Malaysia’s MaGIC to look beyond tech, to back innovative ideas in other verticals

MaGIC CEO Ashran Ghazi

The Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) is postulating the need for creativity and innovation labs to serve different verticals, to build industry-focused micro-ecosystems rather than a generic startup tech ecosystem.

These labs, whether physical or virtual, also tackle the issue of the myriad accelerators in the market which unique propositions have started to blur as their differentiation becomes increasingly diluted.

Taking over the reins at MaGIC since May, chief executive officer Ashran Ghazi is putting forth this notion to build labs for creative and media industries, lifestyle, environment, education, agriculture and biotechnology, finance, healthcare, as well as transportation and logistics.

Ghazi said the rationale behind this was to nudge startups to start from the perspective of the industries, rather than preconceiving the relevance of a technology.

“We’ve seen too many entrepreneurs come straight wanting to build this app because they think they can solve that problem. They do not give enough time to see what problem they are trying to solve, what audience they are trying to address and what value proposition are they giving,” he said during his keynote presentation at Catcha Group’s Wild Digital 2016 conference.

“It’s not so much about whether you are a tech company or a non-tech company, but what is it that you are trying to solve in the market,” he said.

Ghazi told the audience that what keeps him awake at night is trying to find ways for MaGIC, as a government agency, to be more efficient and scaleable in helping entrepreneurs succeed.

While admitting that this is still a concept being refined, MaGIC targets to get this off the ground this year.

“It’s a hypothesis. It may work, it may not. We are a government agency working like a startup, and we need to validate this. At the conceptual level, so far there has been positive buy-in not just from Malaysia. Now to look at the execution risks and possible pitfalls, and then pilot with partners to see how to refine the model,” he told selected media after.

Also read: MaGIC has completed its MVP phase, now on to scaling up: Ashran Ghazi

MaGIC may not launch labs for all the proposed verticals, as the team will need to assess the demand in each space first.

“The team will have to go out and speak to the private sector first and see if they want to play ball. If yes, then we will kick off that particular vertical first,” Ghazi said, noting that lifestyle and creative industries labs are likely to be the first ones to be set up.

“We don’t want to fall into a position where we hypothesise that we should target this cluster, get the startups all rallied up but don’t get the private sector side to catch the ball, essentially,” he said.

He noted that MaGIC’s aspirational perspective on fintech and finance is to position the finance creativity and innovation lab as a “neutral playground”, where all startups can come and connect with all the banking and insurance players.

“This (initiative) is one of the approaches we are taking to scale MaGIC. Leveraging on our position as a government agency to some extent, to curate and design this so that the private sector and startups can benefit,” he added.

Consolidating acceleration

These labs, whether physical or virtual, also tackle the issue of the myriad accelerators in the market which unique propositions have started to blur as their differentiation becomes increasingly diluted.

MaGIC runs the largest accelerator in the region, called the MaGIC Accelerator Programme (MAP) which is taking on its second batch now.

“Accelerators are mushrooming around the region and while they are awesome for bringing companies from one point to another in a short period, however the differentiation factor is becoming diluted as the content is about the same. The real value is in building vertical networks that startups require to succeed, to form partnership easy and fast enough in order for them to bounce things off the right people,” he said.

And while Ghazi would like to think that MAP is effective, he acknowledges that the accelerator only reaches out to 50 startups per batch.

“Aspirationally, I would like for us to touch more lives. It is not necessary to be tied down to a three-months programme to get an outcome like that in an accelerator programme. That’s my hypothesis. I believe it can work,” he said.

“The likes of Maybank, Samsung and Mastercard have their own innovation labs, all very organisation-centric. What I want to do is bring this one level up and consolidate the efforts; that’s my mental mode,” he shared.

Bridging traditional and tech for practical solutions

Ghazi believes that technology should be viewed as a constant, not a reason for starting a business.

“My baseline is whatever it is you want to do, you will end up using technology, almost for sure. I don’t want to make that the primary concern, because it clouds the mind; you start thinking about building apps, changing business models just to fit technology into it. A lot of entrepreneurs look at things from 30,000 feet,” he said, noting that many are obsessed with going straight to the product they want to create before understanding what problems exists.

As part of helping startups get in touch with problems on the ground, Ghazi intends to bring both startup communities and traditional business owners together

“Get them to talk, to debate with each other. These (traditional) guys will say what cannot be done, while the startups are always going to ask why can’t it be done. If we can bring them together more constantly, then I think we can come up with more practical solutions,” he said, similarly for corporations that want to tap onto the startups’ innovative streak.

Also read:

MaGIC’s MAP graduates raise $4.25m funding collectively, Cohort 2 launched

MaGIC launches accelerator program, backed by corporates, mentors and investors

500 Startups, MaGIC to launch growth-stage accelerator for SEA

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.