Goa — the next start-up hub

WIEF Foundation’s Musa says Goa could be a national start-up hub within 5 years and it could also be part of the top 25 start-up hubs in Asia by 2025

By DASHVEENJIT KAUR 

Sun, sea, sand and, well, spices. These are the words that could easily sum up the sunny coastal state of Goa.

In the next five years, the smallest state that lies on the western coast of India will also be known as the country’s start-up hub, as envisioned by the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Foundation.

The optimism was apparent among participants at WIEF Foundation’s start-up conference, IdeaLab 2018, that was held in Goa recently.

Musa describes Malaysia’s start-up culture as a vibrant one, with abundant opportunities and ideas to start new businesses (Pic: TMRpic)

WIEF Foundation chairman Tun Musa Hitam said Goa could not only be a national start-up hub within five years, but it could also be part of the top 25 start-up hubs in Asia by 2025.

“We started IdeaLab in 2015 and aimed for it to become a start-up empowerment platform. Goa fits the bill perfectly for IdeaLab 2018 as Goa’s state government has proclaimed that start-ups in Goa will be hitting new highs in terms of their valuations,” Musa said in his keynote address.

The two-day conference was held at Goa Institute of Management in Sanquelim, a town in North Goa.

“Trade is rife here, it’s in the blood, so to speak,” Musa further added.

He said there is a deep interest in start-ups among Goans, with suitable infrastructure already available.

“I do notice the availability of infrastructure, but more can be built and also integrate the existing tourism industry with the start-up sector so there are more chances on expansion,” he added.

Goa is known for its connectivity to the rest of India and to the world.

Famous for its unique history as a result of the Portuguese rule, Goa is also known for its churches and beaches, and has been on the international tourist circuit for the longest time.

The state also ranks high on both per capita income and human development indicators, comparing favourably with the most developed states in the country.

“With the interest in start-ups which is multi-faceted, why not start something on the tourist segment, such as food delivery apps and even ride-sharing,” he said, citing Malaysia’s local born, valuable e-hailing start-up Grab as an example.

Musa also shared Malaysia’s start-up culture that he described as a vibrant one, with abundant opportunities and ideas to start new businesses.

“The people back home take opportunities where it lies, even if it’s starting a simple food business,” he said.

He added that the authorities would also have to provide incentives to budding entrepreneurs, for them to take the first leap into the start-up field.

“The ecosystem must be complete, however. It has to be ensured that finance and the right policies should be made available to the locals in order for their start-ups to flourish.

“There may be a need to redesign policies to help build start-ups, just like what the government in Malaysia did,” Musa said.

He said the government’s role should also be limited to avoid too much intervention which may hinder the growth of the private sector.

Musa also suggested that the state adapt a start-up policy that promises to cultivate an environment that’s supportive, and readies start-ups in terms of technological innovations, as well as to be globally competitive.

“This way, Goa can achieve a hundred successful start-ups within these five years, which will then develop large-scale job creation in this beautiful Indian coastal state,” he noted.

Lessons and Opportunities from Malaysia

The Goans were also enlightened by Malaysians who have fostered the growth and initiation of start-ups in Malaysia.

Malaysia Digital Economy Corp Sdn Bhd (MDEC) growth ecosystem development VP Norhizam Abdul Kadir said it is important for government agencies to ensure that the start-up ecosystem continues to strive.

“In Malaysia, we do not only provide support to the local start-ups, but also the foreign ones, for them to use our nation as the stepping stone before moving around the region which would also benefit us.

“Support comes in many forms, not just monetary wise, that is how MDEC has evolved over the years in providing assistance to the start-up companies,” Norhizam said.

Razif (left) and Norhizam shared similar points of view that the start-up ecosystem needs all the elements to be close to each other — entrepreneurs, mentors, funders, tech companies and like-minded people under one roof — to catalyse the community (Pic: TMRpic)

In just over two decades, MDEC has been slowly, but surely shaping Malaysia’s digital economy and providing support to the market players through seed-size grants, and links with government authorities  — especially regulators and foreign partners.

Norhizam said the Malaysian government has played a role as a capital link in catalysing the whole ecosystem.

“The existence of (seed funds like) Cradle Fund and others is to push that needle up. Those are also roles that both the government and private sector must play, or we would not be able to sustain that,” he added.

Also present was Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd acting group CEO Razif Abdul Aziz, who shared the experience of an early-stage start-up influencer.

“You know, if you were to look at the journey of a start-up — starting from early seed level and moving on to Series A and above, the intervention governments can provide is always at the early seed level.

“The role of the government it to catapult (those ecosystems), but as they grow bigger they can’t expect us to be coddling them anymore,” Razif said.

To Razif, if a start-up pitches an intervention that is new to the Malaysian market, it is a winning point.

“If you are able to articulate your idea within five minutes and it is something relatively new to the market, then why not, right?”

As Cradle Fund is no stranger to what goes on within the local start-up ecosystem, they’ve had a long time to be acquainted with many of our entrepreneurs and the multitude of ideas they bring to the table, providing them funding and other support along the way.

“One of the biggest success stories is Grab, because not only have they had an exponential growth, they have evolved to improve and provide better (services), making us feel that it was the right investment made,” Razif said.

Razif and Norhizam shared similar points of view that the start-up ecosystem needs all the elements to be close to each other — entrepreneurs, mentors, funders, tech companies and like-minded people under one roof — to catalyse the community.

All in all, Goans could learn from Malaysia, a country that has been a good test bed for start-ups and entrepreneurs as it is a window to Asean and Asia.