Malaysia has all ingredients to be a startup hub, but lacks ‘Michelin Star Chefs’ to mix them well: Ashran Ghazi

Ghazi also admitted there was some intention at the government level to shut down MaGIC, in order to avoid overlapping, as well as to streamline things

Ashran Ghazi

Ashran Ghazi, who stepped down as the CEO of Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in November last year, feels that the country has all the ingredients to turn it into a startup hub, but what it lacks is the “Michelin Star Chefs” who can mix these ingredients in the right proportion.

Ghazi, who is currently serving as the CEO of Dattel Asia, a home-grown consumer intelligence company, also believes that the local market is the perfect test bed for a Southeast Asia’s startups.

In an interview with e27, Ghazi said that Malaysia has a great potential and is quite ripe for growth within Southeast Asia. However, it needs to still churn new ways of thinking from the bottom up.

“We need to have raw entrepreneurial spirit that is resilient in the open market and also need to build more creative and innovative thinking people. People who cannot stand status quo. We have the ingredients, but sometimes what we lack is enough “Michelin Star Chefs” who can mix these ingredients in right proportion,” he commented.

Ghazi joined MaGIC in April 2016 after its founding CEO Cheryl Yeoh departed in January that year. During his tenure, Ghazi brought in several initiatives, including the Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibility Program (designed to bring startups and corporates for mutual benefits), Impact Driven Enterprise, Global Entrepreneurship Community Summit, PUSH (Great Social Entrepreneurship Programme), Corporate Open Innovation Program, and Mentorship Platform.

Towards the end of his period, MaGIC went through a controversy when the newly-elected Mahathir Mohamad government intended to wind up the agency in May 2018. Talking about this, Ghazi admitted there was some intention at the government level to shut down several agencies, including MaGIC, in order to avoid overlapping, as well as to streamline things.

Also Read: MaGIC or no MaGIC, Malaysia’s startup ecosystem is bound to flourish!

“MaGIC, like many other agencies, was in a pretty unique situation then. True there was some intent as a whole to tighten the ship within the government. In most conversations happened around that time, there was a sentiment that many agencies were overlapping. This seemed to be the case at a macro level, but if you closely analysed things, you will get a different picture. Indeed, all these organisations are doing different activities,” he clarified.

He went on to say that there were naturally many views during that time. So, before MaGIC stabilised and landed as an agency under the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development (MED), Ghazi had to educate and inform relevant stakeholders about the work MaGIC has done, its impact, as well as its future aspirations. “We were meeting with different people in the new government. Finally, we got an audience in the form of the Minister of Entrepreneurship Development. He immediately saw the value of the organisation and thought about how MaGIC fits in his aspirations in driving the entrepreneurial community to be future ready.”

As soon as the Minister got convinced and appreciated the context, he decided to move MaGIC to the MED family. It was indeed an exciting time for the agency, he added. “So it wasn’t so much about the government changing mind but, from my perspective, various ministries needed to get clarity on what they wanted to do and ensure that they had the right agencies under them. But I must say that we had a nerve-wrecking experience during those four to five months due to the uncertainties.”

Ghazi also added that MaGIC, under the new leadership, is getting ready to execute big things in 2019. It is tuned towards working closely with private sector and is designing programmes in a strategic manner to scale new heights.

“I cannot agree with the opinion of several people that MaGIC has not done much. I think we have done quite a bit and we wish we had done more. I feel there are naturally certain things that the agency can be done well, but there are certain things that can be done better as a private entity. MaGIC is in a transition to scale its impact, and this is what I have been instilling since day one of joining MaGIC. I think MaGIC under the new leadership will be able to see the results of this as the seeds of scale has been planted over the last 2.5 years,” he noted.