In a bid to encourage Malaysian startups to become more ambitious and compete on a global level, key players in Malaysia's startup ecosystem who convened on Oct 17 at the Entrepreneurs Summit IV in Kuala Lumpur encouraged entrepreneurs to be ambitious beyond their borders, while expressing clear optimism over the potential of the country's emerging businesses.
At a panel discussion titled "Future of Malaysian Startup Ecosystem", Ash Alwi, Senior Vice President Ecosystem Development at Cradle, expressed the belief that with the right mindset, strategy, and support infrastructure, "our founders stand a fighting chance essentially to become regional — if not global — businesses."
While challenges persist, the overriding sentiment among the panel was upbeat. Asserting that technological businesses should be borderless, Ash emphasised the need for startups to widen their horizons and aim to become a regional player from the outset beyond the comfort of the Klang Valley. "What about other markets or other frontier markets such as Penang, JB, Sabah and Sarawak? So let's just not talk about Singapore or Indonesia or Thailand yet, right?"
Discussing market access, KH Ang, Head of Innovation and Industry Development at Cyberview, affirmed, "I think we don't believe anymore that a company who is just starting, says Malaysia is my only market," while Safuan Zairi, Chief Ecosystem Development Officer for MRANTI, mirrored this sentiment, highlighting the immense potential for Malaysian startups by saying, "Every digital business is actually ready to go global."
Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur as a regional startup hub
Indeed, the sense of optimism and desire for ambition was echoed by Hanifah Hajar Taib, Deputy Minister of Economy, Malaysia. Standing in for Minister of Economy Rafizi Ramli who was originally due to present the keynote, she emphasised that Malaysia, and in particular Kuala Lumpur, hold the potential to become a regional startup hub. "Situated at the nexus of three major economic blocs: China, India, and ASEAN, Kuala Lumpur boasts a vibrant youth population and unparalleled digital connectivity."
According to Hanifah, this potent combination sets the city up as an ideal testing ground for products, while offering an entry point into larger markets.
She also observed that "Malaysian startups have shown the highest investment-to-return ratio in the region, surpassing Singapore and Indonesia by a wide margin."
This augurs well for up and coming trends in technology, of which the panel members identified two in the form of automation and sustainability. Ang in particular highlighted the importance of ESG for companies, saying "We always talked about impact for social enterprises, and we talked about profit for general startups; Now you notice that the gap in these two areas is getting smaller."
Single window portal access to all grants
One attempt to streamline support for startups is the introduction of a "single window" offering all services placed under the MYStartup platform, as announced at the recent Budget speech. The National Digital Economy and Industrial Revolution Council has allocated US$5.88 million (RM28 million) to develop the MYStartup platform as a single window that brings together startups while simplifying business activities throughout their lifecycle. This initiative will optimise US$41.95 (RM200 million) of existing funds under various funding agencies and venture capital under a single platform.
Ash expressed the hope that the single window portal is an indication of better things to come, with the aspiration moving forward for it to be the main hub for startups to apply for grants from early all the way up to late stage funding.
"The single window will increase the ease of doing business and ensure that bureaucratic hurdles are minimised," said Hanifah while adding that it will attract international venture capitalists to Malaysia, which will further incentivise even more stakeholders to operate in the country's ecosystem.
To this end, there are also plans to expand the MyStartup platform beyond Malaysia and replicate its successful elements with stakeholders in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei. "In June, we had a conversation with the ASEAN Secretariat, on how do we replicate some of our programs at a regional level," she shared.
Hanifah concluded with a resounding call for ambition: "With concerted efforts and courage, we can create a regionally acclaimed startup hub that is both inspiring and inclusive. There is a place for every dreamer and every misfit in an environment without boundaries and without limitations."