Our technopreneurs head to Silicon Valley

KUALA LUMPUR: Persistence and lots of practice at public speaking helped five local technopreneurs get their ticket to Silicon Valley in the United States.

The five — Piktochart, OctoApp, FanXT, Voucheres and SecQ.me — caught judges' eyes in a pitching competition called Pitch Your Way to Silicon Valley organised by StartupMalaysia.org, a not-for-profit initiative aimed at spurring enterprises in Malaysia.

The competition required hopeful participants to produce and online video pitch which was judged by a jury made up of local and international judges.

Shortlisted technopreneurs were then invited to the next stage of the competition — the Enter the Tiger’s Lair segment where they were given five minutes to convince the judges why they deserved the Silicon Valley experience.

The prize was a month’s visit to Silicon Valley, where they will have the opportunity to build their networks with other technopreneurs and venture capitalists there, as well as have access to other resources that may help boost their business.

All the participants took home lessons that will help them through their entrepreneurial journeys and the strongest advantage they gained from the experience was facing down their own fears and taking on any challenges that come their way.

Goh Ai Ching, 26, co-creator of Piktochart — an online tool for creating fascinating infographics and presentations — said she was never comfortable with public speaking and was shaking when she stood before the judges.

“I’ve been to a couple of pitching events before, but I was still nervous when I entered the tiger’s lair,” she said.

Goh came up with a beta version of Piktochart in June last year and the tool now has about 1,000 paying subscribers, while the company has so far made about US$20,000 (RM60,000).

She said 40% of the users are from the United States, 30% from Europe and the balance comes from other parts of the world.

Goh plans to spend her month in Silicon Valley to further develop Piktochart and gather ideas to grow the business.

“I hope to meet more people and be inspired there,” she added.

Bryan Gan, 34, creator of OctoApp, a social media marketing application for small businesses, found out that over-preparing for a pitch can bring rewards.

“I practised my pitch in front of the mirror everyday and I even arranged the setting by “pitching” to empty chairs,” he said, adding that this method helped him to better anticipate questions that judges may throw at him.

James Khoo, 40, who created SecQ.me, a personal mobile security app, said the competition made him realise that entrepreneurship is more than just coming up with and marketing a big idea.

“As a technopreneur, you need to get out of your comfort zone and do things that you thought you couldn’t,” he said.

Khoo said he is naturally shy and is not comfortable talking about his application. “But when you have to do it, you just do it,” he said.

Chief executive officer of the Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC), Datuk Badlisham Ghazali, congratulated the winners and hoped that that they will tell other technopreneurs about their experiences in Silicon Valley, to inspire the others.

“New problems are identified everyday so there are always opportunities for new, innovative solutions,” he said at an event to announce the winners.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education and patron of StartupMalaysia.org, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, encouraged university students to be more proactive in attending entrepreneur networks like StartupMalaysia.org to exchange ideas and knowledge.

“Many students feel they need their university’s permission to do so, but they shouldn’t wait. As long as the group is not illegal, they can participate. Their instincts will tell them that,” he said.

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