5 mins read

Breakthrough innovation: Q&A with Dzuleira Abu Bakar, CEO of MRANTI

November 9, 2022
5 mins read

Malaysian accelerator MRANTI provides support for startups from ideation to commercialization.

The Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI) supports local startups on their innovation journey and helps them bring their technology solutions to market.

KrASIA spoke with Dzuleira Abu Bakar, CEO of MRANTI, to understand why Malaysia needs to speed up technological innovation to drive future economic growth.

This interview has been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): How does MRANTI support the startup ecosystem in Malaysia?

Dzuleira Abu Bakar (DB): MRANTI is a merger between Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

One major way that MRANTI supports startups is through MRANTI Park. Twelve companies have signed on as tenants at MRANTI Park since January 2022. This brings the total number of tenants to 157 companies, which include firms in ICT, biotechnology, engineering, green technology, consulting, and more.

We are expecting more local companies and multinationals to take up tenancy there by the end of the year, which will bring the total occupancy rate at MRANTI Park to 75%.

MRANTI also supports startups through its programs. In 2021 alone, in spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic, MRANTI conducted more than 100 programs that impacted around 11,200 entrepreneurs from more than 700 start-ups and social enterprises. A total of MYR 150 million in investment was made, generating more than MYR 400 million in revenue.

Five new sandboxes were launched through the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) in 2021, with more underway to boost innovation in Malaysia. Since its inception, the NTIS has received more than 500 complete applications. Around 150 have received funding, regulatory, commercial, and technical support, with MYR 53 million (USD 11.1 million) in funding approved for these projects.

In addition to NTIS, MRANTI has lined up 26 key programs in 2022 to seed and scale impact-driven innovations in a systematic manner that connects entrepreneurs, startups, and the innovation ecosystem to domestic and international markets.

MRANTI also provides support to startups through partnerships. Over the past 12 months, we have also inked partnerships with a myriad of companies, including Huawei, Ericsson, Digital Nasional Bhd, SUKE TV, and Telekom Malaysia.

Kr: Tell us more about the idea behind MRANTI Park and the role it can play in driving Malaysia’s economic growth.

DB: What my team and I are focusing on is improving the infrastructure of the 686-acre MRANTI Park, which is ten times larger than KL Sentral, to attract global players. The park is now the only fully 5G-enabled innovation park in Malaysia.

At MRANTI Park, researchers, creators, and innovators are brought together to nurture ideas into industry-changing products and services. The park will be the center of activity for collaboration, serving as a springboard for new ideas and creative solutions that can be accelerated for commercialization.

Speed is the name of the game, and MRANTI will ‘fast-track’ innovators. We launched the MRANTI Park Master Plan to facilitate this process and create a successful model for domestic and foreign collaboration. Under this master plan, MRANTI is targeting a gross development value (GDV) of MYR 20 billion, with returns from land leases valued at MYR 2.8 billion.

We believe this plan will boost the influx of domestic and foreign investors, talent, and technology development, as well as research and commercialization activities from the public and corporate sectors to be more centralized and focused.

Kr: Malaysia placed 36th on the Global Innovation Index in 2021. What are your thoughts on the country’s global ranking?

DB: Ultimately, we want to optimize Malaysia’s return on ideas. This means we need to accelerate the creation, development, and commercialization of technology and innovation to ramp up our innovation output.

My goal is to put Malaysia on the top 20 list of the most innovative countries in the world by 2030. This will create more jobs for Malaysians and bring about higher incomes and better livelihoods for them.

By building a pipeline encompassing the entire value chain, from start-ups in incubation to high-growth technology companies, Malaysia can strengthen and unlock greater value in its technology and innovation ecosystem, and increase income generation, job creation, and export earnings while putting our economy on the path of recovery.

Kr: Why has Malaysia been relatively slow in promoting R&D and the commercialization of technology?

DB: Today, many startups still do not know which government agencies to approach, as some have overlapping functions. This can impede Malaysia’s development as a preferred destination for startups.

Hence, speed is absolutely essential to tackle this issue. To realize this efficiency, we need to streamline our processes, get rid of ‘legacy’ inefficiencies, and utilize technology to digitalize or automate for efficiency.

Kr: Another significant challenge in Malaysia is the issue of brain drain. It is estimated that there are 500,000 highly skilled Malaysians who are working abroad. How can MRANTI tackle this issue as well as attract more top global talent to Malaysia?

DB: To tackle this, the Malaysian government has announced several initiatives to attract and retain talent. They include the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDIGITAL) as well as the National Robotics Roadmap (NRR) to step up productivity, reduce the country’s reliance on foreign labor, and minimize currency outflow.

We also want to demonstrate that there is actually a good work-life balance in Malaysia, and that this is a rewarding place to be in.

Kr: What are your thoughts on the recent Budget 2023 and the role that MRANTI can play moving forward?

DB: I welcome the ‘3R’ agendas of our national Budget 2023—namely, being Responsive, Responsible, Reformist.

MRANTI’s role as a technology commercialization accelerator falls within the final R, in which we are tasked to reinvigorate the technology ecosystem to drive the country’s transformation into a high-tech nation and an innovation-driven economy.

There is a critical need to transform the national development landscape to ensure that it is more inclusive in order to attract domestic and foreign investment.

Core technology can be a disruptive medium for encouraging innovation in new fields. This in turn can be an enabler of economic growth to facilitate and support government planning and policy in facing the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

Kr: What are some upcoming projects that you have planned?

DB: One is MRANTI Park’s phases two and three. This is a master plan for land leasing and property development that will cultivate Malaysia’s capabilities in 4IR, ranging from Internet of Things systems, end-to-end IP services, and laboratories to contract manufacturing facilities with advanced technologies. MRANTI Park will also feature a sustainable food and agritech cluster.

MRANTI will also prioritize the development of 4IR technologies involving blockchain, robotics, sensor tech, advanced materials, and drones, among others.

There is also a new lineup of programs, such as SUPERCHARGER to seed and scale impact-driven innovations in a systematic manner linking domestic and international markets for entrepreneurs, startups, and the innovation ecosystem. These will be rolled out in regional centers nationwide.

Another new development is MRANTI’s recent appointment as the coordinating agency and secretariat of the Malaysia Drone Tech Action Plan 2022-2030 (MDTAP30). It is developed as a national agenda to support the drone ecosystem by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI).

I believe these schemes will help put Malaysia on the right path to becoming a high-tech-producing nation.

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