Fuelling Startups To Power Malaysia's Future
By Digital News Asia March 27, 2023
- PETRONAS FutureTech is committed to redefining the future of energy
- Seeks to nurture regional startups via opportunity to scale their ventures
Responding to the pivotal need to remain competitive through innovation, PETRONAS in 2019 launched PETRONAS FutureTech to uncover visionary entrepreneurs with breakthrough technologies to accelerate the tech-driven startup ecosystem of Malaysia.
The programme, now in its third installation, was built on PETRONAS’ commitment to drive sustainable solutions in meeting the world’s energy demand through innovation.
Helmed by PETRONAS Ventures, the Group’s venture capital arm, PETRONAS FutureTech opens doors for its participants by connecting them to the expertise and networks of PETRONAS and its corporate partners, catalysing innovative solutions to solve business pain points.
Paving the way to renewable energy
“PETRONAS FutureTech is a very open and friendly environment,” said Raj Ridvan Singh (pic), or better known as Teacher Raj, the CEO and founder of several companies including SOLS Energy, and a graduate from the programme’s first cohort in 2019.
SOLS Energy is a company that designs, distributes, maintains, and installs solar energy systems. It also runs the first Solar Academy in Malaysia that offers technical skills in the solar industry and personal development training to local youths.
“What I respect about PETRONAS is that they ‘walk the talk’ and ‘put the money where their mouth is’,” added Teacher Raj, pointing out how PETRONAS practices its Statement of Purpose in supporting the sustainability agenda through various initiatives.
In 2020, PETRONAS Ventures inked an agreement with SOLS Energy to invest in the solar photovoltaic (PV) system startup that provides sustainable energy for residential and small-to-medium enterprise (SME) sectors in Malaysia.
Prevention with AI
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the forte of another FutureTech graduate, Itxotic, which specialises in customising, developing, and deploying vision AI systems. The company was one of the 20 startups chosen for FutureTech 2.0 in 2021.
To Ammar Zolkipli, CEO and co-founder, the FutureTech experience was invaluable. “The mentorship that we received, the opportunity to talk to other experts, and the collaborations were eye-opening. Since we joined, the company has tripled the leads and doubled the sales revenue,” he added.
At the three-day Oil and Gas Asia (OGA) 2022 event held last September in Kuala Lumpur, Itxotic was given the opportunity by PETRONAS to showcase and pitch its solutions to energy players in attendance. The company is currently expanding its collaboration with PETRONAS Group Technical Solutions division on video analytics for plant operations. The solution developed by Itxotic will be used to manage risks and opportunities in aspects related to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).
“We collaborate with PETRONAS’ experts to create AI that can visually detect wear and tear at oil and gas facilities such as refineries and platforms, monitor the safety of workers, and record traffic at a project site,” explained Ammar.
In effect, Itxotic made what is essentially a ‘digital canary in a coal mine' by automating early detection that could prevent environmental disasters, injuries, and unforeseen events.
Unlocking doors to potential scaling
Founders of startups are never short of passion, but possessing a big picture view is a different matter altogether. For Lee Yuen How, this was the greatest value of being part of PETRONAS FutureTech. Lee, who is the director and co-founder of EV Connections (EVC), an electric vehicle charging solution provider, credits PETRONAS FutureTech for opening many doors for future scaling of EVC’s technology and exponential growth.
Lee came in with a burning passion to make EVs common in Malaysia by building the infrastructure the vehicles needed. He just was not clear on what the game plan was going to be.
“When we started, there were a lot of holes in our perspective. But the mentors and speakers from the programme helped us understand the business segments and what niche markets we could penetrate,” said Lee.
Not coincidentally, in the previous year, EVC signed an MoU with PETRONAS Dagangan Bhd and Mercedes-Benz Malaysia to install DC fast chargers at selected PETRONAS stations along the North-South Expressway and East-Coast Expressway.
The relationships and trust built with PETRONAS through the programme has also accelerated EVC’s rollout. The collaboration with Gentari has enabled EVC to build a charging hub at the PETRONAS station at Bandar Baru Ayer Hitam within only a year when similar initiative would have taken other companies two years to complete, said Lee.
PETRONAS FutureTech 3.0
Despite its brief history, FutureTech shows it has been evolving rapidly. The pilot programme in 2019 has translated into strategic alliances or deployment opportunities between PETRONAS and the cohort.
The fully virtual FutureTech 2.0 in 2021 saw other Malaysian corporates start getting on board, with Telekom Malaysia and Sime Darby Plantation joining as the Corporate Partners to the programme.
For FutureTech 3.0, scale is the name of the game, with not just more corporate partners, but the expansion of the programme’s geographic footprint as well. Last month, the programme was open to applicants in the Asia Pacific region, moving beyond the Malaysian focus of the first two cohorts.
FutureTech 3.0 now welcomes seven new Corporate Partners, namely Gentari Sdn Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Berhad, DRB-HICOM Berhad, Sembcorp Industries Ltd (Singapore), Hyundai Motor Company (Korea), Vitol and Khazanah Nasional Berhad.
The programme will also see strong ecosystem support coming from Cradle, Malaysia Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI), Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS), SG Innovate (Singapore), Leave a Nest Group (Japan), National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS), MyStartup, and Tata Consulting Service (TCS).
In addition to the established focus areas in Future of Industry & Works, Future of Energy & Mobility, Future of Chemicals & Materials, and Frontier Technology, FutureTech 3.0 will also see a heightened focus on sustainability-related technology-driven solutions to address the challenges posed by the energy transition.
Potential path ahead
For the participants, FutureTech was just the beginning of the journey as the experience has not only opened doors to new knowledge and skills, but also paved the way for new business growth opportunities.
“Over the first two cohorts, PETRONAS Ventures has invested in three startup companies, SOLS Energy, Braintree Technologies and Aerodyne. Apart from the investments, the programme has overseen over 100 business introductions to various business units, resulting in 20 deployment projects,” said Arni Laily Anwarrudin, Head of PETRONAS Ventures.
“In addition, 50 per cent of the startups from the second cohort raised a total of close to US$1.35 million (RM6.1 million) in funding post-programme with over 300 business connections made,” she said.
In FutureTech 3.0, 20 shortlisted startups will undergo a 12-to-16-week hybrid programme from May 2023. This will include masterclasses, workshops and coaching by corporate partners and industry mentors as well as global entrepreneurs.
The programme will culminate into a Demo Day at the end of August 2023, where the shortlisted startups will get to pitch their solutions to the C-suite of PETRONAS and its corporate partners, investors, and potential collaborators, among others.
Applications are open until 31 March 2023. Interested startups can get more details on the programme and apply via petronasft.thestartupx.com.
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