By Avanti Kumar
Forward-thinking business leaders and entrepreneurs start from the premise that there never will be an ideal moment to launch a new business idea. Indeed, commenters frequently note that many of the world's greatest achievements were born through unlocking opportunities during challenging times.
Writing in Forbes, angel investor Matt Paulsen's review of building startup ecosystems highlighted the main difficulties facing entrepreneurs globally. These hinge on the difficulty of identifying and connecting the information and resource dots for businesses.
The 2020 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) from Startup Genome and Global Entrepreneurship Network ranks the top 140 startup ecosystems from an assessment of several hundred across 38 countries. This report positioned Malaysia as the 11th emerging startup ecosystem globally.
“What we've seen in the last five years is a really rapid growth of the startup ecosystem in the country,” commented Startup Genome founder and CEO Jean-Francois Gauthier. “It's starting to become even bigger than some of the top 30 startup ecosystems."
Several rapid growth companies were born in Malaysia, such as Carsome (a used-car marketplace), Iflix (a video-streaming service), and Grab (a ride-sharing giant that started as MyTeksi in 2012 before moving to neighbouring Singapore in 2014).
The country's government has set up agencies, such as the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), which together with Technology Malaysia Park, has morphed into the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation MRANTI, with the aim of building an ecology to nurture and fast track the commercialisation of technologies and startups.
Developing the ideal startup ecosystem has steadily morphed into something of a science, according to Startup Genome.
Writing in Forbes, growth strategy commenter George Deeb summarised some of the components needed on the journey to a startup ecosystem:
Alibaba Cloud in Malaysia is providing industry leadership, leveraging local creative strengths, and widening the doors to greater collaborative opportunities.
Back in 2017, Alibaba Cloud opened up operations of its first global public cloud platform with the aim of becoming the premier provider of cloud-powered services, especially focused on helping Malaysia's SMEs and entrepreneurs ramp up and sustain growth in an increasingly digitalised global economy.
At the time, Alibaba Cloud President Simon Hu told the media, “The Malaysia data centre will give us a leading edge to support the growth of SMEs and other businesses in the region. In the near future, cloud computing, data technology, and AI will become fundamental tools for all companies and organisations to operate effectively. The newly opened data centre will boost Malaysia's cloud infrastructure.”
This is especially significant, as noted in the previous article entitled Top Cloud Technologies to Look for in Malaysia. The state-of-the-art capabilities and capacities enjoyed by larger companies have become available to small companies with startup resources and budgets.
On a national level, the previous article entitled The Benefits of Using the Cloud over On-Premises in Malaysia affirmed the ways in which the Malaysian government is actively promoting the use by businesses of digital tools and services – whether on-premise or offsite through various cloud models and collaboration with service partners.
Industry players have a key part in this scenario with strategic programmes. In June 2021, Alibaba Cloud unveiled its KL Alibaba Cloud Innovation Centre, primarily aiming to help startups grow in Malaysia with initial objectives, including the training of 30,000 local professionals, strengthened by working with a Malaysian partner Handsprofit, to bring engaging expertise.
As the first centre located outside China, this move is part of Alibaba Cloud's Project AsiaForward initiative announced during the recent Alibaba Cloud Summit 2021. Alibaba Cloud will invest US$1 billion in funding and resources over the next three years through Project AsiaForward, with an overall ambition of nurturing one million digital talents, 100,000 developers, and ramping up the growth of 100,000 tech startups across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.
During the launch, Selina Yuan, General Manager of International Business Unit, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, affirmed, “Alibaba Cloud is committed to investing into Malaysia's digital future, and opening our first ever international innovation centre in Malaysia is a testament to our longstanding commitment to the country.”
Regarding today's challenging times, she added, “With the innovation centre, we hope to help businesses in Malaysia to not only survive and thrive during the pandemic but also provide a conducive environment to nurture local talents, preparing them to embrace the digital future.”
In June 2021, during the announcement of the Project AsiaForward initiative, Alibaba also launched the Alibaba Cloud Global Startup Accelerator. This included a series of Demo Days, offering startups the chance to be selected for the Global Startup Accelerator and become part of Alibaba Cloud's global ecosystem.
Some of the highlights saw the winner of the pitch battle walk away with US$60,000 of Alibaba Cloud credits, receiving one-to-one technical support and securing opportunities to connect with top venture capitalists. Some of the startups that have already benefitted from Alibaba Cloud include NexMind AI, Eco Community, Singular, and ClicknCare, among many others.
Startups across the FinTech, banking, Internet, retail, and IT service sectors will find additional support from the innovation centre.
Incidentally, other must-haves for startups are detailed in this page, which includes Alibaba Cloud's FinTech Incentive Plan. We should not forget to read about the importance of providing high availability, security, and adaptability, which Alibaba Cloud delivers by utilising cutting-edge technologies, as featured in this deep-dive article entitled 5 Cloud Technologies Your Start-Up Needs to Succeed. These have helped nurture many local success stories such as:
Consumer electronics retailer Senheng's digitalisation programme involved upgrading its retail outfits. Established in 1989, the company's digital drive has helped achieve operating revenue of RM1.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to list on the Main Board of Bursa Securities in early 2022. One of the first to implement the Terminus B2B2C Solution provided by Alibaba Cloud, the company used this to help ramp up business for local SMEs by allowing them to tap into Senheng's three million-strong PlusOne member database with the B2B2C S-Rewards Centre.
This year, Alibaba Cloud is continuing to consolidate and implement a range of initiatives under its Project AsiaForward (PAF) programme to advance learning and widening business opportunities for startups, developers, and talent growth.
Collaboration is the driver behind Alibaba Cloud's moves to work with regional accelerators, including Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) in Singapore, Handsprofit (Malaysia), and Sunwah Innovation Centre (Vietnam), to provide mentorship, capital, and connections for startups with investors and business partners.
Building robust ecosystems requires a confluence of components, not the least of which is time. Silicon Valley, for example, has been building its startup ecosystem since the 1970s and has learned and adapted over half a century to become something of a global benchmark.
Alibaba Cloud's Project AsiaForward (PAF) campaign is moving forward with community partners across the region. In Malaysia, these include Draper Startup House, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), RISE, and ScaleUp Malaysia, among others mentioned earlier.
Interestingly, in his LinkedIn post, e-commerce enabler Andreas Thamrin shared his experiences of Alibaba's netpreneur training and pointed to the emphasis on company values and culture – putting the customer first, atop a foundation made of elements, including teamwork, embracing change, integrity, passion, and commitment. He said, “Your company culture, with all other things being equal, will ensure whether your team can weather the storm.”
Local startups and entrepreneurs also benefitted from Alibaba Cloud's AsiaForward Startup Day initiative held at the Innovation Centre this year. In addition to a programme of learning about cloud solutions and essential insights, there is access to a growing line-up of venture capitalists and startups, including Fidelity Funding, Sunway Labs, iBilik, eCommunity, NextMind AI, and other key collaborations.
To end on a slightly more individual note: take the time to do a first complete audit of where you are now with your systems, processes, and talents and where you want to be in one year. Once you connect your internal vision with the external ecosystems, you will accelerate your progress. Factor in a regular review – to assess new dots and close the gap to existing dots, such as your cloud enabler.
We live in a dynamically changing global environment. We may need to continually adapt our inner vision and reconnect the ecosystem dots to maintain forward momentum on what is a marathon to active growth.
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