How Far Can You Take An Idea


AN interview with Mr Ebrahim Patel, Chairman of WIEF Young Leaders Network

Having an idea is the initial stage of any project and constitutes its basic component. Based on the significance and relevancy of the idea, the success of the project can easily be determined. Innovativeness, which is the most important element for the sustainability of businesses nowadays, is defined by many scholars as the process of generating new ideas, promoting them to decision makers to gain their support and implementing them to achieve the desired objectives.

The World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation (WIEF), whose mission is to build bridges through business, realised the importance of having authentic ideas that are executed by the right investors to create value for the initiator, the investor and the community at large. In conjunction with the preparation for the 11th WIEF, which is taking place from 4–7 November 2015, the IdeaLab 2015 was launched on 11 August to mark the birth of an Asian startup revolution.

OIC TODAY had the pleasure to interview Mr Ebrahim Patel, Chairman of WIEF Young Leaders Network, to talk about the objectives and expected outcomes of the IdeaLab 2015. The purpose of establishing the IdeaLab is to meet the requirements of the business environment which has drastically changed in the past few decades. Mr Patel said, “Success of a business is no longer limited to big companies who are conglomerates with multiple locations and thousands of employees.”

Today, smaller businesses have the advantages of being more agile and quicker to respond to changes in consumers’ tastes by tailoring their products and services according to the demand. Therefore, they gain consumers, and the loyalty of consumers, which means more profitability and sustainability in the market. However, having a good idea that complies with specific needs and wants of the consumers requires support for this idea to be implemented, explained Mr Patel.

The two words forming the term ‘IdeaLab’ are significant to the mission of this endeavour. “Like a laboratory, where people experiment with things all the time to get finished products, the IdeaLab brings together ideas and potential investors to come up with something brilliant out of it,” aid Mr Patel. The IdeaLab, hence follows the three stages of innovativeness, mentioned earlier. It creates a great platform for ideas to be generated, promoted and successfully implemented.

The IdeaLab, Mr Patel explained, focuses on startups and their potential economic impact in the countries where they operate. This fact has not been fully realised by many business consultants and commentators who measure the development of economy based on the big companies’ turnover or their number of products. Small businesses represent the vast majority of companies found in any country, they are the biggest providers of employment growth opportunities, which have a significant social impact, which is far higher than the financial impact, Mr Patel asserted.

The challenge startups face, which may cause failure, is lack of support. Besides the financial support, they need to be provided with skills, mentorship opportunities and to enhance their progress to a more established stage. In fact, every business starts small and then grows. “There is no such thing as a big business and there is no such thing as a small business,” Mr Patel remarked. Microsoft and SESCO, for example, started as small businesses. Understanding this makes it easier to support startups.

The kind of careers, products and services we have today was not even thought of a few years ago. And those of the coming future are not being thought of today. The advantage startups have is their ability to quickly adapt to consumers’ needs and wants, a thing that the so called ‘big businesses’ fail to do when faced with changes in the market environment. “By the time they realise the market changes, they find that they are suffering losses,” Mr Patel explained.

Commenting on the objective of the conference, “bringing together some of the highly fundable ASEAN startups for intense peer networking and investment opportunities by global investors”, Mr Patel spotlighted that the significance of choosing the ASEAN region is embedded in the markedly young population which is equipped with sufficient skills based on the support received from the governments who are positioning themselves as a player in the global economy.

Rather than identifying the criteria followed by Venture Capitals (VCs), which might vary according to the business objectives of each VC, Mr Patel highlighted the importance for startups to make themselves attractive to VCs. He mentioned a few elements for this including being very passionate and committed to the idea of the project, awareness of the financial aspects of going about the execution of the project and the ability to understand and position themselves in within the market.

Through this event, which has no similar events in the region, WIEF takes the responsibility to participate in the economic development of ASEAN member countries by tapping into startups as an essential part of the economic outlook. A total of 105 startups, from eight countries, and 29 investors from eleven countries were gathered to find investment opportunities. Twelve startups were selected to pitch their ideas on the stage. They act as role models for other startups to encourage them to promote their ideas. Mr Patel said that this conference is a feeder for the main IdeaLab event taking place in November.