Our project and mission in Kuala Lumpur is to learn how innovation ecosystems work all over the world, starting in year #1 with by visiting 10 countries over the next 10 months during their key events. We had covered our first ecosystem while attending Austin’s SXSW back in March 2013. We talked about a crowd funding campaign, tons of contents, contacts, trends & workshops back in France and Singapore where we are based.
A Fresh Perspective on Startup Ecosystems
A refreshing debate we heard at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur was about how to connect innovation ecosystems. Much of the conversation on ecosystems before this summit focused on comparing cities based on various metrics measuring their creative, financial and talent potential.
This year, a report called Startup Genome offered a ranking of the top 20 startup hubs. Other consultancies such as Solidiance did the same kind of assessment, though on a broader number of topics, for top creative cities in Asia.
Other reports try to analyze facts, key people, stats and startups of each ecosystem, without much comparison. This is the case for the World Startup Report, the result of a 9-month trip by Bowei Gai in 26 countries.
Panelists as well as audiences at the GES 2013 often felt the question was not so much about competing ecosystems (and rankings), but how to connect ecosystems which badly need one another. Our project is rooted in this belief. We feel innovation ecosystems across the world, from Paris to Singapore, are often isolated (as a result, very few startups even think of international expansion).
“Ideas and projects don’t need visas, know no borders” said a Silicon Valley veteran in the audience, which means startups should not think of which ecosystem to start in, but rather how to connect with the other ones to kickstart their necessary global expansion. Silicon Valley is also a place of ecosystems (note the plural form). Startups and projects in Sunnyvale or Palo Alto live in different smaller ecosystems, but the Valley makes connections easy and possible.
The impossibility of comparing diverse ecosystems
Others stressed that comparing ecosystems is like comparing apples and oranges. From a US point of view, talking about “Asia” as a whole might make sense. But when you live in Bangkok or Hong-Kong, you know that all the countries of the region are completely different in terms of its societies, cultures, history of technology etc.
sinTherefore, Malaysia should not “compete” against Singapore to achieve the title of “best South-East Asian innovation ecosystem”. The two countries are so distinct that comparing based on arbitrary metrics provides little value. Instead, Malaysia should work with Singapore, capitalising on its global reach and platform for mobility.
In the end, many agreed that competition between ecosystems was not something that benefited startups, the “end user” of ecosystems. Rather, says Nazrin Hassan from the Cradle Fund and a previous government agency employee in Malaysia, we need to find a way to increase mobility of talent, money, and projects across innovation ecosystems. This is what we’re starting to do with our project, a new media and community experiment which documents alternative ecosystems to the Valley and connects them through events, hangouts and content.
Check out our report on Malaysia innovation ecosystem on Slideshare too
You like emerging markets? Check out our BRICS startups series here, with amazing stories from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa