With the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre’s (MaGIC) founding chief executive officer Cheryl Yeoh stepping down from her role this Thursday, January 14, the larger part of Malaysia’s startup ecosystem will be holding its breath in anticipation of what’s now on the Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) agenda for the entrepreneurship agency.
Her leaving MaGIC had been in the works since July 2015, she explained, noting that it was through a mutual agreement with the Ministry of Finance to advance the end of her contract by three months.
“The end of contract date was a mutual agreement between me and the MoF. We have been discussing this since July and the date was agreed on after various consideration such as the completion of all of MaGIC’s major programs, especially international ones such as MAP Asean (MaGIC Accelerator Program Asean),” she told DEALSTREETASIA via an emailed Q&A.
On one hand, ecosystem players will be keeping their eyes peeled on the updates about MaGIC’s the top leadership; on the other, many will be curious to see where Yeoh, a dedicated startup ecosystem championer who has proven her well of resources, be up to in the near future.
When prodded, Yeoh remains coy about her upcoming plans.
“Everything is pretty much in the air right now. I will take the next three to six months to decide on my next move,” she told DEALSTREETASIA.
What she does reveal is that she has received interest from startups and various organizations or agencies to play an advisory and consulting role.
“(These are) in areas such as building the startup ecosystem, setting up a venture fund and vetting startups for funding, being the advisor or a board member for startups, programs that lets me tap into my relationship in Silicon Valley and Asean and working on building a team and a company culture – something I am personally very passionate about,” she said.
Yeoh had also mentioned at the graduation of the MAP Social Entrepreneurship (SE) Track in November 2015, that she would be keen to pursue something close to her heart, in the area of SE later on.
What is for certain for now, is that the programmes Yeoh had initiated with her team over the past two years are still on. Among the two well-known ones are MAP and e@Stanford Program.
MAP is still on the map
The largest Southeast Asian regional accelerator, which first batch (from July to November 2015) saw an intake of over 50 startups from Asean countries, and Uruguay.
The programme culminated with a Demo Day at the end of four months, for startups to pitch to local and international investors.
MaGIC has just started opening the accelerator to its second intake, going on roadshows around the region. In the inaugural batch, MaGIC received 600 applications, and engaged over 100 mentors who come to teach at workshops, share experience or offer office hours.
Former entrepreneurship development executive director Warren Leow had described in an interview then that the programme is an integrated platform to pull government agencies, private sector, participants and the startup community together.
“End of the day the programme relies on mentors and curriculum and road to market partners – who are corporates or founders who can push the participants to their respective end users,” he said.
Leow noted that the participants were seeing a 40 per cent month-on-month growth, on a weighted average basis taking into account different growth metrics.
“We’ve built up a database of over 500 investors. 50 per cent are Malaysian investors, and the rest from the region. Singapore-based investors came second, after Malaysia. Leow notes that Singapore-based investors whose capital may originate from elsewhere, as far as India, China and Japan. To depict the breadth of investor pool gathered, Leow said there are also investors from the U.S. and Taiwan,” he said.
“Because Malaysia is a small market, the only way for us to think outside the box is to create something with mass like the MAP,” he added, noting that investors used to skip Malaysia, going straight to Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Leow commented that the outcome of the first batch had exceeded expectations, in the quality of the startups attracted, and the richness of the programme, the growth charted among startups, with the contributions from the mentors.
“I think we can still learn a lot and tweak the programme but we are very pleased with the programme. Maybe just about 15 per cent more to refine.
What’s next will be alumni management, where the alumni will become ambassadors of the programme, Leow said.
Leow has left MaGIC at the end of November last year, and MAP is overseen by programme director Michelle Tan.
e@Stanford still standing
Another of MaGIC’s most high-profile programmes is the two-week immersive programme that brings selected entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley. MaGIC is in a three-year partnership with Stanford University for three programme, the e@Stanford Program being one of them.
In the second cohort of 42 entrepreneurs from 20 high-growth startups, they spent a week going through coaching from university professors, and another week visiting American companies of various growth stages, pulled together through Yeoh’s network.
The participants then come back to Malaysia and lead a series of monthly sharing sessions over six months, to share their learnings with more Malaysian entrepreneurs.
A participant from the October 2015 batch, M. Kanashan who founded same-day delivery business NeonRunner, said the experience was “whatever you read about Silicon Valley, 100 times amplified”.
“You can really feel (the culture), that it is not the idea, it is how you execute,” he shared with DEALSTREETASIA.
Kanashan noted that some of the key things he learned was the importance of non-disclosure agreements, “no matter how small you are”, and that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are very specialised in what they do.
“They don’t hide behind features,” he said of the technology and businesses Valley entrepreneurs develop.
MaidEasy‘s Meriza Anna Mustapha noted that the culture of dare to fail and thinking big was apparent and uplifting, as she learned not to be too hard on herself after.
“I’ve learned to be more optimistic about myself, among other things I learned there, like how to improve my storytelling of the business and aspirations, how to tighten up our pitch deck based on the feedback from the mentors there,” she said.
Programme director Yon Han explained that Stanford University proposes the curriculum for the programme, which MaGIC will vet and make requests for adjustments if necessary.
Going into it third year of running this programme, Han said the concept remains the same for the programme.
Aside from this, MaGIC also has the Stanford Go2Market programme and Faculty-Train-Faculty initiative, also in partnership with the American university.
Among the key things Yeoh has brought to the local startup scene is a sense of borderlessness, bringing Silicon Valley’s thriving entrepreneurship culture closer to Malaysian shores, and igniting in local entrepreneurs the foresight for possibilities beyond the local or even regional borders.
“We have positioned Malaysia as a country that has produced the most number of tech startups successes, with an ecosystem that is structured and focused on nurturing a critical mass of startups that are ready for regional and global expansion. Growing the team and MaGIC culture (transparent, low power distance, authentic, radical candor, family) to what it is today,” she told DEALSTREETASIA.
While the young agency of two years has been able to lay down the foundations for the ecosystem, Yeoh noted that the work is not done.
“We’re currently seeing the first wave of startups in Malaysia in this new economy. It will take two to three more waves for the ecosystem to mature, with a lot of failures and some successes, where entrepreneurs and early investors get recycled in and out of the ecosystem,” she said.
In closing her remarks on her tenure at MaGIC, Yeoh commented that she is confident that the MaGIC team will continue to deliver as the agency moves on into its next phase under new leadership.
“Looking into the future beyond our initial core focus, MaGIC’s leadership should continue to understand the top and right part of the ecosystem map that most other fledgling ecosystems in the world don’t focus enough attention on, which are exits and acquisitions for startups, as well as removing roadblocks via government and regulatory policies that will make it easier for startups in Malaysia to flourish, no matter what race, gender, age or nationality.
In my opinion, MaGIC’s mandate and goals should be flexible (like a startup) and change every two to three years to adapt to rapidly evolving market and ecosystem needs, such that the agency remains relevant to continue filling in the gaps,” she said in an article she wrote for local media.
While MaGIC is kicking off 2016 with the initiatives that already in place, the year is another 11 odd months to go, and MaGIC under a new leadership could see new initiatives undertaken, perhaps with a revised agenda.