Malaysia needs to brand its startup ecosystem as one of world’s best, says KJ

Credit: AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, said the country’s entrepreneurship ecosystem was on par with the world’s best, but Malaysia must brand itself better to get itself noticed.

“We don’t brand ourselves enough. We have to do more about positioning ourselves. Many countries are attracting the same limited amount of talent. If you don’t shout above the noise, you’re going to be bypassed,” said Khairy at a panel discussion titled “Reflect, Reset and Reform – Thriving in the New World” at eNation, a four-day technology conference organised by the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

Also on the panel are Nadiem Makarim, Indonesia’s Minister of Education and Culture and Founder of GoJek, Fleur Pellerin, former France’s Minister of SMEs, Innovation and Digital Economy and Ed Vaizey, former UK’s Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. The session was moderated by CNN anchor Richard Quest.

Khairy further pointed out that Malaysia has the advantage of being an English-speaking country, multicultural, high-level of tertiary education enrolment, relatively high-skilled workforce and ranked high in global indices in terms of competitiveness and ease of doing business.

“The incentives we offer are just as competitive as any in the region. It is really about branding this environment,” he said. He emphasised the importance of a sustainable holistic ecosystem, highlighting that it is more than just establishing trade offices and offering tax incentives. He added that to attract the best talents, the country needs to have a mission and demonstrate a sense of purpose, such as lowering carbon footprint or ensuring wealth or income equality.

Khairy also said that Malaysia has to position itself as an open economy, given that the domestic market is relatively small.

“Our startup companies have to fill the void and not be afraid to take on big international technology companies to offer personalised, localised services. At the same time, they must not be afraid of taking on big regulatory issues as well,” he said. The recently launched National Technology and Innovation Sandbox is an example of how Malaysia is attempting to accelerate the growth of an innovation-driven economy by suspending regulations in a controlled manner.

“We took this opportunity to create this sandbox, where regulations are suspended and we can test drones and autonomous vehicles in a safe environment,” he said. Khairy urged all ecosystem stakeholders, from government bodies to businesses, to embrace change that is forced upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It presents us the opportunity to accelerate change that a lot of governments have put off in terms of structural changes to the economy, changes that the corporate world should have done a long time ago in terms of digitisation, digitalisation, automation and robotics,” he said. He said even small and medium enterprises, many of whom previously resisted the need to invest in digitisation and digitalisation, have no choice but to embrace change to keep their businesses going.

Khairy also explored the possibility of collecting digital tax from big international technology companies as they are monetising sovereign data.

“We need to have this conversation on a multilateral level on monetisation by big tech companies as they are getting away with it,” he said. Khairy also emphasised the value of compassion and empathy to businesses, as lockdowns have varying levels of impact to individual companies or sectors. “Don’t underestimate the value of compassion or empathy in business. It is important we see this coming through in terms of investments as well,” he said.

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