Based on the 2021 global innovation index by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Malaysia is ranked 3rd as the most innovative country among the top middle income countries. It is a commendable achievement but with the pace of innovation speeding up, it is important to create the right conditions for ideas, technology and experimentation to flourish.
On that note, it has been over a year since the launch of the National Technology Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) to accelerate the tech landscape transition into a low-touch and high income economy. As a national solution coordination and facilitation centre, NTIS provides relaxations from all or selected processes and regulatory requirements to expedite the development of innovative solutions from the R&D stage to being commercially ready.
Episode 18 of the Top In Tech series: NTIS: Catalyst for Emerging Innovations sought to gain insights on the milestones of NTIS in empowering startups and technology companies to develop various solutions in an expedient manner. The episode was hosted by Karamjit Singh and guest panelists Safuan Zairi, Senior Vice President of Technology and Innovation, MaGIC, Tang Kok Mun, CEO, Biogenes Technologies and Chua Yong Howe, Chief Digital Officer, Edgenta NXT.
Test your innovations in a real environment
In just a year, NTIS has received a total of 518 complete applications, of which 139 companies were approved between August 2020 and July 2021. A total of RM52.78 million has been approved by NTIS to fund 70 companies to develop innovation through the main funding partner, the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). Meanwhile, 69 other companies received technical, regulatory and test site support were referred to other funding organizations that have strategic partnerships with NTIS.
According to Safuan, such strong market response shows that NTIS is a ‘safe place’ to allow innovators to test their products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms in a live environment without worrying whether it would be successful or not.
“What we really want to do is remove obstacles and encumbrances that weigh down on innovators, enabling them to take their products to market—fast. Apart from that, we want to bridge the gap between the startups, government, agencies and so on to broaden more opportunities in the acceleration of local innovation. Companies should come on board as the NTIS is an ideal platform to learn and improve in preparation for commercialisation,” Safuan added.
Commercialise the innovation and the researcher
Tang explained that the NTIS grant supported the Biogenes Technology trial and gave them enough backing to approach collaborators such as researchers and universities. The first trials were done using real Covid-19 samples and together with the collaborators they were able to build a lab to run the tests. Apart from that, NTIS also promoted Biogenes Technology to researchers, universities and to the market. The programme connected them with local authorities and players who would otherwise be difficult to reach.
“Sometimes, innovations can come from the most unexpected sources, and we should be able to capture these innovations. We also have to commercialise both the innovation and the researcher. When the young researchers enter the innovation field, they have to create a mindset that this is something I am going to do not only to make money but also to benefit society,” he notes.
According to Chua, NTIS functions as a gatekeeper in proposing solutions, evaluating and assessing startups business models in order to ensure they gain market acceptance at a fast pace. Speed to market is important Covid-19 has accelerated the need for innovation and created game-changing opportunities for the nation to bounce back and establish economic resilience via innovation and creativity.
Safuan mentioned that the sandbox bridges expectations to facilitate industry's supply and demand. Plus, the programme also assists in various types of facilitation such as in the area of healthcare, agriculture as well as smart engineering and manufacturing sectors.
“We also appointed chief innovation focal points for each ministry so if there is a need for enquiries, they do not have to go through with so many people and get confused in the process,” he explained.
By developing impact-driven solutions and scaling up commercial value, NTIS can elevate the rakyat’s earning potential through the creation of high-income job opportunities, thereby raising the living standard for Malaysians.
“The market extends beyond Malaysia because in order to create cutting-edge technology, the products have to be able to serve billions of people around the world,” Tang concluded.
“Malaysia is a very good testing ground, because our country offers a cost-competitive, sustainable, and conducive environment for your business to thrive. Build a base in the country first, once the base is strong enough, it allows you to scale up to greater heights,” Chua said.
“Commercialising an innovation is not an easy task. Therefore, at NTIS we can guide and make sure you have a clearer pathway and a chance for success as well. Let’s empower the spirit of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation together. If you have an innovative idea that you wish to be in the market, feel free to visit the NTIS website at https://sandbox.gov.my/, we will guide you,” Safuan concluded.
Watch the replay of Top In Tech: NTIS: Catalyst for Emerging Innovations here.