When Alan Turing wrote about a machine that could compute in his 1936 paper, “On Computable Numbers”, he was essentially making an attempt at addressing a theoretical question in mathematics - was there a systematic way to solve every mathematical problem? In arguing that there wasn’t, he developed an analysis of computational procedure that sparked the innovation of pretty much every machine that powers anything worthwhile in our daily lives today.
The first mass-produced personal computers only appeared some 40 years later. But once that happened, the floodgates were flung wide open, from the proliferation of the Internet to the ubiquity of smartphones, and not forgetting the more recent, growing accessibility of automation. The rate at which we experience new levels of innovation - as exemplified from Turing’s first treatise on computer science - has sped up exponentially.
That’s the thing about technology: its growth and adoption accelerates so quickly that it becomes so ingrained in daily life. Just think about the last time you had to haggle over the price of your taxi ride. Seems like forever, doesn't it?
It would’ve been Turing’s 108th birthday last week, as good a time as any to think about the possibilities and opportunities that tomorrow’s innovations will bring.
That’s where Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) is re-doubling its efforts these days - on the technologies of tomorrow; on advanced technology. And I’ll tell you why.
The argument for advanced technology startups
While MaGIC’s mandate has always been to accelerate the growth of tech startups and social enterprises in Malaysia, there’s always been a larger strategic purpose that fuels our efforts.
If you look at the top five companies with the highest market caps worldwide, three of them - Amazon, Google, and Facebook - came from startup beginnings. They’ve only been around for an average of 21 years. Startups are nimble by nature. They’re quick to adopt or deliver new technologies, which makes them so effective at delivering industry-rocking solutions.
If we can influence the growth of more startups in the country, the direct beneficiaries of these is an increased talent pool, improved economic standing, and ultimately, the accelerated progress of Malaysia.
With MaGIC’s recent realignment to the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (Mosti), how we’re able to drive this progress has become even clearer. It’s through continuous innovation. And the fuel that MaGIC uses to drive this innovation are the startups we support.
Due to the increasingly shortened time between the first hints of a tech solution to its widespread proliferation, the nation needs to stay one step ahead in order to reap the benefits of these future innovations. That’s why our focus on advanced technology startups is so pertinent, especially during a time where the country is battling the crippling effects of Covid-19.
With the country’s businesses inching slowly back to life during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) period, there’s never been a more urgent time to both enable and accelerate the growth of startups – the ones that have the most potential to deliver solutions that will benefit the most amount of people.
Take Saora Industries, for example. They’re a Malaysian startup driving innovations in economically and environmentally sustainable water purification methods. More recently, the company developed a solution to help healthcare providers cope with the rising number of Covid-19 patients. The Ethovent Semi Ventilator is a simple – therefore economical and highly-scalable – innovation that turns handheld manual resuscitators into mini ventilators, reducing the burden on providers and democratising quality healthcare access for communities that need it most.
Another startup with the potential to benefit many is Poladrone, which is developing drone technologies for a range of industry use cases including agriculture, construction, surveillance, and area surveying. The use of these solutions have the potential to save enterprises huge sums of money which can be then reinvested into their growth.
Accelerating the path to commercialization with NTIS
As a key member of the National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) secretariat, MaGIC’s ability to incite the growth of advanced tech startups has now been amplified.
In the past, the journey from idea to commercialisation would see startups engaging individual players to translate their ideas into viable products - for example, R&D, regulation, funding, and market access agencies. What the NTIS does is bring the right people together to clear the bottlenecks for high potential startups to reach commercialisation.
MaGIC is well-positioned to drive the NTIS as we’ve been enablers and facilitators for startups since our inception. We’ve been connecting the dots for over six years, helping guide startups along their lifecycle and connecting them with public-private partners that can benefit them the most. What has been enhanced now is that we have a better end-to-end involvement of the startup’s journey – so we’re able to serve them better.
Turning Malaysia into a high-tech innovation nation
A series of things need to happen for Malaysia to become a high-tech nation. Tapping into the opportunities of technology and innovation, and making sure we stay ahead of them, is a big one.
On Bloomberg’s latest Innovation Index - an annual study of the world’s most innovative economies - Malaysia is the 27th most-innovative country in the world. That’s pretty impressive, but we have our work cut out for us. While we’re one of the best in manufacturing output levels, we’re weak in productivity, and the percentages of our workforce engaging in R&D, along with those with higher education degrees pales in comparison to other high-tech nations.
Through the work we do with startups, and our new mandate on the NTIS secretariat, MaGIC is strategically-positioned to improve Malaysia’s standing in at least two of those critical innovation areas.
With the pace of innovation speeding up, it’s important to create the right conditions for the right technologies to flourish. This monumental task requires great ideas, strong government backing, and good collaboration among key public-private entities. We’re close and I think we’ve got the right stuff to get there.
As Alan Turing once said, “Those who can imagine anything can create the impossible.”
Note: Dzuleira Abu Bakar is CEO of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), a government agency entrusted to enable and foster the sustainable growth of startups (technology) and social entrepreneurship in Malaysia. MaGIC’s core functions are to facilitate capacity building, enhance market access, facilitate funding and assist in navigating the regulatory framework.