Turning Malaysia into the ‘go to’ entrepreneur hub

  • Plethora of government initiatives in support of entrepreneurship
  • Cultural similarities allow for targeting of markets like India, China, Indonesia

[Beginning April, in a commercial arrangement, DNA will start running every entrepreneurial story featured in the book Startups to Scaleups that was published in October 2015 by Cradle Fund and Proficeo Consultants, the programme manager for Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme. We however first begin with the foreword by Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Secretary General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance Malaysia]
Turning Malaysia into the ‘go to’ entrepreneur hubTHERE is no doubt that the Malaysian entrepreneurial ecosystem has entered a new and exciting era.
Just 10 years ago, it was considered an impressive feat if a Malaysian technology company managed to raise US$370,000 (RM1.5 million). Today, it is not uncommon to hear of companies raising US$1.5 million (RM6.1 million), and the fact that such valuations can be achieved proves that there are quality tech entrepreneurs within our borders.
These benchmarks could not even have been imagined before, but with agencies like Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd (Cradle), the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC), Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM) and numerous others, the pieces of the puzzle are falling together nicely and forming a complete picture.
All these agencies, together with private sector partners, are creating end-to-end value for entrepreneurs, and this in turn has resulted in our entrepreneurs getting noticed on the global stage.
This is something that is close to my heart because my personal vision is for Malaysian tech companies to be recognised and respected the world over.
It is something that they deserve because our Malaysian technology entrepreneurs are nothing if not driven and passionate, with high quality, cutting-edge products and services to offer the world.
I believe Malaysian entrepreneurs must be bold enough to start thinking about conquering Asean (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) from Day 1. We have here in Malaysia, enough similarities in culture, history and background to conquer the three largest markets in Asia: China, India and Indonesia.
If you take a moment to think about it, Malaysia is the perfect hub for entrepreneurs wanting to launch into Asean, because we have skilled and affordable talent, good infrastructure, and a test market that speaks the language of business.
In other words, regional dominance is by no means impossible to achieve.
Some of the most valuable tech companies in Asean today are Malaysian companies. There are many startups born in Malaysia that are now conquering not just Asean but the whole of Asia too.
Having said that, it is important to keep in mind that an ecosystem is only great if all its parts are working together in harmony, because the sum of these parts make the whole all the more dynamic.
There are accelerators, bootcamps, incubators and competitions to target youth and evangelise entrepreneurship. These include the 1Malaysia Entrepreneur (1MET) programme that is conducted throughout Malaysia, including in rural communities.
We also have industry-specific agencies like the aforementioned MDeC, as well as Biotech Corp and Greentech Corp. We have SME Corp that oversees the nurturing of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in both tech and traditional categories.
In MaGIC, we have the Asean Accelerator and the Social Enterprise Accelerator, and via AIM we are accelerating the commercialisation of innovations from universities.
Under the Cradle umbrella, we have early stage grants, co-investment programmes with venture capitalists (VCs), the Angel Tax Incentive Office, Cradle Seed Ventures, and of course, the Coach and Grow Programme (CGP).
The CGP was initiated in 2010 when there was no long-term coaching offered to entrepreneurs. At that time, we already had a critical mass of entrepreneurs and tech companies that had been seeded by government grants, but were not making huge leaps forward.
In fact, most were stagnating and without know-how, would have remained mediocre.
As we now know, the answer lay in coaching and mentoring. The CGP has shown that via structured coaching, growth stage companies and even mature companies can increase revenue and profitability, and achieve scalability and regionalisation within 12 short months.
The CGP graduates are now scaling faster into Asean, and are benchmarking against competitors in the region, and this is purely because they are better prepared.
Another Asean-centric programme that we have is the MaGIC Accelerator Programme (MAP), where we gather startups from all across Asean, in Malaysia.
This helps to provide Malaysian entrepreneurs with a better understanding of the Asean market as they mix and mingle with their counterparts from other Asean nations. This exposure is key, as it will help our entrepreneurs gain insights into trends and market knowledge to grow and expand quickly.
After all, diversity is key. We need to have diversity in order to have quality.

Turning Malaysia into the ‘go to’ entrepreneur hub

We will move beyond Asean in 2016, to the global stage with the launching of the ‘Global Entrepreneurship Movement’ initiative. Malaysia will expand its network to China, India and other major economies of the world.
We will make Malaysia the platform for young entrepreneurs around the globe to interact and flourish.
I don’t want to romanticise the notion of entrepreneurship. It is a tough journey and what holds most entrepreneurs back is the lack of awareness, support and networks.
In Malaysia, we have provided all the pillars of a strong entrepreneurial infrastructure via government support, agencies and funds, and with programmes like the CGP, Malaysian companies and entrepreneurs should have very few reasons to fail.
And that’s why I think the Startups to Scaleups book and the success stories depicted within it, is timely.
If when reading the book, or the stories that will appear on DNA from April, entrepreneurs in Malaysia are inspired to embark on entrepreneurship to solve the world’s problems, then Startups to Scaleups would have achieved its objective.
And if all these companies and entrepreneurs globalise, regionalise and become more successful, then the nation and its citizens will be the winners as the companies will contribute to employment, the economy, and the enrichment of our society.
With exposure, diversity and visibility, Malaysia will soon become known as the ‘go to’ entrepreneur hub, and we will then achieve our goal of being a Tier 1 ecosystem.
That is my true goal.
Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah is the Secretary General of Treasury, Ministry of Finance Malaysia.
Related Stories:
Asean’s largest accelerator off to a great start
Forget Silicon Valley, Asean needs its own ecosystem
Week in Review: Malaysia a second-tier hub, Singapore first?
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