In a conversation with Matt van Leeuwen, Chief Innovation Officer of Sunway Group and Director of Sunway iLabs, alongside MRANTI Chief Ecosystem Development Officer, Safuan Zairi, we explore the importance of University student entrepreneurship, why it’s never too late to start early and how the LaunchX programme aims to bring youths from across the nation together.
For those of you who may not have come across the programme, LaunchX is the first university led startups accelerator programme in Malaysia, hosted by Sunway Innovation Labs at Sunway University (iLabs Foundry). The LaunchX programme is one that aims to curate a synergistic and holistic entrepreneurial ecosystem that consists of students and industry experts to support growing student entrepreneurs to create quality and sustainable startups.
The aim of the programme, which may sound simple, is definitely one that proves to be challenging for these young entrepreneurs who lack the experience but make up for it with their enthusiasm and innovative ideas.
The 3+2 months programme is an equity-free, no-strings-attached programme and expects participating students to graduate by forming a winning team, develop a marketable MVO and complete at least one round of pilot testing, followed by the possibility of registering their ideas into an entity.
“Before launching the first version of the programme in 2021, we asked ourselves if we were addressing the problems enough through a series of our other programmes under Sunway iLabs.
“We were working with a number of student entrepreneurs through the other programmes, but the graduates coming out of these programmes unfortunately did not fit the typical accelerator mold that was running at the time,” says Matt.
The immediate gap that was identified by the team resulted in the birthing of LaunchX.
For the iLabs team, working and developing young students to become aspiring entrepreneurs was not something new. Through their Startup Foundry, a full semester, credit bearingelective course of Sunway University, students of year two and above are encouraged to participate and try their hands at building something new.
Notable industry experts guiding these students in the programme included the likes of Doc Siva, Senior Partner & Co-founder of Scaleup Malaysia Accelerator, Thomas Tsao, Co-founder of Gobi Partners and Dato’ Haizam Jamalullail, Managing Partner, Tuas Capital Partners and Hive Southeast Asia.
Fast forward, the team behind the Startup Foundry Elective Course developed the LaunchX programe, which initially got its start as a Startup Incubation Programme for Sunway Education Group members. Now, they are inviting students from various other higher educational institutions to join in, making the programme Malaysia’ first university startup accelerator programme.
A Significant Role To Empower Economic Growth
On a macro level, Matt highlights that startups play an important role in empowering economic growth through science, technology and innovation.
With this in mind and aligning its mission with the Higher Education Institution (HEI) Entrepreneurship Action Plan 2021-2025, LaunchX aims to curate a synergistic and holistic entrepreneurial ecosystem to better support student entrepreneurs.
However, reports also show that 15% of all startup founders are under the age of 29, and Matt believes the numbers in Malaysia are even lower.
“Yet, many young Malaysians, especially University students, come with bold ideas and we are of the belief that these young trailblazers are changing industries one step at a time,” he says.
While students may be equipped with tools such as design thinking to identify problems and create corresponding solutions, Matt says they lack the necessary support to go far.
“While the ideas may be great, the young founders lack business acumen, right network, mentors and most of the time, the capability to manage between their academic demands and their startup,” he tells Disruptr.
Here’s where the LaunchX programme comes in and hopes to plug these gaps by functioning not only as an ecosystem builder but as a support for these aspiring young entrepreneurs.
What does LaunchX hope to achieve?
In the previous cohort, the programme successfully kicked off the journey of 5 young startups who experienced Sunway University’s unique ecosystem. Now with a larger goal in mind and an expanded pool of participants, the programme aims to go bigger with its goals.
“In the years to come, I hope to see the programme become the Y-Combinator of Malaysia and serve as a one-stop center for students looking for support to turn their ideas into a fundable startup.
“We also hope to change the investment landscape in Malaysia and play an important role in boosting investor confidence so we can attract more investment into the early-stage startups, supporting them from the beginning,” Matt highlights.
Chiming in and supporting the idea of LaunchX becoming a support system for young entrepreneurs in the future, Safuan says this is a much needed initiative in current times. MRANTI which serves as a partner to the programme hopes to see more innovative startups come out of the programme and solve real-life problems plaguing communities in the nation.
“As a government entity which supports the startup ecosystem, we are not here to compete but to collaborate and reduce overlapping. We are not short of creative startups, but we need to make the path for new entrepreneurs much more clearer,” says Safuan.
“There is a lack of the overall journey and in the past, we rushed into developing programmes with a common mission to accelerate startups into something bigger. But this time around, through our partnership with Sunway, we get to work on different public issues sectors and open up more opportunities for these startups,” he added.
With over 180 problem statements, MRANTI hopes to see startups coming out from the cohort go on to tackle some of these issues.
Safuan also goes on to highlight that in some circumstances where founders are ready, but their products aren’t or vice-versa, programmes such as LaunchX will be able to facilitate in closing these gaps.
He also points out that discussions on commercialisation rates are not widely talked about and these issues can be tackled through programmes such as LaunchX as well.
An Ecosystem Of Support
Throughout the programme, each of the student ventures will be paired with one mentor from the VC category to understand the investment insights and one industry mentor to equip them with the necessary business knowledge.
Additionally, post-programme, the student entrepreneurs will have access to options to pursue after the programmes and partners they would like to continue seeking support from. Job opportunities are also provided by the VC partners if the student entrepreneurs are keen to shadow under the VC while building their startups.
LaunchX is supported by MRANTI as the innovation partner alongside other key stakeholders such as ecosystem partners (MDEC, Cradle, TEGAS Digital Village and Digital Innovation Hub, and Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre (SCENIC), Venture Capital Partners (MAVCAP, Kejora, The Hive SEA, Ficus Capital, Nexea, Scale-up Malaysia, Gobi Partners, Bawatana, Sunway Corporate Venture Capital, Nanyang Angels and Reactor School), Perk Partners (Microsoft, AWS, Stripe and BossBoleh), industry Partners, IPTA and IPTS in Malaysia.
Check out previous success stories of startups from the previous cohort here: Hypollect, Kita, Greenbox, Homies, and OPACK.