Each will be offered RM50,000 worth of legal advice.

Van Leeuwen is excited by this partnership as he feels it will pave the way for more legal firms to work with the startup ecosystem.

Other partners include Google, a familiar fixture in the accelerator space, which is offering RM100,000 worth of support while another interesting partner is the low-profile US Market Access Centre (USMAC) which will offer to connect startups to relevant parties in the Silicon Valley.

The partners iLabs has brought together are all designed to fill in important pieces in the journey of the startups to becoming companies that can successfully solve business pain points and in that process, become investible.

“That’s a key reason for iLabs’ existence – to identify and solve real business issues and then work backwards to the universities in the group, namely Sunway University and Monash University,” says van Leeuwen.

The opening of submissions for the accelerator now moves that plan to the next level though van Leeuwen stresses that the accelerator is open for all startups, be they in Malaysia or not. This just raises the bar for any Sunway student or academic who may want to submit their ideas, which suits van Leeuwen just fine.

 

 
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