When the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) picked “Innovation, Transformation and Resilience” as the theme for the Global Accelerator Programme (GAP) 2020, what they didn’t expect was that it also served as their call sign for this year.
At the face of an unprecedented year marked by a global pandemic and shifting trends, MaGIC faced their own brick wall. On one hand, they would have to acclimatise their GAP programme into a virtual one. On the other, they have to also ensure that the startups under their care are able to adapt to such trying times.
It was a lesson for themselves. “With the changes happening due to Covid-19, MaGIC has also learned to stay relevant through adaptability and agility by running the Global Accelerator Programme virtually for the first time,” MaGIC chief executive officer (CEO) Dzuleira Abu Bakar (pic) tells Digital News Asia.
MaGIC took great lengths to make sure that the programme ran smoothly. They equipped themselves with the right expertise, took references and inspirations from other accelerator programmes that were done virtually all over the world.
Most importantly, they took this as an opportunity to innovate. “The opportunity that Covid-19 presented to us was in allowing MaGIC to reflect on our value propositions to entrepreneurs and startups,” Dzuleira says.
“Pre-Covid, most of our programmes had long-term goals and targets. When the pandemic struck, we learnt that it is necessary to postpone those long-term initiatives and realign our efforts in helping the many struggling startups impacted by Covid-19.”
The result is, undeniably, another successful GAP. Cohort 4 of the programme, which just completed their growth journey, recorded strong revenue growth at 53% despite having to navigate choppy waters. The total funding raised during the 12-week programme was at US$123,000 (RM500,000).
MaGIC’s GAP is a significant catalyst for Malaysian tech startups. The record speaks for itself – participants from the first Cohort of GAP, had raised RM45.2 million and had a valuation of RM1.13 billion. Cohort 2, on the other hand, collectively raised RM86.5 million during the programme.
[RM1 = US$0.24]
Each cohort saw new milestones. Startups of GAP cohort 3, for instance, had a 9.5% cumulative revenue growth – the number went up to an impressive 74% during the duration of the programme, to RM24.5 million.
It’s not just about raising numbers. More importantly, GAP allows startups to pick up and inculcate valuable lessons and contacts. For Mamadou Ndiaye, CEO of Appsaya Technologies, one of the GAP cohort graduates, the programme has helped them approach stakeholders in the ways that matter.
“[One of our most valuable takeaways from GAP] is the ability to present our startup vision and product to investors and stakeholders in the most effective way, with the most relevant metrics,” he says.
“With the carefully selected startups during my cohort, from different horizons and different stages in their journey, I could learn from their approach and creativity to elevate the level of our speech and our product.”
Appsaya is another one of GAP’s success stories. The startup, which provides business matching and networking platforms for B2B events and meetings, now serves world leaders in B2B events across Asia, Europe and North America.
GAP didn’t just help Appsaya secure investors and stakeholders, but also make them a more resilient startup. According to Ndiaye, the programme has helped them prepare and adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“From GAP, we've gained tangible benefits and confirmations on our agile methodology to be always ready to pivot and adapt to our customer needs. During Covid-19 pandemic, we again successfully applied this formula. It works,” Ndiaye elaborates, adding that he “absolutely would” recommend GAP to other startups.
Evolving to evolve
There is pressure to keep this up, compounded by a pandemic that is demanding for paradigm shifts. MaGIC went back to the drawing board. They extensively revised the GAP curriculum to virtually cater to the startups, maintaining and expanding the programme to not just focus on building internal business resilience, but also to focus on helping participants build a network within the venture capital (VC) space to better position themselves for funding.
Funding is particularly vital during times of uncertainty and restricted cashflows. For this, MaGIC introduced GAP Investment Partners, which allows the startups access to equity crowdfunding platforms, angel investors and VC firms for both funding opportunities and market access.
MaGIC also placed more emphasis into coaching and mentoring, focusing on a more holistic approach that includes technological interventions, sustainability and adaptability. Beyond that, MaGIC also had to look towards the future – GAP Cohort 4’s content was refined to address the potential future challenges and risks post-pandemic.
It wasn’t easy, because MaGIC themselves needed to evolve in order to spark evolution. “Retrospectively, the toughest challenges do not just apply to GAP 2020 but to the whole of MaGIC,” Dzuleira muses.
“We reactively looked into adapting our long-term value propositions to be more present in light of the pandemic’s impact on entrepreneurs and their startups. We attempt to answer the question of ‘How might we do things differently now, without compromising quality, so that the entrepreneurs and startups could benefit from the pandemic?’
Ultimately, MaGIC tapped into the core of their foundation: innovation. “The fact we had to turn our physical programmes to be virtual turned out to be of second nature to us, seeing that creativity and innovation are, after all, in MaGIC’s DNA. Although, it was a challenge to get everyone onboard. So we learn and lead by example,” Dzuleira notes.
Surmounting the next GAP
GAP Cohort 4 has concluded, its participants having grown and achieved much. From here on, MaGIC will be tracking their progress for 24 months. Thus far, their graduates have successfully raised investments post-programme – Cohort 1, 2 and 3 alone saw at nearly RM116.2 million.
But what’s next for GAP? Dzuleira feels that the lessons learned here, especially in virtualising the programme, can be used to further innovate future GAPs. “We have improved our value proposition delivery mechanics to be fully virtual and will continue to improve on the user experience,” she says.
This isn’t their first virtual event, after all. Previously, MaGIC explored virtual accelerators by partnering with various stakeholders and built accelerators such as Pre-Accelerator Bootcamp: Female Founders Edition and ClimateLaunchpad Malaysia with Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (MGTC).
“There is an opportunity there through virtualisation execution. Who knows? We might explore those and tie them with programme funnelling to other initiatives like the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) which we have successfully done with some of this year’s GAP Cohort 4 participants,” Dzuleira continues.
GAP won’t be an entirely virtual event going forward. “It would be great to have physical interactions again in the future as it creates a better camaraderie and nothing can beat that level of experience,” Dzuleira says.
“However, we also like to explore the integration of virtual and physical within the same execution flow of our programmes. It would allow us to reach out even more entrepreneurs and startups, improve value deliveries while effectively managing and utilising our costs better.”
Virtualisation will allow MaGIC to expand GAP’s representation. “This year’s GAP, we see startup sector representation from Agriculture, Education, E-Commerce, Enterprise Solutions, Fintech, and Real Estate. For next year, we aspire to touch an even wider range of economic sectors to make sure we cover all bases of the economy,” says Dzuleira.
“Through virtualisation, we could do that and from there, we would be able to discover potential collaborations that these startups and entrepreneurs can leverage to increase their values and visibility on a global scale.”
We can’t say for sure how the world will be in the next year, vaccines rollout notwithstanding. Startups in Malaysia will have a long road ahead of them. But as MaGIC has demonstrated, “Innovation, Transformation and Resilience” can go a long way.