Smartphone handset: build it yourselves


Build-your-own Google handset reconstructs smartphone

Barcelona (AFP) – With a smartphone that slots together piece by piece like Lego, US Internet giant Google is trying to reinvent the mobile as most phone makers are honing sleeker handsets.

The company aims to challenge its rival Apple’s thin iPhones with the Google Ara project, giving smartphone aficionados the option to build their phone themselves.

Analysts say tech boffins will love it but remain cautious about how popular it may be compared to polished conventional smartphones that sit snugly in the palm.

Google says the Ara phone is part of its bid to widen Internet access to users in developing countries and could create a new industry for assembly-ready handset parts.

Google’s associate, US firm Yezz, presented a prototype of the build-your-own device this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world’s biggest wireless telecom trade fair.

The phone consists of a base structure on which various square, magnetic modular parts can be attached: screen, battery, camera, speakers and more. Google plans to release it in three sizes.

Build-your-own Google handset reconstructs smartphone

Ara would allow users to replace individual components rather than throwing the whole thing away and buying a new handset. It says the base unit will last at least five or six years.

“That is good for the environment,” said Annette Zimmermann, a telecom specialist at German consultancy Gartner.

– Emerging markets –

Ara “could reshape the mobile landscape,” said Paul Eremenko, director of the Ara Project, in a presentation to experts in January.

He said it aimed to gain six billion potential clients — the current billion people who currently use smartphones “and five billion future users”, most of them in emerging markets.

Google says a mid-range Ara phone could cost between $50 and $100 to produce, but has not given details of the likely sales price, leaving questions marks over how sustainable such a product would be.

“Google is not looking to make money directly with Ara,” said Jerome Colin, a telecom expert at French consultancy group Roland Berger.

“It is basically looking to spread smartphones in countries with low purchasing power, and to unify the telecom world around its Android system.”

– ‘Paradox of choice’ –

Tech fans and bloggers queued up to see the prototype presented in Barcelona, but analysts were sceptical.

“The trend in mobile phones is to have small, thin, really integrated products. If you make a product modular it immediately means that you’re going to have to make compromises on that,” said Ben Wood, head researcher at consultancy CCS Insight.

“The other question mark I have is: beyond geeks, who really knows” about components? he added.

“If I said to you, which processor do you want in your smartphone, I think you could stop people in the street and they’d just look at you like you’d landed from Mars.”

Eremenko acknowledged that consumers risked being overwhelmed by too many technical options when it comes to choosing components.

“We need to resolve the paradox of choice,” he said in January.

Google plans a test launch of the device in Puerto Rico by the end of this year.

“We will have to see if the public takes to it,” said Zimmerman.

Google dominates the world of Internet searches and its Android operating system can be used on 80 percent of the world’s smartphones. It also holds a large market share in wireless tablet devices.

Its senior vice-president Sundar Pichai said in Barcelona on Monday that it was in talks with telecom companies about possibly using their networks to operate its own mobile phone services in the United States.

AFP

More South Koreans opt for tech startups instead of ‘chaebols’ and beyond Samsung


Korean Startup incubatorIncubator: The Yongsan startup incubator centre in Seoul. The government has poured billions into startups, in line with the president’s push to foster a ‘creative economy’ that would move beyond the traditional manufacturing base. — AFP

SEOUL: As an engineering major at Seoul’s Yonsei University, Yoon Ja-young was perfectly poised to follow the secure, lucrative and socially prized career path long-favoured by South Korea’s elite graduates.

But the idea of corporate life in an industrial giant like Samsung, however well-remunerated, simply didn’t appeal so instead Yoon joined the swelling ranks of young Koreans looking to make their mark in the volatile world of tech startups.

In her final year at college, Yoon, now 26, created a Pinterest-style image-sharing app, StyleShare, for fashion-conscious young women.

“I was always into fashion, and there were so many moments that I wanted to grab someone on the street and ask what is that pretty dress or pair of shoes she’s wearing,” Yoon said.

“All the fashion magazines only talked about expensive brand clothes, which didn’t help ordinary people like me,” she said.

The app became a hit and now has more than one million users.

Yoon said her parents initially panicked when it became clear the app was more than a fun hobby and she wasn’t going to get a “real” job. “But they soon became strong supporters,” she said.

Her father, a loyal LG employee for two decades, even offered some of his retirement savings to help kick-start the business.

