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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 — On November 2-3 at Fortune’s Global Forum in San Francisco, chief executive officers (CEOs) from around the world heard Cisco Systems Inc executive chairman John Chambers warn about risks, as much as opportunities, in the new digital world.
It was little surprise that Chambers sees the trend toward ‘digitisation’ as a threat to even the most powerful companies.
“Fourty per cent of the companies in this room will not be around in a meaningful way in 10 years,” he warned the audience of CEOs.
On the other side of the world in Kuala Lumpur, UEM Group Bhd group managing director and CEO Izzaddin Idris did not need to listen to Chambers to be aware of the threat.
He is well aware of it, telling Digital News Asia (DNA), “UEM Group, like any other organisation, cannot afford to keep still in the fast-changing business environment, particularly with the advent of disruptive technologies.”
And Izzaddin feels the best way to prepare for the more challenging environment is through his people.
“The key challenge for us is to develop a workforce that is as adapt at meeting the current business needs as they are at navigating through the changes.”
Enter Alpha Startups: Project Brainchild with UEM and MAHB, targeted not just at UEM but all government-linked companies (GLCs) in Malaysia.
UEM is an engineering-based infrastructure and services group with four core business divisions in expressways, township and property development, engineering and construction, as well as asset and facility management.
MAHB (Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd) is a GLC that manages most of the aiprots in the country.
The project is essentially designed to empower staff at GLCs to pursue any innate wish to be entrepreneurs, but at an accelerated timeframe using methodology borrowed from the startup world.
UEM and MAHB partnered with 1337 Ventures Sdn Bhd to help them run a one-week bootcamp for staff who first had to submit a short video of the idea they wished to pursue.
The bootcamp was followed by regular engagements over three month for those in the programme to further refine and pilot their idea, and pitch to senior management team at the end.
DNA attended the final pitch session and heard how the executives who took part in the programme had to learn about market research, talking to potential customers, forming collaborations, sourcing for material, sharpening their social media skills, and operating under very tight budgets.
Izzaddin is excited at the possible impact that this dose of “entrepreneurial spirit” can do for the company, while accepting that he could possibly lose some of them who wish to pursue their ventures.
To him, those who stay would have learnt tremendously through the process and will be better professionals “who demonstrate a true passion in wanting to see the success of the company while possessing the willingness to push themselves to the limits to achieve big goals”.
It indirectly also makes the company a more desired employer.
Which ambitious young graduate would not want to work in a company that openly encourages and supports its executives to pursue any business idea they may have?
One of the participants from UEM, Lydia Sophia, is still working on her halal food portal on weekends and may yet decide to pursue it fully, having actually applied for a management separation scheme (MSS) but was turned down.
“The biggest impact on me from the programme was my confidence level,” she says. Learning how to make an effective pitch and all the work that goes into trying to bring an idea to life has been deeply enriching for her, she says.
Meanwhile the winner of the Project BrainChild programme was Mohd Adam from MAHB, whose talent-matching portal www.sidequest.me was inspired by his days of being a graphic designer and musician while in university to earn some pocket money.
Interestingly, the mechanical engineer by training who is now in corporate communications to get a different experience, says that participating in the BrainChild programme has “resparked my love for engineering”.
With all the participants giving a thumbs-up to their experience, 1337 Ventures CEO Bikesh Lakhmichand predicts more corporates will be adopting similar programmes that infuse startup methodology into their people. 1337 Ventures runs the Alpha Startups pre-accelerator programme.
“Everyone needs a new edge to put themselves ahead of competition, and if such innovation programmes can help them bring in more ideas to solve problems quickly, you’re going to see more CEOs seize this initiative,” he says.
Bikesh sees a win-win situation here.
“Companies don’t have to grapple with the ‘buy or build’ question since they could invest in any startup launched through these programmes.
“They [the corporates] can bring their corporate connections and distribution/ licences to scale the startups in a shorter time, with possibly smaller R&D (research and development) costs,” he adds.
Having a good view of this corporate embrace of the startup culture, Bikesh thinks it would be more impactful if 1337 Ventures could get some of the corporates to do things together, “perhaps not direct competitors but complementing verticals to work towards something even bigger”. — Digital News Asia
* This story was first published here.