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On April 22 and 23, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre was buzzing with entrepreneurs, investors, government officials, and of course, the media. We had all gathered for the inaugural KL20 Summit, an event designed to propel Kuala Lumpur forward as a top 20 startup hub in the world. 

An ambitious summit, KL20 featured a myriad of panel discussions, fireside chats, and showcases. A key part of the event had been the introduction of the Action Paper, which outlined initiatives that are already underway in order to “unleash” our economy.

The Action Paper was no doubt inspiring and showed off the government’s thoughtfulness in creating programmes that can further our nation. But what about the rest of the event?

The Vulcan Post team was there on both days, tuning in to almost all the main events. Like many others, we had high hopes for the event, especially considering the star-studded lineup of speakers highlighted. Did KL20 meet those expectations?

Missing the memo?

Prior to KL20, we came across Minister of Economy Rafizi Ramli’s social media posts about the event.

In one post in particular, he stated that KL20 is not just for “techies”, as it served as a launchpad for “a new era of high-skilled jobs in Malaysia”, regardless of industry. 

“At KL20, you’ll be part of it. KL20 should matter to you, no matter your field. Lawyers, startups need legal muscle to navigate regulations. Your expertise could be the missing piece. Accountants, every startup needs financial wizards,” he stated.

Image Credit: KL20 Summit

But how true was that? Did lawyers and accountants really have something to gain from the event? Was there a platform for them to showcase their talents?

Our answer is a resounding no.

Of course, we understand that in the bigger picture, lawyers and accountants will definitely benefit from the ethos and vision of KL20. But to imply that they specifically would benefit from attending the KL20 Summit is not true.

Many of the conversations were centred around describing and contextualising various industries, which is great for people to get a feel for the potential that Malaysia and Southeast Asia holds. But to us, many of the talks did not impart practical roadmaps or answer burning questions that may give talents a leg up in the economy. 

We also noticed that KL20 was being advertised as a place where people can “learn and develop skills”, which again felt untrue. While insights, knowledge, and connections were certainly offered at the event, skill and capacity-building were not facilitated over the two-day event.

For this to be true, KL20 would have required workshops, not panel discussions.   

While some entrepreneurs posted their disappointments online, stating that the KL20 summit did not give much value to startup entrepreneurs, there were others yet who praised the event for connecting stakeholders.

In their sharing, it sounds like KL20 did present great networking opportunities, but it’ll take time to determine whether all this networking will manifest into real projects, collaborations, and growth.

A one-way conversation

It was great to see the government of Malaysia bringing in top speakers and industry experts such as Nothing CEO Carl Pei, ex-Fave founder Joel Neoh, Startup Genome’s Stephan Kuester, and so many more industry leaders.

But I felt that their expertise and insights were not maximised—at least not for the general public.  

One disappointing factor of the event was that instead of dialogues, it was more like one speech after the next. In order to really make attendees feel “part of” the conversation, as our Minister of Economy said, I believe a two-way exchange must be facilitated.

This all comes down to the fact that there were no Q&A sessions. Not for media personnel like ourselves, not for founders, not for talents.

The audience, which thinned out over the two days, were not given an opportunity to have any comments or submit any questions to the speakers. That feels like a missed opportunity.

Sidelining local talents?

Overall, it seemed like the target audience for the summit wasn’t local investors, startup founders, or talents. It felt like it was more to attract foreign visitors, to draw them in to Malaysia.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Inviting foreign capital and talents is a key part of developing our country’s economy. I just wished there was more value, too, for local entrepreneurs and talents who took the time to attend the event.

Sure, there were some local names being featured in some panels as well as the showcase, but that’s not the point.

Featuring local entrepreneurs doesn’t mean fostering local entrepreneurs if the conversations they’re having are exclusionary and not even focused on how to develop said local entrepreneurs. I believe one or two panels that were focused on educating and inspiring Malaysian founders and talents would have been appreciated.

And instead of just having just a “founder stage”, “leader stage”, and a “catalyst corner”, which were the main sections of the event, more resources for job seekers and talents would have been great. Why not a job fair that runs concurrently? Why not a panel on how local talents can upskill, or what foreign MNCs look for when hiring?

This much, I believe, would have made a huge difference.

A promising future

The bright side is, there’s only up from here.

We don’t know whether KL20 will be a recurring annual event, but if it is, we hope to see improvements being made based on this summit.

All that said, I believe the event overall was an inspiring one, giving us a clearer picture of what the government is aiming for, and how ecosystem players are coming together to work towards that vision.

And just because we have some critiques doesn’t mean we did not gain great insights during the event. In fact, we’ve learnt a lot, and will be sharing more of our learnings soon.

There’s always room for improvement, though, so hopefully, the next summit of this kind will be more robust, facilitating more dynamic conversations, candid dialogues, and inclusivity with more parts of the ecosystem. 

  • Learn more about KL20 Summit 2024 here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

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