For her parents’ generation nothing matched the stability and prestige that came with a job in one of the family-run conglomerates, or “chaebols”, that dominate the national economy.

The likes of Samsung, LG and Hyundai remain magnets for many of the country’s brightest graduates. But with the global economy in low gear and the smartphone era opening new doors, an increasing number like Yoon are forsaking a rigid career structure to try tech entrepreneurship.

The number of new “venture firms” – high-risk, largely tech-related enterprises – stood at 30,053 last month, according to the state-run industry tracker Venturein.

That figure was almost double the 15,401 registered in 2009 – a milestone year when the first iPhone went on sale in South Korea and brought the app-making industry with it.

Under President Park Geun-hye, the South Korean government has poured billions of dollars into startups, in line with her push to foster a “creative economy” that would move beyond the country’s traditional manufacturing base.

“There is an astounding amount of money, from both the private and state sectors, flowing around in the market right now,” said Jang Sun-hyang, investment director at Mashup Angels, a Seoul-based startup incubator.

“The word ‘startup’ didn’t even register in the public consciousness in, say, 2011. Now it’s one of the hottest buzzwords among college kids,” Jang said.

According to government data, the pool of private and public investment available to tech startups stood at 2.5 trillion won (RM8.4bil) in 2014, up 62% from a year ago.

South Korea’s hyper-wired populace also offers a fertile ground for tech businesses – most households have broadband access and 80% of people own smartphones.

More than 60% of smartphone users – the highest ratio in the world – use ultra-fast 4G service that allows users to download a feature-length film in a few minutes.

Google is set to open “Campus Seoul” this year to help train budding startup firms and facilitate their expansion, while Samsung and LG are also boosting investment in startups.

As the number of other incubator centres popping up offering office space, business advice and potential investment opportunities rise, the capital is drawing comparisons with US tech haven Palo Alto in Silicon Valley.

But challenges remain. The relatively small domestic market means successful start-ups have to look overseas if they want to keep growing.

Crossing language and cultural barriers can be daunting, even for established firms like Kakao Talk, the South’s top mobile chat app with 48 million global users which has struggled to expand into Southeast Asia.

And the consequences of failure are high in a society where experience counts for little if there is no successful outcome. — AFP

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Climing over the Great Firewall


Great Firewall

As the Chinese government further restricts online communication, virtual private networks are trying to overcome the barriers.

There are alternatives to the blocked services, but let’s just admit that the features on the censored sites are still the most appealing and user-friendly.

IT began with Line and KakaoTalk, foreign instant messaging apps, around July last year.

Instagram was next, during the height of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in September.

I remember reaching out for my mobile phone one day after I woke up, checking my Instagram feed as part of my morning ritual, but for some reason, it just would not load smoothly.

Last month, the default mail app in my phone, which is synced to my Gmail account, also stopped working.

These bans imposed by China restricted communication even further as sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube have long been inaccessible in mainland. The censorship is put in place to control what the people see online.

Frustrated, a fellow foreign journalist commented: “The Chinese government has been actively advocating connectivity, but the ban is causing the total opposite.”

To overcome the inconveniences, foreigners residing in China and some Chinese nationals rely mainly on virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the blocked sites and apps.

With a fee, VPNs help users bypass restrictions and censorship on their mobile phones and computers by connecting them to servers outside China.

The act of using VPNs is cheekily known as “fan qiang” or “climbing over the wall” as the censorship is referred to as the Great Firewall, after the Great Wall of China.

Of course, there are alternatives to the blocked services, but let’s just admit that the features on the censored sites are still the most appealing and user-friendly.

Communicating with the world outside China is also easier with the common platforms of Gmail and Facebook, but unfortunately, accessing them within the borders of China is difficult.

Lately, the grip on the Internet was tightened with the Chinese authorities clamping down on VPN services. Users reported interruptions and failures to connect to VPNs.

Responding to the interrupted services, an official from the Industry and Information Technology Ministry (MIIT) said in a press conference this week that the move is essential for the healthy development of the Internet in China.

MIIT director of telecom development Wen Ku said the ministry has to employ new methods to “maintain cyber security and steady operation” with the rapid development of the Internet.

He reminded foreign sites to abide by Chinese laws if they want to operate in the country.

“Certain negative content should be regulated according to the Chinese law,” he said.

To a question on whether blocking VPNs would affect the vitality of the Internet, Wen said the development of Internet services in China is concrete proof of the effective policies, citing Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba as an example of success stories.

