It’s amazing to see the growth of the local startup scene as time passes by. What was once seen as a risky and bold move when venturing into entrepreneurship is being more positively embraced nowadays as success stories continue to supply the right drive to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Enterprises with small to medium beginnings have gone to expand beyond the region even with the entrepreneurs responsible for these achievements going on to larger projects.
I came into this job without much, if any, knowledge of the entrepreneurial scene. It took a while to get used to and there were no easy guides in.
So that gave me the idea to put together this list for anyone else who’s fairly new into the Malaysian startup and SME scene. These people were chosen based on their influence both past and present in helping to build our local startup industry. We’re not just looking for startup founders, but for people who have shaped the ecosystem and played key roles in bringing it to where it is today.
If you’re looking to get familiar with the Malaysian startup industry, here’re some people whose contributions you should know about.
The Community Builders
1) Heislyc Loh
- The founder of StartupMamak, a startup community for technology entrepreneurs with close to 6,000 members.
- The co-director for Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Penang) chapters of Founder Institute, a training ground and launchpad for startup entrepreneurs in 100 different cities.
- A brand ambassador for AngelHack, a global hackathon movement that gathers software developers, designers and entrepreneurs to create technology prototypes in the span of 24 hours.
2) Curry Khoo
- Huge influence in bringing up the Penang startup ecosystem by joining the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in mid 2014 as the community builder for Penang.
- A part of the Coding Shophouse which provides affordable coding workshop to the local community.
- Started running Second Startup in 2016, a bootcamp for early stage startups involved with IoT (internet of things).
3) Dash Dhakshinamoorthy
- Co-founder of StartupMalaysia.org, a launchpad/accelerator platform for local startups.
- Helped to bring inspiring programs to the local ecosystem such as Silicon Valley Comes to Malaysia, Startup Weekend, The Global Startup Youth (GSY) to name a few.
- Responsible for bringing some international competitions to Malaysia such as The Stanford Innovation Challenge and The Global Clean Tech Competition.
- Put the Malaysian startup ecosystem on the global map as the Host of the Global Entrepreneurship Week.
- Currently in the midst of working on his next program which is a startup school aiming to help build problem solving culture amongst kids between ages 10–15. The school will be called Startup School Asia.
4) Inbaraj Suppiah
- CEO of Pixaworks Creative Sdn Bhd, a creative agency specialising in Web Design, App Development, Social Media Strategy, Web Hosting & Maintenance, Branding & Print Design, Video Production, Photography and other related services.
- Has organised multiple hackathons under his own brand called JomHack.
- Launched a new Cyberjaya-based co-working space for startups and SMEs known as The LaunchPad.
- Helps manage a startup community gathering event called OpenCoffeeClub KL which has close to 5,000 members.
5) Tan Swee Yeong
- Has been a well-known angel investor since 2010 currently handling his own venture known as SYT Capital Sdn Bhd.
- Founded his previous startup, UnrealMind Interactive Bhd, which provides mobile content.
- He is recognised as the most prolific angel investor in the country currently, having invested in many noticable startups such as Milk A Deal, DeliverEat, Nexx Studio, Hermo, and Ocision.
6) Nazrin Hassan
- The Group Chief Executive Officer of Cradle Group, the leading funding and equity investment Government-linked company in Malaysia specializing in funding and commercializing early stage technology ideas/startup ventures and driving private investment into the technology startup space.
- The Executive Director of Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM)
- Examples of startups Cradle has funded include Offpeak.my, WORQ, SupplyCart, FLEXIROAM, and HostelHunting.
7) Christopher Chan
- One of the first leading tech ventures in Malaysia.
- Back in 1996, Christopher Chan set up a software solutions company called The Media Shoppe (TMS) with 2 partners. He has recently retired.
- TMS started out producing web-based solutions for small and medium sized industries and has grown into one of Malaysia’s leading companies in developing world-class homegrown internet and mobile based applications and solutions for more than 180 clients in 10 countries.
- Was involved in the overall management and the development of strategic directions of TMS Group.
- Awarded the PIKOM Computimes ICT Award for ICT Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001 and a finalist at the 2004 Ernst & Young ICT Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
8) Tengku Farith Rithauddeen
- The Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of SKALI, a pioneer in e-business and e-government services.
- SKALI bloomed in the nineties when they launched the Asian-based mirror website for the search engine Alta Vista, which was the world’s most popular search engine before Yahoo and Google.
- In 2002, Tengku Farith was selected as one of the 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow (GLT) by the World Economic Forum.
