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We would be happy with half a unicorn, Gobi Partners’ Jamaludin Bujang says

Close to 100 Malaysian startups submitted their application for the SuperSeed II Championship, ahead of the deadline this weekend.

“The show must go on, we need to keep investing,” said Gobi Partners’ managing director Jamaludin Bujang as they announced the SuperSeed II pitching competition at the height of the global pandemic. Bujang now told KrASIA that close to 100 Malaysian startups submitted their application ahead of the deadline this weekend.

“Most of them are from the retail and enterprise space, around 20 are fintechs,” he said, pointing to sectors that are faring quite well in the current environment. “We still want to see more on the circular economy and TaqwaTech,” businesses that are serving Muslim consumers.

The Kuala Lumpur-based venture capital firm is looking for startups in the key areas (1) retail and enterprise, including AI, B2B, B2C, big data, e-commerce, and logistics, (2) fintech, with payments, insurtech, crowdfunding, P2P lending, and robo-advisory, (3) smart cities and circular economy, which includes mobility, public transport, and the environment, as well as (4) TaqwaTech, a category that is famously championed by Gobi.

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Between now and August, Bujang and his team will select 15–20 of the most promising ideas for its SuperSeed II fund, which was announced last year together with the government-backed MAVCAP and Sunway Group. “There will be a lot of seed companies in the fund, in the range of USD 100,000 to USD 500,000,” he said. The investment focus will be 2–3 years.

The original SuperSeed fund dates back to 2016 and included consumer-to-business car trading platform Carsome which recently raised USD 50 million in its Series C round. “Some have done really well,” said Bujang. “Malaysian companies need to be discovered and scaled up, so they can grow their network through the region.”

Malaysia is not a big country, when comparing it with its neighbors, Bujang explains. “For Malaysian companies to become a unicorn, you have to go out,” he said when asked about the possibility of building the next Gojek or Lazada. “If we give them time and resources, they will maybe be able to become half a unicorn.” He thinks it’s more important to have a few successful cases that you can show to startups here: “Companies like Carsome and Aerodyne have become very successful.”

“We understand the local market”

Gobi Partners opened its Malaysia office in 2015 and has since been very active in supporting the local ecosystem. The firm sees itself as a “pan-Asian VC” linking up companies in Southeast Asia and China where it was founded in 2002. Bujang says they will expand to Pakistan and the Middle East next.

In Malaysia, Gobi works closely with the relevant government agencies. Aside from MAVCAP, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation MDEC is a partner for the SuperSeed II Championship (together with Alibaba and Sunway). Bujang says that he and Gobi founding partner and chairman Thomas Tsao are also sitting in MDEC’s committees where they decide about grants for entrepreneurs. “The government here is very active in supporting VCs and startups, just like in Singapore,” Bujang said.

So what are the ideas to watch going forward? “E-commerce has been the low-hanging fruit,” he explained, referring to a change in spending habits and the “new normal.” But we also shouldn’t forget global warming and food supply. All the food delivery is creating more waste and there has to be someone to think about recycling, about better ways to sell online without affecting the environment. Fintech continues to be a hot topic, as the number of unbanked people in the region is still high.

Bujang says that they are above all watching the entrepreneurs now—how they adapt to the changing situation, how they navigate a competitive space, how they raise money. To describe it in Thomas Tsao’s words: “Great adversity forges great entrepreneurs.”

KrASIA is a media partner of the SuperSeed II Championship.