How components of a support system nurture nascent companies – part 5
Geared up: A participants in the 1337 Accelerator programme demonstrating a gaming app, Agent RX — a single player top down stealth game. The app can be used on a desktop and be enhanced with the Oculus. Difference between Accelerator and Incubators: Infographic: https://infogr.am/infographic-79580 via @infogram
Over the course of grooming startups, the industry has perhaps grown familiar with the terms “incubator” and more recently, “accelerator”.
These organisations, part of the modern support system for new entrepreneurs, have helped startups take shape in their early stages.
In almost all cases, participation in an incubator or accelerator programme has enabled entrepreneurs gain access to resources beyond their own to scale their business. Services such as regulatory and strategic expertise that otherwise may not be available to independent startups become more readily available.
And because of their seemingly similar functions and involvement with early-stage startups, incubators and accelerators are often mistaken to mean the same thing. But they are not.
An incubator is essentially a physical work space that hosts a new business with many other startup companies. Startups are usually allowed to stay in the space as long as they need to and mentorship is typically provided by the incubator or through peers at the facility.
An accelerator programme, on the other hand, is limited to a three- to four-month period intended to accelerate a startups’ business and the kick them out of the nest. Accelerators often make investments in the companies they support and provide a strong network of mentorship. These programmes typically culminate in a “pitch day” for startups to raise more funds from venture capitals.
In Malaysia, both private and government funded incubators have been set up in the Klang Valley over the past few years as the government pushes for the growth of more local entrepreneurs and startups.
But it may come as a surprise to some that there is only one proper accelerator model in Malaysia, known as 1337 Accelerator.
1337, pronounced “leet”, started in March last year with an initial government funding of RM5mil to invest in startups. The programme has two intakes a year where budding tech-entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to join the programme to develop their ideas and take them to market.
“We invest in the best minds in the country. The teams here have to earn their way into the programme. They have to go through a stringent panel to see if they have an investor-worthy idea and can contribute back to the ecosystem,” said Bikesh Lakhmichand, chief executive officer of 1337 Ventures Sdn Bhd.
He explained that accelerators are more mentor-driven and are directly involved with the development of the startup.
According to Bikesh, accelerators are the way of the future for startups, noting that the trend is growing globally to create a more vibrant startup community.
However, incubators, too, have their appeal.
As incubators do not invest in startups, entrepreneurs are able to maintain full ownership and control of their companies while tapping onto facilities provided by the incubators.
Among incubators in Malaysia, many would probably be familiar with Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and MAD Incubator.
TPM spans some 650 acres of land in Bukit Jalil with total lettable business and incubation space of 725,000sq ft.
Its president and chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Azman Shahidin said the number of companies at TPM has grown to more than 200.
Companies that have been selected for TPM’s incubation programme will be guided through a hand-holding and business coaching programme over a duration of six to 18 months. Here, they will be equipped with knowledge on product development, marketing techniques, R&D and networking.
“Our main role is to accelerate the growth of small businesses. We are here to grow and be the catalyst for these companies. And we have seen some companies here that have grown to become listed companies,” Azman said.
MAD Incubator has also seen good traction with its facilities and had launched its third incubator in Malaysia in the middle of the year.
While different in nature, both incubators and accelerators play an important role in boosting early-stage venture. One model may not necessarily be better than the other. But interested startups should be clear on what they want out of these supporters to get the best out of these facilities
Govt incentives for startups – part 6
Silicon Valley has long been known as a hub for high-tech innovation. The southern part of the Bay Area is home to many of the world’s largest companies and thousands of startups including Facebook, Google and eBay.
But Silicon Valley was not an overnight success story. It took decades of government funding and support to make it the vibrant tech cluster it is today.
Policymakers play an important role in supporting the growth of a startup ecosystem. Be it in funding research and technologies or in building infrastructure, government help create ideal conditions for innovation and commercialisation.
In Malaysia, the government has announced various initiatives, including financial allocations, over the years to groom entrepreneurship and support the startup ecosystem.
In the Budget 2015 speech, the Prime Minister noted the government’s aspiration to position Malaysia as a choice location for startups in the region.
And among its efforts to achieve this target is the establishment of Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) to create a more conducive ecosystem for startups.
One of the most crucial ingredients for the development of startups is funding and several government agencies have been established to dispense pre-seed and seed funding to enable startups to transform ideas into commercially viable products and ventures.
These agencies include not-for-profit organisation Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and venture capital company Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP), both under the purview of the Finance Ministry.