- He became the first recipient of the Young Entrepreneur Award by theMalay Chamber of Commerce in 2004.
- Awarded Most Outstanding Entrepreneur for2008 by the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurs Award (APEA) Organisation.
9) Chok Kwee Bee
- The Managing Director of Teak Capital.
- Previously, she handled the operations of Walden International and BI Walden in Malaysia, a Silicon Valley based venture capital firm.
- Before becoming a VC, she was Head of Corporate Finance at AmInvestment Bank.
- Currently a member of the Malaysian Venture Capital Development Council (MVCDC) which was formed under the auspices of the Securities Commission.
- A non executive Board member of the Audit Oversight Board and a member of the Exchange Committee of Labuan International Financial Exchange.
- The past Chairman of the Malaysian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (MVCA).
10) Bikesh Lakhmichand
- The founding partner of 1337 Ventures, Malaysia’s first Accelerator programme.
- Has helped to mentor, develop and invest in 40 technology start-ups under the 1337 Ventures portfolio in the verticals of gaming, social networking, education, big data, proximity marketing, wearable technology and recently fintech.
- The founder of Alpha Startups, a pre accelerator programme in SEA to help startups validate their ideas, refine their prototypes and channels to market.
- The Co-founder of iTrain, South East Asia’s leading technology training centre. He pioneered mobile development trainings in the region and has major universities licensing their programmes in Malaysia and South East Asia.
- iTrain is one of the first Google Web Academy’s in the world and conducted iOS education outreach programmes for Apple.
11) Khailee Ng
- Started building web products at the age of 15 and building companies at 24.
- Founded an e-commerce site called Groupsmore which was then acquired by Groupon.
- Founded a media company called SAYS.com which was then acquired by Catcha Group.
- Currently acts as the Managing Partner of 500 Startups, a seed venture capital firm, where he takes care of the Southeast Asia fund and focuses on expanding 500’s global presence.
- Helped to lead over 120 investments in SEA tech startups, including Grab, Carousell, Bukalapak and other regional champions.
- His achievements in the investment and startup industry have been featured by Bloomberg, TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, and Fortune.
12) Joel Neoh
- Previous founder of Groupon Malaysia and the International Vice President of Groupon Asia Pacific.
- Also founded the health-based startup, KFIT, which has now been rebranded to Fave.
- At 20, his first business venture was a student agency set-up while studying engineering in university.
- Was crowned the winner of Malaysia’s first corporate reality television programme called The Firm in 2007.
- He started a business venture called Youth Asia in 2008, a social technology company known to create a few tech startups including YouthSays (which as been rebranded to Says Sdn Bhd) and GroupsMore, which later on joined Groupon via acquisition in 2010.
- Won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Emerging Entrepreneur category in Malaysia in 2012.
- Was named as one of Asia’s Top 10 entrepreneurs as well as Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum in 2013.
- His strong belief in building a world-class work culture has led some of his organisations to win the WorldBlu Most Democratic Workplaces in 2013 and Best Place to Work by Glassdoor in 2012.
- He sits on the board of public listed RevAsia, Monash School of Business and AIESEC.
- The Prime Minister of Malaysia recognised him with the Malaysian Service Medal, listed as Top 40 under 40, and was named to the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders Alumni.
13) Josh Teng
- Founder of NEXT Academy, a coding school in Southeast Asia that has 9 week bootcamp program to teach people how to build apps.
- His initial goal was to become an investment banker in a big bank before 2008 but fell through when he realised it didn’t fall in line with what he wanted to do.
- Started out as a non-coder and took 2 years to self-learn online before he was comfortable coding by himself.
- Graduated from a Silicon Valley coding bootcamp.
- He founded Televate, a cloud-based software solution (SaaS) for enterprise call centres.
- After noticing he couldn’t find enough developers to cater to the growing need, he decided to start NEXT Academy.
- Graduates from NEXT Academy have been hired by companies such as GrabTaxi, KFIT, GoGet, Manulife and more.
- Some of their students have also started companies such as VapeClubMy, BorderPass, Blackbox Dev Labs, and GoGet.
14) Cheryl Yeoh
- Founding CEO of MaGIC, a government-funded agency to support entrepreneurship in Malaysia and ASEAN.
- Helped to put the Malaysian startup scene onto the world map by building up its ecosystem in under 2 years.
- Co-founded Reclip which was acquired by Walmart Labs in 2012.
