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HomeCEO SeriesWhen We Say "Startup", You Don't Think "Johor". This M'sian Wants To...

When We Say "Startup", You Don't Think "Johor". This M'sian Wants To Change That.

The startup ecosystem in Johor is growing thanks to efforts by community builders like Feng Lim and his team who has built a successful co-working space in IskandarSpace.  With the boom in the startup ecosystem, co-working spaces have also seen a rise in numbers and this complements startups as as these places help cultivate their ideas and offer them a place to work from and network with others.

Hailing from Johor, Feng Lim began his entrepreneurial and community building journey years ago when he was part of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) community during its early days. He and his friends constantly participated in a lot of community events that were organised but always faced difficulties as they had to take one day off and travel from Johor Bahru to KL to attend an event and then go back right after.

“So this made us start to think, how can we bring these events back to our home ground, so we don’t have to travel so far?” questioned Lim.

Fortunately, Feng Lim met up with the late former Group CEO of Cradle Fund, Nazrin Hassan who introduced Ganesh Kumar of Commerce.Asia to him.

“We eventually started with their support, being able to pull strings around and kickstart our community here in Johor Bahru,” he explained.

Building A Community In A Space

Back then, Feng Lim and his friends were spending most of their time in Kuala Lumpur, but still continued to build the community in Johor. This eventually led to them receiving criticism from others.

Hence they decided to really put in effort and all of their time into building the community and ecosystem in the southern region of Malaysia. It took them a year to seal a deal with local master developer—Iskandar Investment Berhad, backed by Khazanah Nasional Berhad (KNB)—to operate a co-working space called IskandarSpace in Johor.

IskandarSpace was launched in January 2018 and since then it has become a platform and home for the Johor startup community.

“When we started, StartupJohor was like a lost child, we had to go to different office buildings, event spaces, cafes and sometimes someone else’s office to host our events,” said Feng Lim.

Now with IskandarSpace, Feng Lim and his team host most of the startup programmes in the space and according to him, it’s now the most active co-working space in town.

“This is also the space that received support from all the stakeholders in the scene, not just the state—Iskandar Regional Development Authority and state government, but also from the federal level—KNB, Cradle, MDEC and MaGIC,” he added.

According to the President and CEO of Iskandar Investment Berhad, Datuk Khairil Anwar Ahmad, Iskandar Space has to-date successfully hosted more than 100 entrepreneurs and technology-related events and registered over 5,000 visitors.

“This outstanding achievement has played an important part in attracting 33 companies and 70 members to operate from Iskandar Space and has created one of the most energising common ground for entrepreneurs from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Brunei, Italy, United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand, Romania and Malta,” said Datuk Khairil Anwar Ahmad in a report on Johor’s startup ecosystem.

It wasn’t just IskandarSpace that was booming. In the same report, it was also highlighted that with the growth of the startup ecosystem in Johor, co-working spaces as a whole has also seen tremendous growth over the past 2 years with a total of 35 spaces recorded in 2018 and the industry is expected to grow further.

According to the report, co-working spaces are important for the startup ecosystem to thrive, from freelancers to entrepreneurs as these places help cultivate their ideas and offer them a place to work from, network with others and are often flexible for any needs or interests.

Room For Improvement

Although Feng Lim and his team wants to help the startup community in Johor, he understands that he can’t help to solve everyone’s problem.

“My personal goal this year is to really help 10 local startups in our city to grow and scale, as well as creating success stories that are visible. But, that’s the max that I could do,” he added.

Since last year, the team, with the help of Ian Chua, founder of Hermo and Jason Kang, co-founder of ServisHero have brought in the Silicon Valley based ideation stage accelerator programme called Founder Institute and successfully trained and graduated 9 high potential founders.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to more accurately reflect the team that brought in Founder Institute to Johor.

Founder Institute is a 14-week intensive accelerator programme that helps pre-funding entrepreneurs and teams in building an enduring company by establishing a critical support network consisting of local startups.

He further mentioned that community building is very important to move forward with improving the startup ecosystem.

“I think community building is really about mutual respect and connecting the dots,” he said.

He also added that it’s important to understand that the work of community builders will stay relevant and valuable if they’re able to bring value back to the community, founders, stakeholders and partners.

As for the future, Feng Lim hopes to expand their reach as for now their focusing on the startup ecosystem but will open up to more SMEs and have more corporate engagement this year.

If you would like to find out more about StartupJohor, you can check out their website here and social media here.

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Feature Image Credit: Feng Lim

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