cy­ber­jaya con­nects?

Re­cent devel­op­ments might be a game changer for South­east Asia’s start-up ecosys­tem.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - By Sher­mian Lim

In a 1991 work­ing pa­per en­ti­tled “the way For­ward”, Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad laid out nine chal­lenges in turn­ing Malaysia into a de­vel­oped na­tion by the year 2020. Among them was the chal­lenge of es­tab­lish­ing an in­no­va­tive and for­ward­look­ing so­ci­ety—one that would not only con­sume tech­nol­ogy but also con­trib­ute to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments in the coun­try. “En­trepreneurs must be spawned,” Tun Ma­hathir wrote. “Where nec­es­sary, tech­no­log­i­cal and train­ing help must be ex­tended; and in­fras­truc­tural sup­port must be given.”

With this in mind, the Mul­ti­me­dia Su­per Cor­ri­dor was in­au­gu­rated in 1996, five years af­ter the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter un­veiled his plans. Now known as MSC Malaysia, the orig­i­nal project cov­ered an area of 750sqkm that in­cluded the Twin Tow­ers, KL Tower, KLIA, Putrajaya and Cy­ber­jaya—a 50km long “cor­ri­dor” that aimed to be the hub of in­no­va­tion in tech­nol­ogy.

Two decades on, the MSC seems to have fiz­zled out, but new devel­op­ments could bring much needed re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion to the project. Es­quire ex­plores a small pocket in the world of start-ups to find out what could po­ten­tially turn Malaysia into the re­gion’s next tech hub.

a 2011 study Con­ducted by Rit­sumeikan Asia Pa­cific Uni­ver­sity in Ja­pan on the im­pact of the MSC in­di­cates that the project has done rea­son­ably well in im­pact­ing Malaysia’s ICT in­dus­try. Be­tween 2004 to 2010, a to­tal of 2,520 Ms­caf­fil­i­ated en­ti­ties pro­duced a com­bined rev­enue of RM 92.8 bil­lion, cre­ated 99,590 knowl­edge-based jobs, and gar­nered RM1,512 mil­lion in in­vest­ment for re­search and de­vel­op­ment. The project has hit some of its tar­gets, the re­port states, but with “ad­di­tional room for im­prove­ment”. The orig­i­nal MSC cor­ri­dor has grown to in­clude “cy­ber-cities” and “cy­ber-cen­tres” in states such as Pe­nang, Kedah, Jo­hor and Melaka. Within the Klang Val­ley are 20 cy­ber-cen­tres—some are well-known prop­er­ties such as Mid Val­ley City, the In­ter­mark Quill 9 and Jaya 33—while another seven devel­op­ments stamped as Msc-ap­proved are in the works.

But the MSC, ac­cord­ing to Khailee Ng, se­rial en­tre­pre­neur-turned-ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and start-up men­tor, is just in­fras­truc­ture. “It’s the hard­ware, and it works fine.” As a long-time en- trepreneur, Ng be­lieves the gov­ern­ment, through dif­fer­ent ven­ture cap­i­tal agen­cies and ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­grams, has pro­vided enough fund­ing and in­cen­tives to kick-start a healthy ecosys­tem. Ng should know per­son­ally: he was one of the early en­trepreneurs who went through the grind, re­ceiv­ing a RM150,000 grant from the Mul­ti­me­dia De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (the agency tasked with over­see­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the MSC and is known as Mdec) to build Groupsmore, the first start-up he founded with part­ner Joel Neoh, which was later ac­quired by Groupon.

“Huge com­pa­nies are made not be­cause the gov­ern­ment is do­ing things right,” Ng says, “they’re made in spite of the gov­ern­ment do­ing things wrong.” More im­por­tantly to Ng is what he calls “soft­ware and net­works” that need catch­ing up. “The ur­ban rakyat has a de­fault bias of hat­ing on the gov­ern­ment,” he says. “And that’s what the rakyat has to re­alise: at the end of the day, it’s about Malaysians them­selves get­ting off their ass and get­ting s**t done.”

Chang­ing a mind­set is never easy, but things seem less far-fetched when one can build on a con­crete ex­am­ple of how other suc­cess­ful startup ecosys­tems be­came re­al­ity. Cheryl Yeoh, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the year-old Malaysian Global In­no­va­tion and Cre­ativ­ity Cen­tre (MAGIC) in­tends to draw on Chile’s start-up ecosys­tem that be­gan barely four years ago, but has pro­pelled it­self into the 20th-best ecosys­tem in the start-up world. The take­away that Yeoh gets from the Start-up Chile pro­gram in San­ti­ago is that if the pro­gram were mod­eled to be more in­su­lar and more fo­cused on

Cheryl Yeoh CEO of MAGIC.

Khailee Ng Man­ag­ing Part­ner, 500 Star­tups.

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