YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal CEO of BiotechCorp
Start-ups and SME development have always been a crucial component in the bioeconomy agenda. Given that small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the Malaysian economy and made up for more than 95 percent of all businesses in the manufacturing, services and the agricultural sector; as well as providing for 65 percent of total employment, according to government statistics, these firms contribute to economic dynamism by injecting competition into markets and spurring innovation.
Having recognise this, the BioNext initiative is a result from discussions between BiotechCorp and SME Corp in 2014, and a proposal was presented and approved at the 8th Bioeconomy International Advisory Panel (BIO-IAP) meeting chaired by the Honourable Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak in September the same year. In brief, the BioNext programme is an initiative under the High Impact Programme (HIP) 5: Catalyst Programme of the SME Masterplan (2012 – 2020), which aims to remove market barriers and provide targeted assistance to high potential and high growth SMEs, grooming them along the way.
For a successful transition to Phase III of the National Biotechnology Policy (NBP), the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp) is working hand-in-hand with SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) for the implementation of the BioNext Programme, an initiative designed to help spur the creation of 20 global BioNexus SME companies by 2020.
The key idea in the whole collaboration is to move companies, especially SMEs up the value chain via targeted strategic programmes and activities. Focusing in the areas of financing, market access and human capital development, BioNext is intended to spur the growth and development of BioNexus SMEs. BioNexus companies that are seeking to widen its market into other countries and regions will be given the proper guidance, exposure and assistance towards becoming homegrown champions.
SME Corp, led by Dato’ Hafsah Hashim is a key partner given its strategic role as the central coordinating agency that formulates overall policies and strategies for SMEs. The organisation also coordinates for the implementation of the SME Masterplan across all related ministries and agencies, and acts as the central point of reference for research and data dissemination on SMEs, as well as to provide advisory services for SMEs in Malaysia. With 53 percent of the total BioNexus status companies are made up of SMEs, and a further 45 percent of it start-ups, BiotechCorp view its partnership with SME Corp as a critical step along its broad strategies for bio-based SMEs development to be implemented in Bioeconomy Malaysia.
Further to it, two important project delivery partners for the BioNext programme are Isis Innovation Limited and BDEC Resources. Isis Innovation is the wholly owned technology commercialisation company of the University of Oxford, UK. The organisation is responsible for the creation of many new technology-based businesses for over twenty seven (27) years, about one hundred technology businesses since its inception. In 2014, Isis Innovation was recognised by the Global University Venturing organisation as the ‘Technology Transfer Unit of the Year’ for its work in supporting new companies in achieving commercial success. Isis Innovation is also currently ranked first in the United Kingdom for producing university spin-outs.
Having highlighted that, participants of the BioNext programme will have the unique opportunity to travel to Oxford University to attend training by Isis Innovation. Through BiotechCorp-SME Corp partnership, the pool of BioNext champions will emerge from a funnel of high performing BioNexus companies; at which BiotechCorp has to date nurtured a total of 261 companies over the years. The BioNext initiative focuses further on various capacity building programmes, targeting top BioNexus companies, which then undergoes a vigorous selection process before they were given the various experiences and strategies to upscale and innovate its business plan. In summary, it is a continuation strategy to further proceed start-ups and SMEs development to the next level.
Recently, Dato’ Hafsah and I was joined by the CEOs of 10 BioNexus companies in attending the Oxford Accelerator Programme (OAP) at Oxford University, from September 28 to October 3. It was an enriching experience for the participants and myself. The OAP, conducted by trainers from Isis Innovation were a mix of academics with first hand industry experience, technical experts drawn from within Oxford University, practitioners from the bio-based sector, and facilitators such as patent agents, distributors, licensing advisors and investors.
For a start, the OAP participants were consists of BioNexus SMEs and industry leaders from the biocosmeceutical, pharma nutrition and wellness sub-sectors. Growing at a CAGR of 40% between 2009 and 2013, these SMEs have shown that they are more than capable to achieve greater growth and moving up the value chain. It may be some time before these companies will start to see tangible results from the benefits of adopting best practices in its business activities. Nevertheless, this short coaching session exposes the participants to new and bold measures on marketing, branding, internationalisation, product certification requirements and market access strategy.
The Honourable Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Datuk Seri Panglima Madius Tangau also had the opportunity to witnessed first-hand on how the OAP was conducted, and his presence further emphasise on the importance of biotechnology and the bio-based sector as a potential key economic contributor for the nation as well as the substantial role SMEs could play in driving the industry forward.
By the end of the programme, the 10 participating companies which include Fuciphagus Agritech, Algaetech International, Furley Bioextracts, Tropical Bioessence, Natural Wellness Biotech, BioFact Life, Hopematic, Cambridge Herbal, Ligno Biotech and Orchid Life all made their pitch to both BiotechCorp and SME Corp on its new business strategies as well as commercialisation and international pathways for ramping up its business growth. These companies are being hand-held by BDEC Resources Malaysia, which is Malaysia’s counterpart of Isis Innovation, to ensure that the action plans are implemented, closely tracked and monitored.
Seeing the determination of the entrepreneurs of BioNexus companies to gain knowledge in their quest to become global players, I am confident that all participants will come home motivated and applying what has been learnt to do better in business. This is a very encouraging development noting that next year, Phase III of the NBP (2016 – 2020) put heavy emphasise on the consolidation of technology development and innovation as well as commercialisation efforts towards going global. It is expected that the country’s bio-based sector will have at least 20 global Malaysian companies by then to actively spearhead the value creation process in the Malaysian bioeconomy.