MDEC exclusive: Looking for the X factor behind Malaysia's Digital Hub strategy

Norhizam Abdul Kadir, MDEC's ecosystem Vice President, participates in a Computerworld Malaysia 'deep dive' interview.

By AvantiKumar
June 2, 2017

 [See - Malaysia's battle plan for digital disruption: part 1 of an exclusive with MDEC's Dato' Yasmin and part 2 for more of the underlying story.]

The Hub strategy's x factor may lie In its aim of aiding and riding on the waves of 'disruptive potential' in the startup arena.

Funding startups

MDEC also assists startups in Digital Hubs with funding, and corporate and market access. For instance, it is running a programme with Maybank at one of the Digital Hubs called Maybank Investment Programme.

"Maybank is releasing APIs, and providing the startups with test-bedding opportunities, coaching, mentoring, and eventually, potential acquisition or eventual deployment in Maybank of the solutions provided by the startups."

MDEC's connections with technology partners is an advantage, Norhizam believes. "The larger companies, are getting into the startup ecosystems as well, and not only in selling their cloud solutions. For example, we have multinational partners which have been doing work with SMEs and startups."

In terms of market access, MDEC has targeted Indonesia, as well as other markets around Southeast Asia.

Norhizam explained that creating a linkage that spans the entirety of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not just the role of MDEC; it's also that of other MDEC-equivalent bodies in Southeast Asia - connecting ASEAN startups in a way similar to that in the European Union. Global linkages are also in view.

"We're connecting into Silicon Valley and the UK ecosystems, we've explored the China and Japan ecosystems as well. These countries have robust ecosystems, and we're able to identify and connect to the right dots, which is very important," he said.

MDEC has introduced a programme called Frequent Flyer Geeks that opens up networks and ecosystems in a new market. "We feel that it's very important to have these startups to be connected to the ecosystem and to partners, including venture builders like Kejora Capital, one of our major partners that is also a co-working space. Venture builders help our startups to understand ecosystems and more importantly, to network with the ecosystems," Norhizam says.

'Seize the world'

Norhizam's advice to startups is to go out and 'seize the world.'  "We believe if a startup is aggressive enough, this are the type of startup that would be able to go and compete in a globalised arena. So it is really about connecting them to the ecosystems; immersing themselves into the Indonesian market, in this case."

One such start up, which just came back from the Frequent Flyer Geeks programme, has a solution that has the Quran on an app.

However, it's also connected to a form of crowdsourcing, giving opportunities to ustaz and uztazah to go and teach kids from any part of the world using mobile phones. While the startup started off in the Malaysian market, it is now trying to expand into the Indonesian market.

 "Through the Frequent Flyer Geeks in partnership with Kejora Capital, it has connected them with the ecosystems over there, and we're going to help to move their growth into high gear by connecting them," said Norhizam. "They've gotten huge traction."

While MDEC has internal KPIs to keep employees motivated, Norhizam believes that it is not all about quantity, but also about quality.

"A lot of the push from the team is looking into how we can further enrich the ecosystems," he summarised. "We want to work with many more partners; then it would give a lot more options to the startups in terms of choosing partners that are a lot more relevant to them. Tech partners, market access partners, risk capital fund partners, talent partners and the likes of that."

The latest edition of this article lives at Computerworld Malaysia.

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