But as the Chinese saying goes, “As the virtue rises one foot, the vice rises ten feet.”

While the Chinese authorities upgraded the Great Firewall, VPN providers such as StrongVPN and Astrill vowed to overcome the disruption.

“Notice to StrongVPN users, we are currently working diligently to find a resolution with certain servers not working in China,” StrongVPN posted on its website.

It also enticed possible customers to subscribe to its services to “protect your online security, personal privacy and help promote Internet freedom”.

Astrill said the increased censorship is “just a way for China to say ‘we don’t want you here’”.

It told its users, “We know how access to unrestricted Internet is important for you and we are doing our best.”

The tug-of-war continues.

Source: Check-in China by Tho Xin Yin

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Reponsible housing developers’ traits and qualiies expected


HBA1

HBA bannerTraits of a responsible housing developer

KNOCK, knock! Any “good” housing developers out there?

I am reluctant to use the words “good developers” as the words are not in my vocabulary. However, there are responsible ones and more are joining this category.

The qualities of a responsible developer are to be emulated, if you can find them.

The housing industry has come a long way since the advent of large-scale housing development in the late 50s and early 60s. The players in those times were bona fide entrepreneurs. Most probably, conscience ruled and pride in workmanship, timely delivery of quality and affordable houses were their hallmarks.

The present delivery system of “sell-then-build” through progressive payments is fraught with risks for the unsuspecting house buyers.

These second generation housing developers, “good” or bad, are used to the lucrative profits from the housing industry. This is so because the post-independence period has been a period of high population and economic growth. Hence, the demand for housing is ever increasing. In a sellers’ market, the buyers are always at a disadvantage. When greed is inversely proportionate to conscience among industry players, the situation can get very bad indeed.

We often hear of developers lamenting about the shortage of workers (legal or illegal, skill or inexperienced), shortage of building materials, complying with new laws or regulations that made it hard for them to complete their projects on time. At the same time, we also hear of projects making multi-million ringgit in profits for the developers and we do not see or hear news of housing developers retiring or quitting the business entirely.

This would mean that the housing development is still a lucrative business. In fact, more rookie developers are joining the arena because the sell-then-build system allows them to make money from people’s money.

It has become a ‘riskless venture’ where profits are guaranteed, and in the worst scenario, the government will mop up the abandoned housing project, befitting the adage: Profit Privatised, Losses Nationalised’

Enough of the bad ones, we at HBA do keep our ears opened for the qualities of responsible developers to be emulated. In the first place, how do buyers judge if their developers have been responsible? The construction industry is a unique field. It is one of a few professions where no formal education is required.

There is no formal award giving ceremony by buyers to tell the world their developers have been ‘good’ and responsible.

There are also some other things the responsible developers do that prove they have a passion for their profession. Here are some of the traits practised by responsible developers.

Attention to environment and existing neighbourhood

Responsible developers do not just depend on their buyers to pass the word around about their reputation. No new project is an island. There are existing neighbouring projects, trees etc. A responsible developer ensures the existing neighbourhood is not disturbed by their new development.

If there are complaints, such as cracks, a landslide and floods that the new construction is causing to the existing neighbours, they are quickly attended to. They also ensure that the existing roads are kept clean regularly from construction activities.

Amenities, facilitiesand infrastructure

Developers who provide adequate amenities and facilities like playgrounds, schools, markets, community halls and even police booths are not only fulfilling the obligations imposed by the local council but also their social responsibilities to society. These developers are commendable as good corporate citizens. It enhances their image too. There are also developers who invest and build infrastructure first prior to selling their houses.

Takes pride in quality and timely rectification

Whether low-cost or high-cost houses, chasing the developer to rectify shocking defects, bad workmanship is a nightmare to buyers who lose out while waiting for repair works.

Responsible developers do their own quality checks before handing over their products. Caring developers do practise the following before handing over their products:

• Adopt quality checks at all stages of construction, test and commissioned utility supplies;

• Clear and clean individual units and construction site of debris;

• Ensuring the Certificate of Compliance and Completion (CCC) is obtained with the handover of units;

• Retain a team of competent workers to do rectification promptly if there are complaints on defects.

• Keeping sufficient stock of products like floor tiles of the same quality and make.

Some developers even extend the mandatory defects liability period of 24 months. We have also heard of developers providing alternative lodgings for their buyers while waiting for defects to be corrected.