- Currently acts as the Chief Marketing Officer of Hack Reactor as well as a Non-Executive Board of Director of Flexiroam Limited, an Australia-based telecommunications company.
- One of the four Southeast Asians to be selected as a LinkedIn Influencer.
- In 2012, Yeoh was named “Top 44 Female Founders Every Entrepreneur Should Know” by Mashable.
15) Mark Chang
- Founder of Jobstreet and MOL AccessPortal.
- Serves on the boards of Vitrox Technologies, Innity Corporation Berhad and 104 Corporation, Taiwan.
- Helped to build MOL Online Sdn Bhd (currently MOL AccessPortal) in 1995, which was Malaysia’s first commercial website, offering portal services.
- Its most profitable section, online job listings, was then spun off into JobStreet.com today.
- Chang also serves as the Penang State Advisor for Persatuan Usahawan Muda Malaysia (PUMM), as well as an advisor in the AllStars program.
- Also known to be a mentor to Khai Yin, the founder of GoodPlace.my.
16) Shamsul Jafni Shafie
- The head of WatchTower & Friends (WTF) Sdn Bhd, a company with a crowdfunding platform, a movie review site and an online technology portal for students.
- His career started as the Deputy Public Prosecutor in the Commercial Crime Unit in the Malaysian Attorney General Chambers. He later joined the Securities Commission (SC) and spent 3 years there.
- He then joined the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), a statutory body that is the regulator for the communications and multimedia industry in Malaysia as the Director of the Security, Trust and Governance Department.
- His crowdfunding platform, pitchIN, has seen many startups getting many funding success such as Kakitangan.com, RunningMan and BabyDash.
- pitchIN is currently the platform with the highest amount crowdfunded and Babydash is said to have the distinction of largest number of investors for an Equity Crowd Funding campaign in Malaysia and possibly ASEAN.
17) Ganesh Kumar Bangah
- Co-founder and Director of MOL Global Inc, one of South East Asia’s largest internet companies which was subsequently listed on the NASDAQ becoming South East Asia’s first internet listing in the US-stock market. He has recently stepped down from his position.
- Helped to grow MOL Global to have operations in more than 14 markets out of which a far majority were profitable for the company.
18) Vishen Lakhiani
- Founded three companies; Mindvalley (an education technology company that publishes products focused on personal spiritual development and lifelong learning), Dealmates (a group buying platform) and Blinklist (a social bookmarking service).
- Dealmates was founded with Patrick Grove as part of a joint-venture between Catcha Group and Mindvalley.
- Founded A-Fest, an invite-only conference that offers training in conscious entrepreneurship and mindfulness.
- Published a self-help book called The Code of the Extraordinary Mind which achieved position number 10 on the New York Times Bestseller List for Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous.
- Part of the Innovation Board for the X PRIZE Foundation due to his charitable donations to XPRIZE since 2013.
19) Warren Leow
- CEO of designs.net, stockunlimited.com which is an online marketplace for templates, services, and online-to-offline printing.
- VP Strategic Partnerships & Revenue at 123RF.com, the 4th largest stock image business in the world.
- The founder of Guru-App, a learning management platform with 50+ apps.
- Acted as a management consultant with Bain & Comapany, as well as an energy trading professional.
- Previous Executive Director at MaGIC where he was responsible for developing and running most of MaGIC’s core programs, including the largest accelerator program in Asia with a Southeast Asian focus.
20) Ashran Ghazi
- Current CEO of MaGIC.
- Started off his career with Petronas Mitco.
- Co-founder of Joota, a social content networking site that allows users to curate content and follow specific area of interest.
- Joota managed to garner private investment of USD 2.1 million with patent and distribution partners in USA and won the Best of the Best Award from MAD TechVentures 2013.
- Chairman for Youth Trust Foundation (myHarapan) and New Entrepreneurs Foundation (myNEF),
- Deputy Chairman of the Global Innovation & Entrepreneurship Foundation.
- Previous President of the Malaysian Association of Bumiputera ICT Industry & Entrepreneurs (NEF).
- Helped with the creation of ComicXcel which is a specialised 3-month accelerator program for talents and/or companies who wants to start a business in the creative content industry, as well as the Rice Bowl Startup Awards, a new ASEAN regional award for startups.
There are many key players we could not fit into this list but if you have anyone else you think should be recommended, feel free to leave their names in the comment section below for a possible part 2!
Feature Image Credit: Compiled from thestar.com.my, malaymailonline.com, linkedin.com, facebook.com