UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme Launch Event Summary

Malaysia is the UK’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN, with total trade worth more than 5 billion pounds. It has a fast-growing technology sector which is expected to contribute to more than 22% of GDP by 2025. It is also located strategically in the ASEAN digital economy which is projected to hit one trillion dollars by 2030.

Off the back of these market opportunities, the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme has been launched, serving as another step in broadening and deepening technology collaboration between the UK and Malaysia, and channelling some of the UK’s best and upcoming digital solutions to support Malaysian corporates like Sunway to deliver on Malaysia’s digital ambitions.

The UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme aims to connect UK tech businesses with leading Malaysian corporates to take advantage of the fast-growing market opportunities in the region. This inaugural programme is supported by the Digital Trade Network, MyDigital Corporation (Economic Planning Unit of Malaysia Prime Minister’s Department), Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and one of Malaysia’s largest conglomerates, Sunway Group.

As the Delivery Partner of this programme, we hosted the Launch Event last week, expounding on Sunway’s net zero strategy & innovation roadmap, the opportunities with Sunway and the Malaysia tech ecosystem, as well as how the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme serves as a pathway to Sunway iLabs’ Net Zero Labs.

Missed the Launch Event? Watch the session recording here:

The Sunway Opportunity

One of the main benefits of the programme for startups is the opportunity to work with Sunway iLabs’ Net Zero lab.

Sunway iLabs is a partnership between Sunway Group, Sunway University, and Sunway Ventures, bringing together the talent, industry and capital necessary to scale up innovation. In the keynote speech, Matt van Leeuwen, Chief Innovation Officer of Sunway Groups and Director of Sunway iLabs shared a high-level overview of the Sunway ecosystem, Sunway’s sustainability and Net Zero targets, and outlined the benefits of working with Sunway iLabs.

Through persistence, innovation, and taking sustainability into account, Sunway has transformed an old mining pool into a city. Today, the Sunway Group has 3 listed companies, over 13 business units from property development, construction, shopping malls, education, digital, healthcare, hotel, theme parks, building materials, trading and manufacturing, and more, with over 16,000 staff spread across 50 locations around the world, mostly in Southeast Asia. This allows entrepreneurs and startups they work with to leverage on these skills and networks.

Talent is at the core of innovation. Sunway Education Group currently serves more than 25,000 students across its colleges, high schools, university, vocational schools and coding schools. It also works with some of the world’s top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Lancaster in the UK. It has also built regional centres for sustainable development, including the Jeffrey Sachs Centre, and Sunway University will soon house the Asian centre for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), enabling privileged access the latest developments in sustainability development.

The Sunway City is Malaysia’s most dynamic living laboratory, allowing test bedding and sandboxing of solutions across their business units, offering researchers, students and entrepreneurs in the region and internationally to scale their business in Southeast Asia. It now focuses on 6 key focus verticals – edutech, digital health, smart cities, retail tech, agrifood tech and fintech.

Sunway iLabs’ Ventures Unit is a venture builder, VC and accelerator of startups. Over the years, it has made quite a number of investments into startups and scaleups across the 6 focus verticals via its various initiatives and programmes.

Sunway’s Net Zero Carbon Emissions Roadmap by 2050

Sunway has employed different strategies in their journey to become net zero by 2050. It has started looking into strategic frameworks for decarbonisation, resource management and pollution management.

So far, it has primarily focused on energy efficiency solutions, the low hanging fruits. But from now till 2030, Sunway has started looking into an internal carbon pricing. While not regulated yet in Malaysia, Sunway is one of the first corporates with their own internal cover pricing methods and mechanism overseen by their board of directors. It is also now looking into renewable energy, primarily solar. From next year, it will start to look more into scope 3 emissions – upstream into suppliers, procurement and supply chain practices, as well as downstream into its office or shopping mall tenants.

Through its Net Zero Labs, it is starting to make more investments into deeptech solutions, such as carbon storage and utilisation, large scale implementation of renewable energy. Through the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme, Sunway hopes to instigate some of that so they can start investing into some of the solutions they see coming out of the UK, to help them achieve their goals by 2050.

Delving into the condensed nature of Sunway City, Matt shared about their transit oriented development. He also shared examples of the types of solutions implemented in Sunway such as water treatment plants, solar panels, food composite machines, smart parking systems, building up urban farms, saving plastics on packaging by delivering directly to customers, as well as getting almost all their residential and commercial buildings certified as Green Buildings.

Propelling Malaysia’s Digital Ambitions Through Technological Partnerships

We also had the privilege of hosting a panel session with key partners on the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme – Fabian Bigar, CEO of MyDigital Corporation, Raymond Silva, Chief Digital Innovation Officer, MDEC, Melissa Foo, Head of Sunway iLabs, and Chris Bush, Regional Director (Asia Pacific), Digital Trade Network, moderated by Calvin Woo, Senior Trade Manager (Technology), Department of International Trade.

