A seasoned investor with immense experience, Abu Bakar has worked in prominent organisations such as Cradle, Khazanah, and Malaysia Venture Capital Management, among others. She is also a champion of women empowerment and has participated as a panelist in events such as Standard Chartered’s Press For Progress Women Forum.
Abu Bakar is joining MaGIC when the agency is going through a period of restructuring. In this email interview with e27, she talks about her plans for MaGIC and the startup ecosystem in general.
Ashran Ghazi stepped down as the CEO of MaGIC in November. Why did it take almost five months for the agency to appoint a new CEO?
I want to see MaGIC breeding entrepreneurs, who create solutions that fit the world and not just for a specific country
Malaysia saw a change in government in May 2018 after over 60 years, and came with it some major change. MaGIC was moved from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development (MED) towards the last quarter of 2018 in line with renewed mandate of the government catalyse entrepreneurship as a driver to the economy. As with any transition, delay is inevitable there as everyone in the system figures things out, which I think is completely understandable.
MED did not want to rush the process of getting in the right senior leadership team that would fit in to the broader mandate of the Ministry as well as the organisation, which is essentially the right thing to do.
What are going to be your immediate goals for MaGIC?
Officially I’ve been on board for over one month now, but given my lengthy involvement in Malaysian tech ecosystem in my past roles, I have always believed in the role that MaGIC plays. I believe MaGIC is uniquely positioned within the ecosystem. Being a government agency, we are an extension of the government but with the flexibility of operating very much in a private sector setting, which allows us to effectively play the role of a connector.
My vision is that MaGIC be the anchor that will stitch the parts of the ecosystem from pipelining of talents and companies to funding. MaGIC will serve as a launchpad for local entrepreneurs to gain access to regional and global players and ecosystems to not just learn but to also spread their products, services and capabilities to the world and vice versa. Startups from all over the globe should see MaGIC as a gateway to the ASEAN market.
I see tremendous potential for MaGIC and I want to have more of our Malaysian entrepreneurs and startups on the global map. Not an easy or linear task but we do have what it takes, just about ensuring the right balance of everything.
We plan to do this through several approaches:
- Connecting local entrepreneurs through exposing success stories as well as inspiring the public through various programmes and activities,
- Collaborating with the right partners and agencies to deliver programmes to breed entrepreneurs who are problem solvers and solution-driven,
- Creating new and need-based programmes to ensure ASEAN and global access. We plan to establish education access for qualified entrepreneurs with regional and global exposure.
We want to aid in the nation’s preparation for an innovation-led economy by nurturing a thriving ecosystem that is ready for the future economy. We lead the movement to create a truly united ASEAN entrepreneurship ecosystem.
You have worked in the VC industry in the recent past. How are you going to leverage this experience to take MaGIC to the next level? Going forward, will MaGIC give more emphasis on investments rather than just mentorship?
Coming in from the other side of the value chain, i.e funding companies, the advantage I have is that I have a clear view of what it takes to create fundable companies and what investors look for before the fund a company. Of the vast number of startups that fail each year, nearly half cite lack of funding or working capital as the cause.
Now, at MaGIC, we provide a strong network of mentorship because we deeply understand the need for early entrepreneurs to have a sounding board in growing their business. But we also do know that mentorship is just one of the many components such as product improvement, market access, access to funding and so on to ensure growth and success of a business.
At MaGIC, I envision our role to be a connector as well as facilitating linkages of the various components, piecing the pieces together to provide meaningful and holistic support entrepreneurs and startups.
MaGIC went through some kind of confusion last year when the new PM announced its abolition. How do you look at this overall controversy?
With any change in leadership, which applies to both government administration and institutions, it’s always an opportunity to review what works and what does not. A chance to hit refresh and bring in new thinking and perspective. And to me that’s positive. Many agencies also came under scrutiny in this process, MaGIC included.
There was obviously some noise during the transition period but there wasn’t any form decision. What matters is that the government recognises the unique and integral role that MaGIC plays in the entrepreneurship ecosystem and has continued to support its existence. With the move to the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development which has the important mandate of catapulting entrepreneurship as a key driver to the Malaysian economy, we are confident of stronger years ahead for MaGIC.
You are a champion of gender equality in the workplace. Will you continue to fight for this as the CEO of MaGIC?
Of course, I would continue to promote gender equality. It’s something I believe in. But it’s important that we recognise that it should be on merits. I believe in equality for all, equal access to opportunities for everyone.
Also, I think you’d do a disservice to the equality agenda if women agenda, for example, is forwarded based on gender alone. It’s fighting for equality based on merits for women, who otherwise wouldn’t get opportunity by reason of their gender.
Having said this, we must also take cognisance of the huge strides this country has made in this area judging by recent appointments made by the government. I see this as a very positive and huge step to equality for all.
Where do you want to see MaGIC in the next five years?
We can foresee a rise in tech solutions in the next few years.
We see three key industry trends happening:
- Artificial Intelligence is progressing rapidly, and the race to become a world leader in the space is growing tighter, especially between the US and China. Key gainers of this trend will be the banking, security and security, market intelligence, and possibility education sectors. We also see more and more new technologies coming into the market, from AR and VR to Machine Learning, among other things. These new technologies can help entrepreneurs and startups embrace the industrial revolution better, fine-tune their offerings and accommodate customers’ needs and wants.
- Growth of deep-tech startups, those who are looking at existing technologies and challenging the status quo. Industries such as life sciences, aerospace, clean energy, robotics, agri-tech, computing, chemistry and biochemistry, and others could be the key beneficiaries of this trend.
- The ‘categorical blur’ which disrupts conventional business models. Industries such as public governance and education could be the biggest losers from this industry trend.
We at MaGIC want to be a part of this which is why we are already providing capacity building and accelerating startup growth through our various programmes to enable the growth of entrepreneurs who are able to build vital, future-ready solutions with design thinking and exponential technologies. We also provide everyone with an equal access to entrepreneurship education and an avenue to experiment with new ideas and get guidance on how to build a business.
Ultimately, I want to see MaGIC breeding entrepreneurs, who create solutions that fit the world and not just for a specific country. We want to create global champions that start locally, here in Malaysia. We also want entrepreneurs to start thinking of the kind of impact that they are creating by placing a heavy emphasis on the sustainable development goals, which will enable Malaysia to compete in the global marketplace and attract top global talent and innovation capital. We want to stop limiting innovative solutions to just be within a specific country.
Image Credit: MaGIC