Timely delivery

Time is the essence of the contract of sale and purchase. Houses should be delivered within the time stipulated in the sale and purchase agreement ie within 24 months for ‘land and building’ and 36 months for ‘building intended for subdivision’. If, for whatever reason, there are delays, compensation should be paid immediately to buyers without second thoughts or finding devious ways to ‘short-change’ the buyers.

Responsible developers keep their buyers informed of delays and tell them of the next expected delivery date. Some buyers even told us of the extras they have received at delivery time, which surely endear them to the developers. These are some of the ‘welcome packs’ that they have received: useful gifts like a key box; warranties from paint companies, auto-gates, pest control, electrical appliances; certificates of treatment for termites / pest control; a certified copy of the CCC issued by the architect and certified copy of the building plans and plans that relate to electrical wiring and water piping so as to facilitate future renovation.


Interest charged

One clause in the sales contract states that the buyer is responsible for late payment interest. It is a common complaint by buyers that their developers would charge interest for late payment even though it is the fault of the end-financier or their lawyers doing the legal documentation. Responsible developers assist in ensuring that the documentations are in order and the buyer is not burdened with any late payment interest.

Joint Management Body (in stratified projects)

Responsible developers assist their buyers to form committees and be prepared for the formation of the management corporation. These developers realise that the projects they have developed will eventually pass to the owners to maintain and manage.

Encouraging community living

Developers who encourage forming of resident/ owners association are a welcome lot. Some even go to the extent of contributing monies for the formulation of buyers representative group for a meaningful channel to voice grievances. Some even provide meeting facilities and allocate a multipurpose room for the elected representative group.

Good communication

The line of communication should always be open between buyers and their developers:

• Keeping buyers informed of the ongoing projects and their products;

• Developers not to appear having shun away from their responsibility;

• Treating the buyers with respect as buyers can serve as their marketing tool. Show respect and you will gain respect;

• Transparency and accountability on monies collected;

• Providing regular accounting reports and budgets;

• Voicing of any grievances rather than through the media, which will bring adverse effect to the detriment of both parties.

Build first then sell

There is no step that can be more pronounced than for housing developers to adopt the absolute ‘built first then sell’ so that potential buyers can see for themselves the finished product before buying. We believe that in this way, most of the present day ailments afflicting the housing industry can be avoided and the housing industry will be a lot more orderly.

In the interim period, responsible developers have embarked on the Built then Sell (BTS) 10:90 concept where the buyers pays 10% and the balance of 90% to be paid upon completion of the house. They are already big names among developers that find the BTS 10:90 concept workable and feasible and are targeting to achieve the Government aspiration of making BTS 10:90

There are responsible developers whose names are synonymous with quality and trust. They are able to win over buyer’s confidence. Today, they have created their own brand names. No wonder some developers do not advertise, yet all their units are sold out even before the official launch.

By Chang Kim Loong AMN who is the secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association.

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How WhatsApp founder made it big from rags-to-riches?


WhatsApp_Founder Jan Koum

Once a cleaner at a grocery store, Koum’s fortune changed the day he got the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the Internet instead of sending SMS.

WhatsApp users worldwide received surprising news when Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp announced that Facebook was buying over WhatsApp for USD19 billion in cash and stock. It is by far the biggest acquisition made by the social networking giant to date. Prior to this, Facebook closed a deal with Instagram for USD1 billion in 2012.

WhatsApp Messenger is a successful cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages without having to pay SMS bills. All it needs is an internet data plan. In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can also create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. WhatsApp currently has 600 million users worldwide.

Jan Koum, now a billionaire from the deal made with Facebook, was born in a small town outside Kiev, Ukraine. He was the only child of a housewife and construction manager and the family led an austere life. At the age of 16, he moved to Mountain View, California with his mother and grandmother. His father stayed behind with plans to follow on later.

To make ends meet every month, Koum worked as a cleaner at a grocery store and his mum worked as a babysitter. He even had to line up to collect food stamps during those tough times. His mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and they lived off her disability allowance. It was in the same year that Koum’s father became ill and passed away. His mother too eventually succumbed to cancer and passed away in year 2000.

At the age of 18, Koum developed an interest toward computers. He taught himself computer programming by purchasing manuals from a used-book store and returning them after he was done. He then enrolled in San Jose State University and moonlighted for Ernst & Young as a security tester. After that he worked for search engine company, Yahoo! Inc.