In recognition of the increasing importance of digital technology across the whole economy and society, the Digital Trade Network in Asia Pacific was set up by the UK government with the intention to help innovative UK tech businesses to form meaningful partnerships internationally and increase the UK’s capabilities in the region, expand bilateral trade and investment, and helping to create the conditions to enable digital trade and delivering on those opportunities.

The Malaysian government has set up very clear ambition’s to develop the digital economy sustainably, as outlined very clearly in the 12th Malaysia Plan, 4IR policy, and also the MyDigital Blueprint.

The Digital Economy Blueprint is a 5 year development plan as part of the broader Malaysia plan. For example, the digital economy is targeted to contribute 25.5% to Malaysia’s GDP, and it strives to achieve minimum 4G coverage in all populated areas by 2095. The 4IR Policy is a broader overarching policy that complements the blueprint, going beyond just digital systems.

While both documents cover the broader sectors of agriculture, construction, manufacturing, services and its sub-sectors, MyDigital Corporation’s ongoing private sector projects it facilitates across ministries are focused on 5 priority areas – smart manufacturing, smart agriculture, smart transportation & logistics, smart healthcare and smart utilities.

Along with the DIT in Malaysia, MDEC has been playing a pivotal role in facilitating international tech companies’ expansion to Malaysia. Over the past 26 years, it has supported the landing of UK companies into Malaysia and expansion into the region. Business continuity, business stability and the ease of doing business in Malaysia are recognised in many international rankings. Malaysia has multiple international frameworks, comprehensive economic partnerships, talent from reputable institutions, as well as incentives and support provided.

The Malaysian government is creating a conducive environment for foreign digital companies to form the partnerships they need in market, thrive and grow in the ecosystem. The Malaysia Digital Initiative provides both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for international companies landing in Malaysia. MDEC is also ensuring foreign companies have the best support to set up the company, the access to ecosystem, access to talent and market access to 14 states across Malaysia.

Achieving the digital ambition is not a journey that anyone can take alone. It requires concerted effort from the policy side, facilitation side, private sector driving it and international collaborations.

Sunway is leveraging on the different players in the ecosystem such as the government, universities, its business units, and understanding the different roles these stakeholders play, in order to drive a successful outcomes. When bridging the partnership between a corporate with a startup, it is not going to be a full-fledged partnership straight away, but creating the building blocks along the way to lead to productive outcomes and ultimately solving the problems they have set out to solve.

Sunway iLabs FutureXFund & Net Zero Labs

In the final segment, Melissa Foo, Head of Sunway iLabs Ventures highlighted Sunway’s commitment to investing in sustainable cities of the future and the sustainability agenda.

Despite the amount of investments that have been pouring into climate tech net zero and sustainability, trillions of investment capital per year is required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set out. Malaysia is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement, and have committed to 45% reduction of greenhouse gasses by 2030.

Sunway being an outcome and solutions oriented organisation really encourages and puts steps in place to allow them to find and build on the right solutions. They recognise that it doesn’t happen overnight, and finding, building and investing into the right solutions that is needed to achieve net zero is a process.

Through the partnership with IoT Tribe and the UK Department for International Trade, Sunway is inviting UK startups to apply to be part of the Net Zero Lab that they will be launching next year. It is an opportunity for them to invest in sustainability and to invite innovative and best technology startups from around the world leverage on the Sunway ecosystem as a playground to launch their ideas in Malaysia and in the region.

As developing countries transit towards sustainable development, there is a huge and exciting opportunity for innovation in this region and to use Malaysia as a launchpad. Recognising that significant funding is needed, Sunway will also be investing in the solutions they need and provide access to pipeline initiatives in R&D, technology and entrepreneurship via their Net Zero Labs.

The Net Zero Lab is currently seeking startups in the areas of renewable & efficient energy, food security, sustainable cities and circular economy. While Sunway iLabs are looking for climate tech and net zero, they also recognise that in sustainable cities, it isn’t just about technology and smart cities, but also things like resilience against climate change, natural disasters and also wellness and health for city residents, so it is looking at holistic solutions to be part of this Net Zero Lab.

Applications for the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme, which acts as a pathway to the Net Zero Lab, are now open till January 20th 2023. Thereafter, startups will be assessed for their strategic fit with the Sunway ecosystem. Shortlisted companies will go through a series of workshops with IoT Tribe and Sunway iLabs in February/March 2023, culminating in a Demo Day taking place in March 2023.

Following which, successful startups which are selected and admitted into Net Zero Lab will receive an upfront investment of US$500,000, as well as follow on investment of up to US$1,000,000. Startups will also go through a one year focused lab, with the aim of running a result driven pilot.

This is a great opportunity for UK startups to scale their technologies for sustainability in Malaysia and leverage on the Sunway ecosystem to pilot and test bed solutions, its university networks for R&D needs, as well as its partners including government agencies, local and regional investors, and other corporates.

Apply Now to the UK-Malaysia Digital Innovation Programme before January 20th 2023.

If you have any questions about the programme, please email either:

Thomas Conlon:

Bryan Yeoh:

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