Curry Khoo

Photo credit: Ch’ng Shi Png

Curry Khoo is one of the most well-known figures in the Malaysian startup community. The man started his journey in entrepreneurship in 2000 before founding TE4P, a company that hosts various tech-centric events for entrepreneurs and startups, about four years ago.

In mid 2014, Curry joined MaGIC, a centre that empowers entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, as a community builder in Penang. It was a move inspired by then CEO Cheryl Yeoh’s vision to raise Penang’s ecosystem to the next level by empowering the island’s startups and entrepreneurs. He later joined Douglas Khoo and ran The Coding Shophouse, a Penang-based learning academy that provides affordable coding courses, in 2015.

These days, Curry is busy working on his latest baby, Second Startup, a 12-week bootcamp for early-stage startups in IoT and fintech. The bootcamp will kick off in September and lasts until December.

Second Startup is a free bootcamp, and the organisers do not take any equity share. Only 10 startups will be selected to join the programme, with big partners that include Aemulus (a public-listed company in hardware sector), Cytron (a rapid prototyping company), Braintree (a payment solutions company under PayPal group), Next Money (an organisation that empowers fintech), and many more.

Besides Second Startup, the busy father of two is also working on other upcoming events, the Penang Mini Maker Faire and Startup Week George Town.

Curry shares his thoughts on the bootcamp and what makes Penang the next best thing for entrepreneurs and startups with e27. The following is the edited excerpt of the email conversation:

What makes Second Startup different from MaGIC, or other fintech bootcamps in Malaysia?

We don’t think there is such a thing as one-size-fits-all, which is why we’re only focusing on IoT and fintech, and we believe we have the right partners to help with this. The reason why we’re limiting the startups to 10 is that we want quality, as opposed to quantity. This way we could spend time accordingly with each startup.

Since we’re adopting agile methodology, there’ll be no fixed structure for the programme, as it will change and adapt according to the startups that got accepted into the programme. We embrace pivot and failure, hence the name Second Startup, which is a chance for entrepreneurs to make a difference after their first attempt failed to take off.

Because this is a bootcamp and not an accelerator programme, no funds will be given. Our main focus is on the technology side. We want to create a sustainable programme, and we are not here to compete with other accelerators, which is why we roped in Brinc as our accelerator partners.

What makes Penang a great ecosystem? How does the Penang state government help to grow startups?

At the moment the state government is not involved, but Khazanah is one of the co-organisers and Cradle might be in as partners.

This is a private programme supported by companies and organisations that want to grow the local ecosystem. For IoT & hardware side, there’s no doubt that Penang is one of the best places to grow a startup, as we have multinational companies, an abundance of engineers, and local companies that became huge. Aemulus, a listed company in hardware industry is here to help, together with other partners. So I’d tell the startups, who else can you learn from besides the local companies that have made it?

Locally, MNCs such as Intel, Motorola, Agilent, and HP are showing interest and participating in active discussions, but getting approval as official partners is going to take a while because the decision has to come from the HQ and not Penang.

Penang has a small and closed ecosystem. Everyone knows almost everyone. It’s practically easy to connect the dot down in Penang.

In your opinion, how would Penang’s ecosystem benefit Malaysia’s ecosystem as a whole?

Penang’s strength lies in its hardware and IoT. We believe those who are into hardware and IoT could come and benefit from the ecosystem that Penang has got to offer: the knowledge and talent pool.

For example, hardware startups from KL can come to Penang to learn about DFM (design for manufacturing) and Supply Chain, and get the right partners to produce the end product, all while maintaining the KL team. They can also hire the right engineers here. It does not mean the company has to relocate to Penang.

Besides its great ecosystem, why did you choose Penang as the main venue for your events? What kind of advantages does the state have that other states in Malaysia don’t?

The cost of running a startup in Penang is low, and founders can easily focus on building their awesome startup. As for me personally, I don’t plan on moving to other states. Plus, I found it inconvenient to travel back and forth to other states while running a business. Success can be achieved anywhere. It doesn’t belong to one place.

I was really inspired by Boulder city and their story, how a small state can become so successful. If Penang can do it, then it will be a case study for other cities in Malaysia to build their own ecosystem.

Can you elaborate on the challenges faced by startups that you’ll be addressing at the bootcamp?

When it comes to IoT and hardware, we’ll be focussing on design for manufacturing & supply chain. Most IoT and hardware startups do not have foundation on this part and are unable to launch their product. Hardware startup is the hardest of all, at least 5 times more difficult, with its long cycle, lots of funding needs and tonnes of issues. We understand these challenges, and will try our best to help startups solve the problems together with our partners. As for fintech, we’ll be focussing on the regulation, technology and security.

You mentioned that location doesn’t matter when it comes to fintech startups. Can you elaborate on that?

What we’ve learned about fintech is that it is very regulated in Malaysia, so it is very hard for foreign fintech startups to penetrate the market. This is also why we are yet to have Google Wallet or Stripe in this country. So, if a startup wants to do fintech in Malaysia, they’d have to be based in Malaysia to understand the regulation in order for it to run properly.

And as for running a company, it does not matter if you are in Penang or KL, but once your startup has been regulated, then you can base your startup anywhere you want and Penang is the best choice because of the low cost. In Malaysia, fintech and IoT are very new, and we’re still finding the right way to do it.

Image Credit: Ch’ng Shi Png