DisruptInvest 2024: Gobind Singh talks digital, true investments and Madani but can he be bold?

DisruptInvest 2024: Gobind Singh talks digital, true investments and Madani but can he be bold?
  • Set off the same old and dated justifications for why it is impossible and believe in yourself.
  • work with other officials to improve the nation’s reputation as a modern citizen.

Gobind Singh, Minister of Digital (7th from right) with Ben Lim, founder and CEo of Nexea Ventures, which organised DisruptInvest 2024, with speakers and partipants.
GobidMalaysia’s Minister of Digital, Gobind Singh, spoke at the 5th DisruptInvest Summit on 23 May where he highlighted the administration’s dedication to support and help develop a strong business ecology through various initiatives, with the release of the annual KL20 summit in April designed to help light Malaysia’s business ecosystem to foreign VCs, as the latest signal of this intent. The government emphasized its goal of making Kuala Lumpur the Top 20 World Startup Ecosystem, thus KL20, by 2030.

In six and a half years, leapfroging 50 spots is a significant challenge that will require strong actions and strong government support, especially since KL is already in the 70th spot.

One such bold move, and yet low hanging fruit, will be to get authorities, the largest consumer of software companies in the country, to have its various departments and agencies move a small percentage, say 10 %, of their IT spend to businesses and homegrown software companies that have built their own solutions.

This concept has been repeatedly pushed aside and is not novel. I once asked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad about the legality of requiring a small portion of government IT spending to be distributed to Malaysian tech companies in a press conference in 2002 in order to demonstrate the viability of their solutions. The question was not taken seriously.

But two decades later, the question must be taken seriously. Because, today, just as back then, the government aspires for Malaysian tech companies and its startups to be regional if not, global players. Stop aspiring for such bold goals if, as some have crossed RM400 million in revenue, we still do n’t show confidence in our own homegrown tech founders and their businesses today, because actions reveal true intent.

Here, Gobind can lead by example, be bold. The Digital Ministry should be the most digital in terms of its processes and engagement with the public and business because it is a new ministry and has no long-established relationships with IT vendors. Gobind must put aside the same old and dated justifications for why it is impossible and give favor to local tech startups.

The knowledge he acquires can then be applied to Minister Rafizi Ramli, a former minister himself, to the Economy Ministry. And so on to another ministry and so on.

Let’s see if Gobind, whose appointment as minister was well greeted by the tech ecosystem, leads the way.

Importance of capital

Gobind who also spoke at KL20, described capital as a catalyst to fuel KL20’s ambition, empowering innovators to push boundaries, challenge the status quo. The investments of today will be what will make the world of tomorrow,” he declared. The CEO of Vertex Holdings, Chua Kee Lock, who emphasized during his keynote that funding is a key factor in startup success, also made reference to the importance of capital.

This is also the reason the government is coordinating the two main public startup funding organizations, Mavcap Bhd and Penjana Kapital Sdn Bhd, into one entity that is governed by Khazanah Nasional Bhd, a sovereign wealth fund. Consolidation will give the government better visibility into the performance of its startup investments because both operate as fund of funds.

Gobind has a broad scope of responsibility as the digital minister, which is the first time such a ministry has been established in Malaysia. The National ICT Association, Pikom, anticipates that the Digital Economy will contribute to Malaysia’s economy by this year, as measured by GDP. As such, when he speaks of investment, Gobind does not just refer to startup funding.

For instance, he noted the 279 % jump in digital economy investments ( mainly in data centres ) the country enjoyed in the first half of 2023, translating to RM28.4 billion. And, without giving the time frame, he shared that almost 70 % of Malaysia’s RM225 billion approved investments are in the digital economy.

]Ed: Approved investments are not the same as realized investments with the latter always falling short of the former due to factors such as changes in company’s leadership/direction, macroeconomy shifts, and where investors and the government are unable to agree on actual details/benefits. ]

He also shared that Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation ( MDEC ), one of the agencies under his portfolio, had facilitated 262 funding deals for local tech companies, worth US$ 402 million between 2020 and 2023.

Gobind’s responsibility, as Digital Minister, is to collaborate with other ministers to make the country shine as a digital nation and a digital economy with a highly digital savvy population. Take care of that, and startups will make investments that are digitally skewed, either for automation of manufacturing, or to increase business efficiency through the use of 5G technology.

One international collaboration Gobind mentioned is with the world’s leading pre-advisor, Draper University, which announced in March that it would establish its first campus outside of Silicon Valley. Such a move is crucial for advancing and leading the VC pipeline and startups looking to expand in Malaysia, according to Gobind.

Does not see need to stamp mark by creating new blue prints/masterplans

With less than 280 bureaucrats ( note that this is separate from the headcount of the various agencies that report to the ministry ), Gobind’s leadership of the Digital Ministry is interesting because he is carrying out the role by working within already established initiatives to support the digital economy rather than launching any big bang blueprints or road maps himself.

His argument was that the execution of the current roadmaps and blueprints is essential for success. Changes needed, based on ecosystem feedback, can be done without tearing up existing plans and starting over. He does n’t feel the need to use big initiatives to stamp his own mark, according to an executive who is aware of his mindset. Gobind believes he is applying the lessons he learned from his first two years as minister, from May 2018 to February 2020.

He also advocates for the welfare of consumers and businesses. When given information on the activities of the organizations and businesses that report to him, including MDEC, MyDigital Corp, CyberSecurity Malaysia ( CSM), and Digital Nasional Bhd ( DNB), Gobind tries to understand how the target market can profit. He has made it abundantly clear that he does not want initiatives to be run or new ones to be developed solely for the sake of reporting, according to the executive.

Seeking inclusive, sustainable growth via Madani framework

Gobind emphasized that” true investment is not only about allocating capital,” with the Madani Economic Framework serving as the government’s guiding principle for the government’s leadership and development agenda. By investing in the advancement of humanity and the advancement of society, it aims to foster a legacy of prosperity and progress.

He claimed that this serves as” the moral compass for initiatives like the KL20 Summit, with action plans geared toward ensuring sustainable economic growth and social justice.”

And Gobind emphasized that his government is committed to creating a conducive digital ecosystem for the nation and the region with Malaysia taking over the ASEAN chair next year. ” This cannot be done without ethical investment”.