Malaysia at forefront of global innovation


Dr. Basu welcomes the leading role played by the Malaysian Government in spearheading innovation.

Dr. Sudeep Basu’s credentials are very impressive. He is an alumnus of the University of Louisville and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay; an honourary Guest Faculty & Guest Lecturer at Rutgers University and Stanford University; and currently serves as global practice leader for innovation services at corporate consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. As such, his expertise in many areas – including technology innovation, IP strategy, IP commercialisation, R&D policy, R&D benchmarking and innovation, and IP policy – means that he is a frequent speaker at all the world’s top conferences and is widely quoted by global media.

Dr. Basu experience has taken him around the world: the United States (where he lives), Japan, Turkey, India, and Poland, where he represents the US government to further the US-Poland partnership in R&D and technology commercialisation. Additionally, he has been hired by the Malaysian government as an advisor for Agensi Innovasi Malaysia (AIM) – so when a man of his experience and expertise says that Malaysia is on the global innovation map, Malaysians can feel proud about this.

The innovation specialist was in Malaysia in October as a speaker at the Innovating Malaysia Conference (IMC) 2015 organised by PlaTCOM Ventures, an AIM subsidiary. He last visited Malaysia three years ago, and sees a tremendous change in the people and their attitude towards innovation. “In my previous visit, I saw a lot of negativity and pessimism from different members of the innovation ecosystem,” he said. “They had given up even before getting started, thinking that the barriers were insurmountable – and there was this notion that things would never change, that innovation cannot happen in Malaysia.

What a difference these three years have made. Amazed at the transformation, Dr. Basu said, “What I am hearing is astoundingly positive and gives me immense hope. I hear folks from universities saying that we (AIM and universities) should take the lead in developing the 10-year technology horizon for the country; that we must collaborate with the industry to solve unmet market needs; and that we need to train our next generation of leaders to be able to adapt to a rapidly-changing world. I saw serious investors and driven entrepreneurs interacting in IMC’s ‘speed dating’ format, pitching their ideas for funding.”

He gave his meeting with Proton Holdings Bhd CEO Dato’ Abdul Harith Abdullah to illustrate how strong Malaysia’s desire to embrace innovation and change is. “Dato’ Abdul Harith wanted his team at Proton to listen to my talk on innovation. I was keen – but the problem was time, as I was on a very tight schedule. I managed to give them an 8am slot – and Dato’ Abdul Harith told me that he would send me a car at 7.30am. He did! When I arrived at the office at 8am, he had gathered all his top executives to hear my talk. I was surprised at his commitment, and that of his Proton team at working out the details and ensuring that everyone was there at that early hour,” he said, adding that it showed how serious Malaysian companies are about innovation.

Role of government

Dr. Basu welcomes the leading role played by the Malaysian Government in spearheading innovation, and is delighted by its pledge to double AIM’s budget to promote innovation – especially in these economically challenging times. This was made clear when during the launch of the National Corporate Innovation Index (NCII) Online Innovation Management Tool at the IMC, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dato’ Mah Siew Keong announced that Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib Tun Abdul Razak had announced a budget of RM100 million for AIM in 2016. “I think this is a very strong signal to the world,” he said. “It says that Malaysia means business, that we are here to innovate, and that we are very serious about this goal. The investor community must surely be encouraged by it.”

Dr. Basu said that this new Malaysia Boleh spirit was evident from the IMC conference itself. “From an organisational standpoint, the conference was truly world-class and very professionally delivered. Having chaired and organised several conferences around the world – including in Silicon Valley, where Frost & Sullivan is headquartered – I can tell you that it is very rare to see this level of attention to detail and flawless execution.”

He added that IMC is unique for the manner in which it brought together all the key players of the innovation value chain. “I met bright young minds from universities; C-level executives from industry; ministers; academics; technology transfer experts; venture capitalists; bankers; members of the media; entrepreneurs; professional services firms – you name them, they were there. These individuals were from all over the world – including China, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Vietnam, US, and Singapore. Of course, the largest and most energetic contingent was from Malaysia!”

Dr. Basu sees AIM’s extra budget allocation as a strong vote of confidence in the agency and its role, as well as speaking volumes about the leadership of CEO Mark Rozario. “Mark has led the organisation from the front, and has put Malaysia on the global innovation map. He is a remarkable leader who has helped change the mindset from the early days, where people thought AIM would be just another government agency, to the current view of AIM being the go-to catalyst for innovation in the country – whether it involves technological, social, educational or even business-model innovation. In fact, I was in the AIM offices recently, and there was a high-level delegation from Vietnam on a visit to learn how to innovate at the national level,” he said, adding that this showed that AIM’s impact and influence extends beyond Malaysia, and into the entire ASEAN region.

The expert feels that AIM and PlaTCOM – which is led by Dr. Viraj Perera – are at the forefront in creating a blueprint for innovation in Malaysia. “I believe that each and every programme launched by both these organisations reflects that blueprint in action. The future belongs to countries that allow the free flow of talent, ideas and capital. In this world of globalisation, countries that close the borders to these factors will be left behind in terms of economic development,” he said, citing the example of the United States as a leader in innovation for decades due to its open policy regarding immigration and talent. “The country continues to accept talents and students from around the world, and to let them succeed. I am a product of this US system.”

Dr. Basu said that other countries have learned from the US’s example, and are following suit. “Chile, for instance, opened its doors to entrepreneurs from around the world, saying ‘Whoever you are – if you have a good idea, come here! We will remove barriers, and make it easy for you to come here and start a company, and to drive economic growth.’ That is the idea of free flow of talent, capital and ideas.”

He feels that Malaysia, too, needs to continue its smart move in being more open about hiring the best people for the job, regardless of where they come from, citing the example of Dr. Perera, who was hired from the University of Oxford. “I must commend Mark for his vision, and for his ability to identify and scout for talent on a global basis. That is what great leaders do. It might have been difficult initially perhaps to make that sell internally – but they have done it, and the results are there for everyone to see. You have highly successful Malaysian leaders – CEOs like Tony Fernandez, Albern Murty and Mark himself – but the country is also open to looking globally for talent as needed. That is important, as people take note of it, and recognise that as a key strength of Malaysia.”

Dr. Basu warned that the biggest enemy of innovation for any country is a closed and outdated mindset which is not in sync with the global realities, especially when coupled with dysfunctional polices. “I always urge developing countries to focus on R&D, innovation and intellectual property policies such that they favour investments in innovation,” he said, adding that this will eventually result in economic growth.

Having met Malaysian entrepreneurs and innovators during his time here, Dr. Basu had some advice. “It is not easy being an entrepreneur – but there is a community of entrepreneurs here. What you need to do is find support within that community: seek help from mentors; have a pulse of the market; stay close to the unmet needs; try and get the market- and technology-play correct. The world is your playground – and these are very exciting times to be an entrepreneur and innovator in Malaysia.”

Coming from a man who has his pulse on the world of innovation, that is very good news indeed for Malaysia.

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