Our project and mission in Kuala Lumpur is about learning how innovation ecosystems work all over the world, starting in year #1 with 10 countries to be visited over the next 10 months during their key events. We had covered a first ecosystem when attending Austin’s SXSW back in March 2013, with a crowdfunding campaign and tons of contents, contacts and trends & workshops back in France and Singapore where we are based.
A transversal debate we’ve heard in the conference of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kuala Lumpur were about how to connect innovation ecosystems. Until now, the conversation on ecosystems was rather a kind of comparison of cities, with various statistics to judge of the creative, financial or talent potential of Silicon Valley vs. its competitors, from Israel to Moscow, from Sao Paulo to Singapore.
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.
Another kind of reports tries to analyze facts, key people, stats and startups of each ecosystem, without too much of a comparison, this is for instance the case of the World Startup Report, the result of a 9-month trip by Bowei Gai in 26 countries.
Panelists as well as audience at the GES 2013 often felt the question was not so much about competing ecosystems (and subsequent rankings), but how to connect ecosystems which badly need one another. This is where our project is rooted by the way, as we feel innovation ecosystems, from Paris to Singapore to start with what we know well, are dynamic though almost completely enclosed on themselves (a consequence of which is very few startups even think of international expansion, or that you always meet the same people in events).
“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. The Silicon Valley is also a place of ecosystems, plural form. Startups and projects in Sunnyvale or Palo Alto live in different smaller ecosystems, but the Valley makes connections easy and possible.
Others stressed than comparing ecosystems is like comparing apples and oranges. From a US point of view, talking of “Asia” makes sense. But when you live in Bangkok or Hong-Kong, you now that all the countries of the region are themselves completely different societies, cultures, history of technology.
A consequence of this way of thinking is that Malaysia should not “compete” against Singapore and try to grab an hypothetic “first rank” of South-East Asia’s ecosystem. How could a country separated by a sea, with 3 main races and a resource-based economy could compare to a 5 million people island with a third of foreigners and a specialization in finance, to name one of Singapore’s key industry? Malaysia should rather work with Singapore which offers a “window to the world” and a platform for mobility.
As a conclusion, many agreed that competition between ecosystems was not something that benefited startup, 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 humbly 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 ourÂ report on Malaysia innovation ecosystemÂ on Slideshare too