Koum’s work involves inspecting Yahoo!’s advertising system, which led him to cross paths with Brian Acton (later co-founder of WhatsApp).

Over the next nine years, Koum and Acton were pulled in to help launch Yahoo!’s advertising platform. Koum recalled Acton’s words, “Dealing with ads is depressing. You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better,” Koum was not happy with the situation as well.

In September 2007, Koum and Acton decided to resign from Yahoo!. After taking a one year break, Koum and Acton started looking for jobs. Both applied and got rejected by Facebook Inc. It was two years later in 2009 that Koum bought an iPhone and realised that the App Store would unlock future potentials. Koum had the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the internet instead of sending SMSes. He named it WhatsApp that sounds like “What’s Up”.

It became an instant hit among iPhone users after the app was uploaded to the App Store. Koum insisted not to sell ads on the app after his bad experience dealing with ads at Yahoo! for years. WhatsApp was growing big worldwide and the founders decided to charge an annual rate of USD1 to its users. They were surprised to know that users are willing to pay to use the app.

WhatsApp gradually brought in USD5000 in revenue every month by 2010. Acton helped out Koum by investing USD250,000 in WhatsApp. As a result Acton was named co-founder of WhatsApp. By early 2011, the number of users are growing at an immense rate, and it is adding an additional million users everyday.

WhatsApp became one of the top 20 of all apps in the U.S App Store. Two years later, Sequoia invested another USD50 million. This resulted in WhatsApp being valued at USD1.5 billion.

In 2012, Koum received an email from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was very interested at what Koum built and hinted to Koum at his interest in combining their two firms.

After two years, Koum and Acton signed and sealed the deal with Zuckerberg on the door of the welfare office where Koum used to collect food stamps.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock in February 2014. Its by far the most lucrative engagement in tech history.

This deal seals Koum as tech’s new billionaire, pocketing USD6.8 billion after taxes. The agreement also appoints Koum as Facebook’s new board member – a rags-to-riches story that should inspire all nerds out there.

Source: JobStreet.com, the No.1 job site in Malaysia, thesundaily.com

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How components of a support system nurture nascent companies – part 5

Startups_IncubatingGeared 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

 

Startups_Govt support

Ample opportunity: Malaysia provides many initiatives to fund startups. Recently Axiata Group Bhd launched Axiata Digital Innovation Fund, a RM100mil venture capital fund, with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap). Its group president and group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim (right) is seen here exchanging document with Mavcap chief executive officer Jamaludin Bujang (left). Looking on are Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

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.

Financial assistance

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.

Tax incentives

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.

Building skills

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

 

Startups_market access

Sealing the deal: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd Ceo Jamaludin Bujang (left) and Axiata chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim at the event announcing the RM100mil Axiata Digital Innovation Fund recently. The fund will focus on helping startups gain access to markets. — Bernamapic

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.

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It’s not news if it’s good, the Western news


The success story of regional integration in Latin America today is seldom heard elsewhere in the world, even as people there experience it daily.

LATIN America has been experiencing a progressive, historic but silent revolution for 10 years now. However, few people in the rest of the world seem aware of it.

The silence is not because these countries had sought to avoid world attention. Rather, the international media dominated by Western news agencies seem to have other priorities.

Often enough significant events and key issues are neglected, bypassed by the saucy, the sensational and the scandalous – all that glitters is not gold, much that matters may never be told.
CNBC
Without exception, Western news agencies have doggedly promoted the so-called Arab Spring to the point of tedium.

The standard bogeymen of Western storytelling – Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad – are going or gone, so jubilation in Occidental newsrooms may be expected. But there should be limits and other (news) priorities too.

Elsewhere, countries that succeed outside Western norms, dictates and development models may seem unimportant or “politically incorrect”. So they are routinely ignored or underrated.

Worse, the changes said to be wrought by “Arab Spring” uprisings are said to be positive when the exact opposite is happening.

In virtually all these countries, living conditions have deteriorated rather than improved.

But the nine countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that came together in 2004 as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba) have been making great strides in every critical area of national development.

Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela have raised standards of living for their people in social, economic and political terms.

Standards in housing, health care, education and employment have risen. These countries have also scored a high 0.721 in the UN Human Development Index, which measures national achievements beyond economic growth and material development.

On Dec 14, 2004, Venezuela and Cuba signed the joint declaration for the establishment of Alba. The alliance is based on humanist principles that place the citizen rather than the state or the corporation at the centre of national policymaking.

