From Silicon Valley to Sunway City
Written by Janna Colucci
While a global pandemic may stop many of us from physically traveling around the world, the MCO (Movement Control Order) couldn’t stop me from parachuting in for a virtual experience with Sunway iLabs. I joined the Sunway team through a global immersion programme at Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I am currently pursuing my MBA. The programme is meant to support businesses around the world, while also giving graduate students experience working internationally, typically by living and working in a different country for 4 weeks. With a background working at start-ups, focused primarily in the healthy and sustainable design and construction industries, Sunway’s involvement in development, construction and smart, sustainable cities seemed like a perfect fit. Though my “immersion” included less Malaysian cuisine and exploring than I initially imagined, the tremendous entrepreneurial energy in and around KL was impressive and tangible – even through a Microsoft Teams screen.
Fostering much of this innovation is the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator, which I had the pleasure of supporting. As this year’s Pre-Accelerator – including workshop sessions, mentoring and Demo Day – was almost completely virtual, I easily connected with the team and the 34 start-ups that were selected for the first month of the program. Companies ranged across sectors, including five focus areas – Smart Cities, eCommerce, EduTech, Food and AgriTech and Digital Health Tech. There were rental ecommerce platforms and construction software to last mile delivery robots and a customized community urban farming platform.
Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator – Startup Judging Committee
< Clockwise from top right: Matt Van Leeuwen (CIO of Sunway Group, Director of Sunway iLabs), Eleanor Choong (Head, iLabs Ventures), Janna Colucci (Startup Accelerator Consultant, iLabs), ST Chua (Venture Partner, Sun Sea Capital) >
I was impressed by many inspiring founders as I interfaced between the startups and Sunway business units to develop potential pilot projects for the companies and Sunway to explore together. The programme attracted a diversity of founders and companies, mainly from Malaysia, but also from across southeast Asia. I even had one founder who told me he would move from the Philippines to work together on a Sunway pilot!
My days were also spent conducting market research about urban farm management across the world, as Sunway iLabs recently launched its very own FutureX Urban Farm. With a hydroponics greenhouse, an indoor vertical farm and greenhouse aquaponics, the FutureX Farm is on the cutting edge of urban farming innovation. It also provides access to fresh vegetables for employees and can serve as a test space for continued research and development.
Working with Sunway also showed me how easy it can be to work virtually, even from across the world. While time zone differences can make teamwork more challenging, technology today allows for easy and clear communication. From Microsoft Teams and Zoom to Sharepoint, Googledocs and Whatsapp, collaboration can be seamless, even across great distances. One consideration of working in another country is also, of course, cultural differences, which can be challenging to understand on the phone. However, being able to regularly see the faces and mannerisms of teammates through video calls helps to alleviate any of these concerns. Video calls are not only great for more formal team meetings but also informal coffee chats with other employees, which bridges the cultural gap that may result from remote work. There is surely something to be said about in-person interaction, but I foresee that the future of work will only continue to become more flexible, potentially even with teammates working from different locations and / or bringing important insights to the team from all over the world. This seems even more beneficial when thinking about innovation and start-ups.
I am excited to watch the five finalist start-ups (ento | Quadby | Fitscovery | CozyHomes.my | Juzdrive.com) continue through the Sunway Accelerator this fall, and look forward to a future visit to Sunway – one where I can finally embrace the entrepreneurial energy of Malaysia in person!