- Intensive coaching from ecosystem leaders
- Business-building exercises lead to real results
THE Malaysian chapter of global entrepreneurship programme Founder Institute (FI) is opening its fifth intake for its idea-stage accelerator and startup launch programme in May.
Established in Malaysia in 2013, the FI programme ran in Kuala Lumpur for the first three years and then relocated to Penang last year; this will be its second year in the northern city.
Heislyc Loh (pic, right), co-director of FI’s Malaysian chapter, realised that there was increasing demand for accelerator programmes in Penang, where supply was minimal compared to Kuala Lumpur, and so decided to relocate the programme to Penang in 2016.
One of the largest economies among Malaysia’s states, Penang shows huge potential for entrepreneurial talent and is fertile ground for an accelerator programme such as FI. Loh points out that the large number of multinationals in the state means that it is ripe with skilled professionals who have in-depth industry knowledge – a good recipe for an entrepreneur with an idea to solve a real problem.
“Hopefully a programme like this will awaken the hidden talents and buried entrepreneurial desires in them. The skills they have will complement their efforts when they are ready to build something on their own. They just need a training ground and launch pad like Founder Institute to jumpstart their entrepreneurial career with the right fundamentals,” says Loh.
How it works
FI is a 14-week programme comprising a weekly three-hour session with mentors, focusing on different topics each week. The sessions take participants through a comprehensive curriculum starting from ideation, conducting market research and building revenue models to legal know-how, finding the right team and obtaining funding.
The mentors who conduct the sessions have in-depth experience on the particular topics they are delivering. This year’s mentors include Mark Chang of Jobstreet, Chok Qwee Bee of Teak Capital and Ganesh Kumar Bangah of MOL.
“We are always excited to get great mentors for our programme,” says Loh, adding that FI is very selective about who they invite to be mentors. Mentors are always founders of startups themselves, which mean they have the real-world experience of building a startup from scratch, which knowledge they can impart on FI participants.
The weekly sessions are conducted in the evenings, meaning participants are still able to retain their day jobs.
Besides the weekly sessions, participants are required to work on business-building sessions for the rest of the week. This is ‘homework’ that is designed to add real value to the idea the participants are building. For example, participants may be required to talk to a certain number of target customers to get feedback on their idea.
This is a pre-launch programme for people who are yet to become founders but who have working experience in their specific domains and an idea. Loh explains that while this is the input into the programme, the output at the end will be a ready founder with a prototype, a potential founding team, and the potential of taking the idea to the next level.
Loh makes it clear that the programme is intensive and requires strong commitment from participants. The attrition rate is about 70% - this is statistic is the same in other FI programmes globally.
“You don’t just attend a class for one-way training. We expect you to make real progress on your startup. But it’s tough for good reason – setting up your own business is tough,” he says.
FI basically simulates real-world challenges and requires participants to deliver results to enable them to prove their business idea, build a stronger idea or allow them to adjust their idea with the on-going coaching, mentor feedback and peer support provided by FI.
“It’s the same programme around the world. It’s hard but it’s the same thing all around the world is going through.”
Loh says there are a lot of reasons people drop out of the programme, including realisation that their idea is weak, but the high attrition rate means that those who stick through to the end have a strong idea and have the potential to build a successful business from it.
Participants of previous FI programmes include the founders of SimplrHub, an SAP enterprise community marketplace, and Poladrone, which provides autonomous aerial solutions – drones - for the agriculture and surveillance industries. Both these new startups provide much-needed solutions to big problems in their respective industries.
FI is looking to get at least 20 participants in this year’s programme; spaces are still available.
Participants pay a fee of US$419 to enrol into the programme. According to Loh, this is one of the lowest rates globally.
Participants are also required to sign an agreement with FI that allows FI’s co-directors and mentors, and the graduates from the same programme cohort to share a 4% option value for liquidation upon the company’s valuation going up when it raises more than US$100,000 in funding for the first time.
“So you have multiple parties sharing this bonus pool when someone succeeds,” explains Loh.
This is in fact the only financial incentive that the FI co-directors have. Their investment is a labour of love, quips Loh, who is also founder of the StartupMamak community. The other FI co-directors are director of @CAT Penang Howie Chang, principal consultant at Info Trek Daqing Lee and Exabytes Network founder Chan Kee Siak.
Before FI offers enrolment, potential participants must write in to tell FI their idea and story as well as take a proprietary aptitude test. The profile from the test tells FI whether or not the potential participant will fit into the programme.
The test is based on psychometrics, is data-driven and is used globally. The data is constantly refined, making the test 90% accurate. One of the main things the test looks for in a potential participant is open-mindedness, a trait that will allow a founder to see the bigger picture and catch and fix problems quickly.
Ideally, participants should be working professionals with three to five years’ experience, a good amount of domain expertise and a passion for solving a problem relevant to their industry.
“We are not selective in terms of background. We just need people who have the drive to succeed,” says Loh.
“We are a global network, and participants just need to earn their involvement in the global network by completing the programme and doing what they should do to build their company.”
Registration for the Founder Institute Program Penang Chapter ends April 25.
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