5 mins read

Wanted: Innovation Connectors for Malaysia

March 22, 2022
Dzuleira Abu Bakar
5 mins read
  • MRANTI     as connector between stakeholders, functioning as a single platform
  • Drive     continuous innovation, be one-stop research commercialisation agency

Dzulera Abu Bakar, MRANTI CEO says:"we know the ingredient for success is consistent, persistent andstructured engagement among all stakeholders, so that everyone is united inthis journey towards commercialisation."

Copyright: sifotographyThe hard truth

If at this stage, you are bristling at how these examples of greatinventors seem to be ‘foreign’ and not local Malaysians, I’d like to invite youto have the courage to ask: Why are there so few Malaysians who can rank amongthe great innovators of our time, among those whose names are instantlyrecognised all over the world?

I challenge us to ask ourselves: What would we achieve as a nation if wedid not let our ego and our pride stand in the way of recognising ourshortcomings?

The hard truth is: We have a long way to go to be among the mostinnovative nations in the world, and we have to do something about it.

In Malaysia, innovation is often hampered by a number of things -- lackof funding access, a fragmented ecosystem, limited resources including skilledtalent, policies that have yet to catch up to potential, and tediousbureaucracy.

Malaysia has journeyed from being a commodities-based economy anddiversifying into high-end manufacturing and services that saw us thrivethrough the 70’s and 80’s. Since then, however, we have yet to ride theinnovation-driven growth wave to transition to a high-income economy.

For example, our research institutes and higher education institutesproduce amazing discoveries every year, churning out research papers and inventionsin their laboratories and R&D facilities, where they stay stuck, possiblyfor years, even decades.

Fledgling startups, inventors and scientists enthused with new ideas,struggle to make sense of the various funding and support mechanisms availableto them in fragmented chunks. They want to showcase how their proprietaryinventions can change our lives, but they have limited knowledge on how to getfrom the whiteboard to the boardroom.

We have dropped in our rankings on the Global Innovation Index, eventhough we realise that innovation capacity and skills need to be strengthenedin order for us to progress. After all, according to the Malaysia KnowledgeEconomy Study, every 1 per cent increase in innovation capacity increases acountry’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita by 0.36 per cent. (tablebelow)

For Malaysia, an increase in innovation production could translate toUS$1.21 billion (RM5.06 billion) additional to our GDP of US$336 billion, andthe 12th Malaysia Plan has outlined  innovation as a key enabler in economicgrowth. The impetus to cultivate innovation is compelling: The world'swealthiest countries based on GDP per capita are also chart toppers on the OECDBetter LIfe Index and the Global Innovation Index.

So what’s stopping us?


MRANTI BRANCH gets to the heart of the problem

In the first of industry discussion, BRANCH, initiated by the newlymerged entity, Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation(MRANTI), I spoke with experts who say that Malaysia has incredible potential,but we need tighter collaboration within the innovation ecosystem to supportour success.

I heard from Prof Dr Teo Soo-Hwang, Chief Scientist Officer, CancerResearch Malaysia, who expressed that the critical infrastructure to enablesuccess in commercialisation is just not available yet in Malaysia.

She added that many of the world’s most esteemed education institutionsnot only have great academic units, but also commercialisation units, expertiseand funding that enable them to commercialise their research-- something wedon’t have.

She pointed out that Cancer Research Malaysia and so many of ourresearch institutes have proven that we can produce cutting-edge research, someof which are ready for commercialisation, but much more support is needed interms of funding, access, and business expertise.

Another panelist, Prof Ir. Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, Vice Chancellor,Universiti Malaya, concurred, adding that so many researchers are burdened bythe need to wear numerous different ‘hats’--  the professor cannot be theresearcher, entrepreneur and venture capitalist at the same time.

More often than not, he said, we are asking professors to be both theresearcher and businessman. He highlighted that this often leads to failure--the commercialisation should be supported by experts in the field, so that theprofessor can focus on research.

The session, which was held in February, was incrediblythought-provoking, and has raised no doubt in my mind that an agency likeMRANTI is much needed in order to address their concerns-- something Thomas GTsao, founding partner of venture capital firm Gobi Partners agrees with. As aventure capital firm, a country having firm and clear policies towardscollaboration, communication and commercialisation is invaluable in convincingthem to make investments into its ecosystem.


Catalyst, collaborator, connector

In this respect, I cannot stress enough that MRANTI is working to bethat connector between the various stakeholders in the ecosystem, functioningas a single platform, or ‘glue’ between the key players.

We will drive continuous innovation, and be the one-stop researchcommercialisation agency with the resources to accelerate the commercialisationof innovative ideas and concepts to impact. We connect problem statements withsolutions, bridging collaboration between public and private sectors to increase private sector participation, either through market access,investment, advisory or consultation and facilities for testing andprototyping.

MRANTI will also connect researchers to the industry, and in doing so,ramp up the number of research or innovations that can be commercialised.MRANTI will also be working closely with the Ministry of Science, Technologyand Information (MOSTI) and the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) with the vision toplay a critical role in bringing together the private and public sectors.

I envision MRANTI to be the catalyst, connector and collaborator thatwill bring Malaysia into the future of technological innovation and success Iknow we can be.

Truthfully, MRANTI’s mandate is not a silver bullet; there will be nomagic trick involved and there will be a long journey ahead. However, we knowthe ingredient for success is consistent, persistent and structured engagementamong all stakeholders, so that everyone is united in this journey towardscommercialisation -- and we will strive to get there, together.


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