Malaysia’s startup ecosystem: It’s not always about KL
By Lum Ka Kay October 6, 2015
- Too much ‘noise’ in the capital, Penang has tech heritage
- His coding academy to address shortage of programmers in Malaysia
THE startup scene in the northern Malaysian state of Penang has certainly been picking up, helped in no small part by the efforts of Piktochart and Tech Event 4 Penang (TE4P) in stirring the pot.
And now, serial entrepreneur and angel investor Douglas Khoo aims to grow Penang’s tech ecosystem further, not only by investing, but through education.
He told the Echelon Malaysia 2015 conference in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 1 that Kuala Lumpur (KL) is “too noisy” for him.
This is why he chose Penang to build his latest project, a coding academy called The Coding Shophouse, to grow the number of local programmers.
“There are too many activities happening (in KL). We have many accelerators. I feel we should take [accelerators] to other places as well,” said Khoo, also the cofounder of Chinese-language online travel site Qunar.com.
“Penang is kind of a nice place, it is a close community, full of technology heritage … as many silicon chip manufacturers are based here,” he said at the startup and investor conference organised by Singapore-headquartered regional startup blog e27.
Tech talent scarcity in Malaysia
But there is a shortage of tech talent in Malaysia, according to Khoo, which explains why he set up The Coding Shophouse, which teaches young adults to code.
“Actually, the primary premise of the academy is ‘giving back to the community’ by offering people affordable courses on coding,” he said.
But as an angel investor who has gone around Malaysia and Singapore speaking to startups, the most common refrain he hears is that there is not enough programmers in Malaysia – “let alone good ones,” he said.
Many startups that he has spoken too usually outsource coders from neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia.
“Why can’t Malaysia be the one outsourcing to these countries instead?
“So it’s not only to build up the ecosystem but also to solve the shortage of local programmers,” he said.
The Coding Shophouse’s first batch of graduates, 15 of them, has made it through the three-month course, according to Khoo. They have been trained on back-end programming languages like Ruby on Rails.
The next graduation is scheduled for Nov 1, and the next course the academy is offering will be on front-end programming languages.
Connecting the dots
Being a serial entrepreneur has benefitted his new venture too, said Khoo.
“I have gotten to know many tech entrepreneurs in Penang, and I have spoken to them about taking on my graduates as interns or employees.
“So far, two have been accepted by one company, while the others told me that their purpose for taking up the coding course was to come up with their own business,” he said.
Khoo said he was very happy to hear this, and would definitely make time to be a mentor to them.
“If their businesses have credentials … I might even invest in them,” he added.
If The Coding Shophouse manages to flourish in Penang, Khoo will consider expanding it to other cities like Ipoh, Kuantan and Johor Baru.
But it’s obvious that his first love is Penang.
“In the long run, with the help of The Coding Shophouse, the programmers we are producing are going to attract more accelerators to come to Penang,” he said enthusiastically.
“Hopefully by then we will see a steady stream of entrepreneurs coming here [to Penang]. Essentially, we hope to build a conducive environment for people to become entrepreneurs,” he added.
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