As a VC, Mavcap makes direct investments with fund size ranging from RM1mil to RM20mil and participates actively in the management and operations of these companies.
Mavcap also invests through its Outsource Partners Programmes, whereby it allocates capital to other VC fund management companies to invest in high-growth businesses.
Cradle offers a maximum seed funding of up to RM500,000 to help technology companies attain commercialisation.
The government has also introduced tax breaks to encourage private investments in startups as well as promote the setting up of high-tech companies in Malaysia.
For example, the Angel Tax Incentive allows angel investors who have invested in early-stage startups to qualify for tax exemption. This would indirectly see more fund flows to startups and also encourage eligible angels to participate in the ecosystem.
There are incentives for ventures that have obtained MSC Status including a 100% investment tax allowance and duty-free importation of multimedia equipment.
Various programmes have also been initiated to build entrepreneurial and technical skills as well as encourage interest among the local community to venture into the startup scene.
MaGIC recently launched its partnership with Stanford University, which, among its programmes, would send entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley for a two-week immersion programme.
The partnership will also see an exchange programme whereby local entrepreneurs will be able to learn from the Stamford faculty on marketing and commercialising their ideas.
Another significant component of the partnership is the “Faculty Train Faculty” Programme where faculty members from 14 local universities will be sent to Stanford over the next three years to help them develop impactful and creative entrepreneurship programs in their respective universities.
Early this year, MDeC announced its MSC Malaysia Startup Accelerator Lite programme to help early-stage ICT startups map out and accelerate their goals.
MDeC is also working with partners such as JFDI Asia, a regional startup accelerator, to help mature and globalise the local startup community.
Government agencies are actively seeking partnerships with startup communities and small and medium companies in other countries to provide local startups with an opportunity to learn from and potentially partner with startups abroad as well as explore other markets.
Market access can be as important as funding for startups – part 7
BEYOND just starting a business, a startup company’s main purpose for being is to offer a product or innovation that addresses a problem.
As one investor puts it, a truly innovative product will solve a customer’s problem that has not been solved before.
But one of the challenges of introducing a new product or innovation is that it has not been tried or tested. Naturally, the market may be slow in embracing such an innovation.
Additionally, startups rarely have the capacity or network to tap into new markets to bring their products out.
As such, investing partners, with their strong networks and deep pockets, play an important role in the startup ecosystem by providing the kind of market access needed by startups to reach potential customers.
Corporations, investors and even the government are increasingly recognising this need and are providing platforms for startups to tap into, beyond just early and growth-stage funding.
For example, early last year, Telekom Malaysia, the Multimedia Development Corporation and StartupMalaysia.org collaborated on an accelerator programme focusing on getting startups to market quickly.
More recently, telco giant Axiata Group Bhd and Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) recently signed an agreement to establish a RM100mil venture capital fund, the Axiata Digital Innovation Fund (ADIF), to help companies with innovative products in the digital-services space markettheir offerings.
ADIF will focus on revenue-generating companies that may still require support to grow in terms of funding, know-how and market access.
Axiata noted that digital-services entrepreneurs will have unprecedented access to regional partnership opportunities among other things, thanks to its extensive market reach of over 13 million customers in Malaysia and over 250 million across Asia.
Given Axiata’s many years of operations in the region, these startups are also able to leverage the telco’s in-depth knowledge of the regional market.
Likewise, Alliance Bank’s SME Innovation Challenge 2014 programme provides participating startups with an opportunity to be coached by corporate titans, a platform to network through, and access to markets.
When new products are launched, startups and their investors concentrate the bulk of their initial efforts on educating the market about what the products offer.
But entrepreneurs understand that having an innovation with little visibility and access to markets does no good.
Startups are now seeing the need for opportunities to tap into existing networks and markets, coaching, exposure and resources, offered by incubation and accelerator programmes.
In other markets where the startup ecosystems are more mature, the private sector and governments have introduced programmes to tackle market-access issues for startups.
These include the US Market Validation Program run by Silicon Valley-based tech accelerator, US Market Access Center, and the Market Access Grant administered by the Irish government to incentivise companies to develop viable and sustainable market entry strategies for new products and markets.
While such efforts have yet to become well established here, different players in the local ecosystem are becoming more aware of the need to provide startups with market access to ensure better chances of success.
By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network
■ This is the seventh instalment of MetroBiz’s tie-up with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.
OOI Boon Sheng, founder and chief executive officer of Web Bytes Sdn Bhd, was fortunate to have found a good