Article written by Rikco Shim for the Vulcanpost
Coworking spaces have become the hotbeds for tech innovation and a launchpad for many budding startups.
Given the increase in demand for more flexible and customisable workplace options during the pandemic, this vertical faces stiff competition to offer the right support or to meet the needs of their customers.
As a result, coworking spaces must also evolve, and they play an important role as ecosystem enablers to propel the growth of tech companies.
To assist the coworking spaces to further foster tech innovation, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), launched the Malaysia Digital Hub (MDH) initiative back in 2017 to transform coworking spaces.
Since its inception, MDEC has recognised and certified 20 coworking spaces as MDHs, serving almost 600 businesses locally, fostering innovation and collaboration. The current certified MDHs in Malaysia are Sunway iLabs, Common Ground, Dojo KL, Selangor Digital Creative Centre (SDCC), WORQ, Found8 and UnionSPACE.
More Than Just A Space
A Malaysia Digital Hub offers startups the opportunity for global expansion via instant access to high-speed broadband and fibre optic connectivity, opportunities to funding and facilitation, and a technologically-focused ecosystem that is workforce-ready.
While a MDH encourages participation from all forms of tech startups, it focuses mainly on four categories: To supercharge tech startups through growth programmes and initiatives as well as providing access to talent builders and investors.
But before a coworking space can be recognised as a MDH under MDEC, they will have to fulfil these criteria.
- Equipped with high-speed broadband,
2. Fostering a community of startups in their space,
3. Connected to key tech anchors in the internet economy that has regional/global presence,
4. Partnered with a talent builder and have a coaching/mentoring network,
5. Providing funding facilitation opportunities to startups,
6. Have a modern and accessible amenity for startups to meet and network.
These standards were established by MDEC to ensure essential support is within the reach of startups in the hubs to speed up their development.
To better capture how this support translates into real-life applications, we spoke to some of the MDH members to get better insights on how they can benefit startups.
A Landing Pad For Global Talents
Malaysia is primed to be a hub for top tech talents. Through MDH, startups from foreign countries could also look to position themselves in the Malaysian market through the Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Pass (MTEP) programme.
With the combination of MTEP and MDH, Malaysia can be your home to propel your tech startup into global limelight with Malaysia as your base of operations.
Through MTEP, the founders can capture the ASEAN market from Malaysia through a 1-year stay or a 5-year stay in the country. And through MDH, the hubs can help unlock opportunities and incentives for the tech entrepreneurs.
Dewan Ng, the Founder of Dojo KL, said programs like MTEP have been highly beneficial to the startups. “With contact to MDEC, it’s good for startups to build in Malaysia. The MTEP program speeds up the visa process and it makes the process clear and easy for companies to get their visa.”
Easy Access And Connection To Funding Partners
Getting funding is often an exhausting process for the startups involved, especially if you have no in-roads. It’s even tougher now because of the outbreak. Startups are unable to network and meet with potential investors like they used to.
Through the certified MDHs, MDEC ensures that the coworking spaces are connected to a funding partner, and this helps facilitate the startup’s call for investment.
For example, VentureGrab, a business-matching platform credited MDEC’s MDH and SITEC for their success. Earlier in the year, VentureGrab successfully raised RM500,000 through the MyStartr platform, an equity crowdfunding platform in partnership with SITEC and MDH.
JomRun, an app for people aspiring to live an active lifestyle also credited MDH and Sunway iLabs in their growth. Through Sunway iLabs’ Accelerator Programme, JomRun emerged as one of the finalists which brought home RM25,000 cash prize.
They were also connected to one of their funding partners, NEXEA Angels, during the process.
JomRun’s founder, Chang Yi Hern said: “This investment was the stimulant we needed to propel our business to enter other Southeast Asian markets and become the biggest sports portal in Malaysia.”
Connecting Malaysia’s Startup Community
During the Malaysia Tech Month, if you managed to catch JF Gauthier’s presentation, he emphasised on the increasing connected-ness among startups as a key component in creating global startups.
Bridging the gap between startups is a key element that MDH specialises in.
Mecapan, a startup which was founded in Indonesia, set foot in Malaysia 2 years ago after receiving their MTEP. Since then, Mecapan has decided to make Malaysia its engineering hub, and they’re now operating from WORQ.
“WORQ has provided a great community for founders to interact & discuss, whether it be from serendipitous encounters or their ‘bonfire’ sessions. This has been helpful for us to learn from others’ analysis, critiques, and suggestions,” said Adrian Wisaksana, the CTO of Mecapan.
If we’re talking about sheer reach in SEA however, not many coworking spaces can stand toe-to-toe with Common Ground. Debra, the Marketing Executive for Common Ground said that they house over 7,000 members throughout their 22 spaces in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
An MDH needs to be able to play on their own unique strengths and offer up-and-coming tech startups attractive offers.
In a recent report by Startup Genome, Kuala Lumpur is recognised as the 11th emerging startup ecosystem in the world, and that means Malaysia is going in the right direction in fostering startups.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a local startup or a foreign SME looking to venture and integrate into Malaysia’s ever-expanding digital ecosystem, these MDHs will give you the support and boost to ensure that your business is well-equipped for success.
Malaysia is moving towards Malaysia 5.0, a more human-centric approach, and becoming the ‘Heart of Digital ASEAN’. MDEC’s role in this is to empower Malaysians with digital skills, enable digitally-powered businesses, and drive digital investments.