- aCAT is a co-working space located in Penang that was conceptualised by the Penang state government to drive its STEM initiative and make Penang more savvy in the fields of technology and entrepreneurship.
- The space offers the standard facilities of a co-working space along with other unique offerings such as workshops, accelerator programmes, and funding rounds to help technopreneurs of all levels.
Penang has proven itself to be one of Malaysia’s leading lights as far as tech entrepreneurship is concerned. Over the years, the Penang state government has faithfully devoted resources to building the quality of technological development at various levels, with its STEM (Science-Technology-English-Mathematics) initiative paving the way for many other initiatives to take root and grow.
One of these initiatives is aCAT, a co-working space and collaborative hub that was launched in 2015 and purpose-built to serve Penang’s tech ecosystem.
“The state government saw the potential in some of our early-stage startups back then, and then they too saw the boom in entrepreneurship such as the rise of Piktochart, Exabytes, and Cytron Technologies,” explained Howie Chang, who runs aCAT as a director along with 5 other team members.
“So they decided to start aCAT—an abbreviation for Connect, Accelerate, Transcend—as a hub to groom and nuture tomorrow’s tech startups and entrepreneurs, be them seasoned or aspiring.”
More Than The Usual
At first glance, aCAT appears to be similar to most other co-working spaces out there, with the standard high-speed WiFi, free flow of coffee and biscuits, and meeting rooms all available for patrons beginning at a price of RM25 a day.
It does look very no-frills, especially compared to some of the more lavish and decorated co-working spaces we’ve seen around KL.
But look deeper, and you’ll also notice that aCAT has an extremely hands-on approach to building its local tech community, providing monthly events and workshops and other seasonal programmes to teach, connect, and motivate people to become better innovators and entrepreneurs.
“We are beyond a co-working space,” said aCAT Director Howie Chang. “In fact, we pride ourselves as a technology hub for local startups and entrepreneurs.”
“Everything we do is designed to grow our local tech startups and community, or in other words, we aim to provide the external support a tech startup would need.”
A few examples of these initiatives include the Founder Institute accelerator programme that mentors budding entrepreneurs on how to properly start their businesses, an idea validation programme called Leap Sprint, and also the Penang i4.0 Seed Fund, a special seed programme initiated in March 2018 to identify and fund tech startups with potential for high growth.
“Besides all that, we’ve also rolled out the aCAT Student Partners Programme this year that’s aimed at selected tertiary students only,” Howie said. “The idea is to stretch their abilities and equip them with soft skills, knowledge and practical experience way beyond the classroom.”
This particular programme, Howie explained, allow these student access to things like exclusive workshops, field trips to national-level conferences, and opportunities to organise actual events of their own.
“We’re always finding ways to provide value to our audience, which is why we’re always scouting for good speakers with great content to give talks at our space.”
“Earlier this February, we managed to invite Goh Peng Ooi—Malaysia’s first tech billionaire—over to aCAT to share his experience and thoughts to our audience,” he added. “And in April, we had founder of Goody25.com, Aaron Lim as well.”
“It’s through such events and programmes that we manage to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in Penang, especially to the younger generation.
All this, Howie explained, follows in the ethos of aCAT to “build the community and become the driver of digital transformation”.
On the topic of aCAT’s journey, Howie went ahead and told us about some of the successes that aCAT has had so far.
“We’ve accomplished some milestones, but what’s worth noting more is that we’ve in a way transcended the growth of some local startups,” he said. “Through Founder Institute, we’ve helped found some prominent startups that have managed to make a name for themselves in their respective industries—Poladrone being one of them.”
This success also coincides with the growth of aCAT’s number of clientele, with their current 75% occupancy rate double of what they were just a couple of years ago. Howie thinks this is due to the state government’s backing as well as the rising popularity of the startup and co-working fad over recent years.
“The co-working concept is no longer as foreign to the public because we are seeing more locals renting our tables,” Howie explained. “But the growth of the co-working space is ultimately secondary as we intend to put the community’s growth first.”
And when it comes to community growth, Howie thinks that Penang is its very own beast, with a strength very much unique compared to the rest of Malaysia.
“I see Penang as a vibrant, growing startup state,” he declared.
“I don’t think its growth has anything to do with keeping up with Kuala Lumpur or anywhere else—it’s about finding our focus areas that we can grow and be good in.”
He strongly stated his stance above comparison again.
“I don’t think comparing ourselves with others is the right mindset to have; we’re charting a course that is good for the people of Penang and beyond.”
“We have a strong base in manufacturing and hardware, which is why more startups are seen setting up shop in Penang,” he added.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Howie also made a note of the strong maker community that has become one of Penang’s trademarks, saying that it was imperative that this group be tightly integrated within the overall plans for Penang’s advancement as a progressive tech society.
He went on to give two examples of collaborations that aCAT currently has with the maker scene in Penang.
“For instance, we work quite closely with Penang Science Cluster for event collaborations and sometimes direct some of our keen co-workers to their maker’s lab,” he offered. “We also have close ties with Cytron Technologies.”
“We have them around for events quite often as we would like to keep educating the public about the essentials of hardware and its opportunities in the industry as a whole.”
“Depending on your definition of a maker, startup founders are very much makers and doers,” he said. “A thriving maker community will be beneficial to the startup growth in Penang.”
- To know more about aCAT, visit their website or Facebook page.
- You can also view our list of co-working spaces in Penang along with their rates here.
Feature Image Credit: aCAT