Michael TeohMichael Teoh
 Global Award-winning Trainer & Speaker on Talent Development
 Founding Partner @ Thriving Talents



ENTREPRENEURSHIP in its truest sense refers to a series of activities by individuals or organisations that can add value to an existing chain of activities affecting others, and people – as customers – will gladly exchange for that added value with monetary or mutually beneficial rewards.

Malaysia is easily on track to be at the forefront of promoting entrepreneurship with our aggressive governmental push in endorsing, funding and catalysing more entrepreneurial activities.

Who could have missed the epic launch of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity centre (MaGIC) in Putrajaya by President Barack Obama and our Prime Minister last year? Malaysia was catapulted into the global spotlight for our efforts to be the “Silicon Valley” of Asia through grants, educational programmes and state-of-the-art facilities provided by MaGIC for budding entrepreneurs.

Now, it has been close to a year since the establishment of MaGIC and the government’s relentless drive to equip ordinary Malaysians with the spirit of entrepreneurship. How have we fared?

Based on my conversations with fellow entrepreneurs, investors and aspiring doers, I would say we are somewhat divided.

Most entrepreneurs would agree that the intensive push by the government may have accelerated the growth of technology start-ups bringing their ideas into products to market. However, most perceive that it is the technology entrepreneurs who are benefitting the most.

One may argue that this niche of entrepreneurs deserves all the “glam” and attention because of the “high growth” nature of their business and that they complement Malaysia’s race of producing the next Facebook or Google of Asia.

However, word going around among entrepreneurs who are not in the technology sector or not based in Klang Valley or Cyberjaya (where MaGIC is located) tells a different story. Some have gone to the extreme of regarding themselves as being “alienated” from the assistance, seeing that they are not in the trendy tech industry. These are entrepreneurs who make a living off rural produce, SMEs which thrive on manufacturing, food and beverage (F&B) businesses that require intense capital and those in the services sectors such as training and education.

Are we seeing an “extremist push” to jolt the Malaysian entrepreneurship scene by focusing only on tech start-ups, as compared to a more balanced approach to assist more entrepreneurs from a wider sector?

MaGIC is not entirely to be blamed, as it has been doing an amazing job in its initial year. It is focusing its efforts on elevating the potential of our tech start-ups to a new level, bringing them to global standards and facilitating knowledge exchange with the world’s finest minds nestled in the heart of Cyberjaya, our own Silicon Valley.

I believe we as entrepreneurs should first redefine the word “innovation”. We need to look at the term differently. Innovation begins when new value is added to the existing model and it should result in cost reduction, enhancement of quality and improved satisfaction from usage of products.

Hence, innovation should dictate a set of activities which can be added into our “less trendy” sectors such as agriculture, F&B, services and consumer goods to make them better and more scale-able.

Sakae Sushi’s use of tablets to allow customers to make orders without going through waiters and Chatime’s introduction of the SodaXpress carbonated drink infuser in its stores are examples of how innovation can happen for more traditional F&B businesses.

Some may argue that investments are needed for their business to innovate and be part of MaGIC’s push to accelerate their growth.

Yes, improvements can be made by having more programmes, from educational to funding, for entrepreneurs to access an expert talent pool or customers.

However, the main challenge here is: Are Malaysian entrepreneurs outside of the tech industry ready to embrace innovation in order to dispel the perception that their technology counterparts are getting “extremely good” treatment by the government? Technology’s role and application towards enhancing a business is inevitable today. In the workshops that we do for companies, we get them to understand technology and how it is a friend to their businesses.

Graduates now use LinkedIn and Facebook to look for jobs. Malaysian companies are big advertisers on Facebook and people now obtain food reviews via Instagram. How are companies leveraging on these trends to stay relevant?

I believe there isn’t an “extremist push” towards only serving the needs of technology entrepreneurs here. I believe businesses need to embrace change and recognise the importance of adopting innovation into their process as a new way of accelerating growth and meeting the new expectations of their customers.

Originally published on The Star on Sunday March 8, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM


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