IN LINE with efforts to create greater international visibility for Malaysia’s bioeconomy, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti) is participating in this year Expo Astana 2017 in Kazakhstan.
Mosti’s theme is “Green Innovation, (for) Powering Your Future”, where emphasis is on building innovation-based collaborations to foster economic growth. Its participation will be centred on exploring collaborative opportunities and to attract investments from institutions and companies located in the Central Asian region.
The dedicated session on bioeconomy will further discuss the sustainability component of utilising renewable resources and its conversion into value-added goods in the form of food and feed, chemicals, energy, medicines and wellness products via green and bio-based technologies.
The path towards the development of the biotechnology industry began in 2005 with the establishment of the National Biotech-nology Policy (NBP), a 15-year plan aimed at making biotechnology a key contributor to national economic growth.
Since then, the Government has widened its scope to include bioeconomy, an economic structure based on activities that are derived from the continued commercial applications of biotechnology and bio-based technologies.
This resulted in the establishment of the Bioeconomy Transformation Programme (BTP) in 2012, making Malaysia the first Asean country and the second in Asia to initiate a comprehensive plan for bioeconomy.
The Malaysian Bioeconomy Development Corporation (Bioeconomy Corporation, formerly known as Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation) is responsible for overseeing the implementation of initiatives and programmes that will propel Malaysia towards a green and sustainable future.
BIOTECH, BIO-BASED TECHNOLOGY AND BIO-BUSINESS
Biotechnology consists of many integrated techniques based on our increased understanding of life sciences. It could be a simple procedure like extraction and tissue culture, or involve more advanced techniques with genomics and molecular applications.
In the context of bioeconomy, a total dependence on biotechnology methods itself is insufficient.
Bio-based technologies include supporting technologies that are key to facilitating production and bringing products and services to the market. These include processes in engineering, chemical processing and conversion technologies. In efforts to commercialise technologies, each of these has its own value to add to the success of bio-business such as high-tech farming, bio-fuel production and manufacturing of biotech drugs.
Strategic investment is a key component that will contribute to the growth of the bio-based sector. As of 2016, RM22.7bil worth of investments were recorded by BioNexus companies, high-impact FDIs and other companies nurtured by Bioeconomy Corporation. Of this, RM8.7bil has been realised on the ground.
Realising the benefits of these investments will be the focus of Bioeconomy Corporation in the coming years. For FDIs, emphasis has to be placed on having spin-off and local sourcing, which include the participation of locally-based SMEs. For bio-based SMEs, there are BioNexus companies.
The BioNexus status, initiated in 2006, is a special status awarded by Bioeconomy Corporation to qualified international and Malaysian bio-based companies undertaking value-added biotechnology and life sciences activities. The status bestows guarantees such as fiscal incentives and funds, among various facilities, that assist growth. BioNexus companies are also assured a list of privileges as stipulated in the BioNexus “Bill of Guarantees.”
To date, Bioeconomy Corporation has built a network of 283 companies with the BTP serving as a dedicated platform for the Government and industry players to work in tandem to deliver economic and societal impact.
At the end of December 2016, a total of 61 BTP projects had been attained, which consisted of 31 projects under BioIndustral, 22 under AgBiotech and eight under BioMedical.
These BTP Trigger Projects will collectively contribute an estimated GNI of RM6.22bil in 2020 as well as the creation of 26,550 employment opportunities and RM18.6bil in investment by the same year.
On the other hand, the Bioeconomy Community Development Programme (BCDP) is borne out of the need for bioeconomy to be inclusive, and therefore its emphasis is geared towards the development of rural farmers and communities.
The programme is designed to elevate the household income of the lowest 40% group (B40) to a higher level and to increase their skills as bio-agropreneurs.
BCDP has the potential to provide additional income of RM4,500 per month per farmer. As of May, 34 projects involving over 2,700 participants have been implemented in various stages and are expected to have an impact on more than 12,150 lives.
BCDP is part of the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) initiative, as it has high-impact, low cost, rapid execution and sustainability.
SYNERGY IS KEY TO SUCCESS
Malaysia’s bioeconomy agenda is spearheaded by Mosti and strategic approaches are taken to match long-term goals and adapt to new challenges. Mosti and other public institutions facilitate and coordinate implementation plans, in addition to supporting and regulating key programmes.
Implementation agencies such as Bioeconomy Corporation facilitate and implement programmes as outlined by national policies. Other agencies such as SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) and economic corridors in Malaysia provide infrastructure development and industry support through the provision of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.
Universities and research institutions are crucial for generating knowledge through basic research in order to develop new innovative technologies, processes and IPs.
More recently, Bioeconomy Corporation has collaborated with the Academy of Sciences Malaysia for the Bioeconomy Innovation Award (BIA), giving universities, research institutions and private bio-based companies a platform to pitch their products and services directly to the industry.
To enhance commercialisation and market access, institutions such as venture capitals, banks and other financial bodies are able to provide funding and financing for scale-up, industrialisation and commercialisation needs of the private sector.
Currently, government infusion of financial support for technology and product development, innovation and commercialisation is available in the forms of grants, loans, venture capital and private equity.
Malaysia Venture Capital Management Berhad (MAVCAP), Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), Malaysia Debt Ventures Berhad (MDV), SME Corp and Bioeconomy Corporation have specialised life science and biotechnology funding available for startups, early stage companies and SMEs in Malaysia.
The announcement in 2014 Budget that offsets tax for corporations that invest in biotechnology companies also provide an alternative funding source for the industry.
Bioeconomy Corporation has collaborated with Crowplus.Asia to launch Asean’s first social and environmental impact equity crowdfunding offer, as well as with IAP Integrated Sdn Bhd and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation Sdn Bhd to help bio-based companies to raise funds.
In January, Bioeconomy Corporation launched the Biotechnology Commercialisation Fund 2.0 (BCF 2.0) under the 11th Malaysia Plan to assist BioNexus SMEs and matured companies in growing and expanding their businesses. The Government has allocated RM100mil for the BCF in the form of soft loans. It is expected that 30 to 50 companies will receive this soft loan assistance by the end of 2020.
CREATING JOBS FOR THE YOUNG THROUGH BIO-ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Bioeconomy Corporation and UMP Advanced Education Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP), are working together and have developed an MBA with specialisation in Bioeconomy.
The MBA, already accredited by the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA), integrates theory, real-world practices and direct interaction with industry to groom leaders who are able to address complex challenges systematically and creatively to improve business and management practices.
Bioeconomy Corporation has supported the growth of bio-enterprises and entrepreneurs through developmental programmes, equipping biotech professionals with core competencies in business negotiation, technology as well as financial due diligence, and business management skills.
Emphasis is placed on promoting R&D and commercialisation through strategic technology acquisition as well as improving the infrastructure and ecosystem that will nurture budding entrepreneurs.
It is currently working with the University of California’s Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) to create a more robust bio-based incubation ecosystem in Malaysia. Personnel from QB3 are invited to mentor local incubators as part of the strategy to generate more enterprising biotechnology companies.
In a nutshell, strategies to position bioeconomy as a new engine for national economic growth is on track and expected to contribute to an increasing portion of the economic pie.