This people-centred alliance soon attracted the interest of other countries. Next to join were Bolivia, then Nicaragua, and Dominica, with Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda as well as St Vincent and the Grenadines joining together – followed by St Lucia.

Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis will be the next members. Other countries attending Alba summits as Participants are Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, and Uruguay.

With a proud record of a decade’s achievements under its belt, Alba marked the passage of its first decade at a forum in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Ambassador Lourdes Puma Puma of Ecuador explained Alba’s background and objectives, including the use of the Sucre (Unified System for Regional Compensation) as a virtual currency in trade among member nations.

There is also a Bank of Alba with regional integration as its core purpose. The bank encourages and offers financial support for projects that promote the social development of all the peoples of the continent regardless of race, religion, politics or other background.

The areas that Alba covers in promoting regional integration are comprehensive and ambitious. There are medical schools and a health sciences university with scholarships, and a pharmaceutical company and a drugs regulatory centre with free access to medication.

There are plans for a new financial architecture and an emphasis on science and technology, without neglecting the arts.

There are also awards and scholarships for literature, culture, research and cinematography.

Alba is also working with the People’s Trade Agreement that lobbies for the social, cultural and environmental rights of the region’s peoples. It also works with Petrocaribe, an alliance of nations over oil purchases, as well as Mercosur, a regional customs union for advancing free trade and the movement of goods, people and currency.

The guest speaker at the Kuala Lumpur forum was Dr Chandra Muzaffar, president of the Interna­tional Movement for a Just World.

Dr Chandra identified the significant distinction between Alba and other regional organisations in the way it places priority on the human being, the individual person, in public policymaking.

This humanist aspect of a caring regional society that Alba seeks to build is widely cherished by the national leaders of its member countries. And despite a priority on economic development, Alba is also conscious of environmental needs and emphasises sustainable development.

In pursuing technology, Alba also seeks independence of telecommunications content in programming. Telecoms and broadcasting community services will also be provided to rural and other marginal areas.

Despite their achievements, Alba countries are still developing nations with much to do to achieve full development status. In the meantime basic needs have not been forgotten, with a food fund that has cut malnourishment to under 5% in four Alba countries and eliminated illiteracy in five countries.

More broadly, Alba seeks a more multipolar world that avoids war as a matter of policy. It much prefers human development that addresses the real needs of real people, particularly the most disadvantaged members of society.

Alba is named after the great 18th-19th century Venezuelan leader and liberator Simon Bolivar, hailed as a Latin American independence hero and a regional beacon of progress and development.

Bolivar is the only person in history to have two countries named after him: Bolivia, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Bolivar’s goals for Venezuela and its neighbouring countries labouring under the Spanish colonial yoke may be summed up in four basic priorities: a popular and participatory democracy for the people, economic independence for real development, fairer wealth distribution and elimination of corruption.

In the Latin America of his time, Bolivar led territories that included Bolivia, Colombia (then including Panama), Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. As a political and military leader he fought many private and public battles against slavery and for the liberation of his people.

Bolivar died in 1830 at the age of 47. He had paved the way for democracy in many countries in Latin America, but much else remains to be done.

After an era of cruel dictatorships, Latin America is again ready to embrace its history of decency and human achievement. But obstacles remain in the way of Alba countries, particularly when they seek their own way to development.

They prefer a more direct way that impacts positively on the people, particularly the most vulnerable in society such as the poor and the weak. Thus they avoid the customary assistance from powerful transnational institutions that comes with strings, cables and levers attached.

And yet when the UN established the Bretton Woods aid organisations the World Bank and the IMF, they were also supposed to help the poorest without encumbering them. But a problem with institutions is that their practices become institutionalised and worse.

Alba has been established with much goodwill and its achievements have been impressive.

Alba countries deserve support and admiration for their record so far, and encouragement on their promise.

Alba emerged from Venezuela’s rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area for the Americas, which would heighten inequality by enhancing the power of transnational corporations at the expense of the poor.

Neither the World Bank nor the IMF may want to call Alba’s achievements a “miracle”, but they are miraculous nonetheless.

Holding court: Chinese President Xi Jinping's (centre, right) meeting with members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Some have argued that anxieties about China's dominance of the new bank would be dispelled with more founding members. - EPARelated article:

Sound policies require maturity – The Star Online

 Oct 26, 2014 – When major international policies are based on short-sighted self-interests and emotive impulses, problems are never far away.

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Narara

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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