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BEYOND4: Nurturing Startups From The Ground-up And Beyond

BEYOND4: Nurturing Startups From The Ground-up And Beyond

Tathagath Mariswamy

Head of Projects, Operations and Delivery
Margaux Zurbano

Beyond4 is a multi-tier ecosystem accelerator, with talent at its core, designed to identify and nurture talent and startups by creating a comprehensive ecosystem. The technology-driven Talent Ecosystem unlocks an individual’s potential by their skill sets to boost the career progressions of both students and working professionals through a focus on emerging technologies. The Startup Ecosystem is designed to identify high-potential startups and enable them to traverse the path from potential to success through a curated journey of knowledge, mentorship, funds and support services to create supercharged yet sustainable startups. With that, why don’t you join me in learning more about BEYOND4 with its Head of Projects, Operations, and Delivery, Tathagath Mariswamy.

Can you tell us about your previous experience in project management and operations, and how it has prepared you for this role at Beyond 4?


I started my career with KPMG, joining their Bangalore-based Audit team. That was my first job and that gave me a little bit of an understanding of accounting, how it works, and how you look at the numbers and make them tie into the wider storytelling a company seeks to share.

I then moved on to Goldman Sachs Investment Banking, Data Resources Group. Making the transition over, in my 4 years with them I gained a deeper understanding of companies: how to read the annual reports, the analytics part of the data, and how investment bankers and analysts look at companies before they invest. This gave me a solid, multi-faceted foundation: the audit side, as well as understanding the analytics part of data. 

That allowed me to pursue my calling of consulting, with my past 10 years being within the space. I started with supply chain consulting and then worked my way up to management consulting. In that time, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of different organizations, from Fortune500 companies, large enterprises within oil and gas, mining, electronics and so on.  

These experiences were very enlightening, helping me deepen my understanding of different business models, how different companies work and what are the key drivers to their success. In this time, I began to dip my toes into working with startups, acting as a consultant to help them at various stages of their journey.

My key takeaway for anyone looking to work with startup founders would be that its key to have a more rounded experience across the entire space because you're consistently coming up with different models, different kinds of startups and they work in different domains. I think your business fundamentals need to be very strong, so that it makes it easier for you to understand the different startups, apply different models, so that you have a better understanding of how they work and how they build a sustainable yet fast growing business.


What is BEYOND4 and what makes it unique from its other competitors? 


BEYOND4 is essentially a startup ecosystem as well as a startup ecosystem builder. As a startup ecosystem, what we're building is an end-to-end model and playbook for a startup in terms of how they can go from their ideation stage all the way to a successful exit, complete with planning, support and guidance on initial fundraising, securing traction, planning follow-on fundraising, scaling, venture building and so on. We plan on being by their side on their journey providing the necessary support and resources all the way to the point of exit, be it in the form of an IPO or a stake, sale, merger acquisition, what works best based on their own unique models, goals and journeys. We are currently developing this model that takes them through the journey of guiding how they should approach their startup, and what it takes to have meaningful success on this journey. We plan to guide startups along their path in each of the different phases that a startup goes through.


Now why do we call it an ecosystem? Because there are many stakeholders at play. It's the BEYOND4 ourselves, then we have the startups, we have mentors, and our network of partners consisting of technology partners, strategic partners, ecosystem partners and so on. There are specific parts of the startup ecosystem that are focus areas and that we have become really good at over time and there are specific parts of this that we bolster through the help, support and collaboration that we have from our partners. Our partners support us by being the bridge in empowering startups in places where they have limited visibility, experience or impact. For example, we work closely with Techshake, a Philippines-based startup ecosystem builder in developing a partnership where we can open up the Philippines as another region that the startups can look at expansion and scaling into as well. 

BEYOND4 also is an ecosystem builder, where we help build startup ecosystems in areas where the ecosystem isn’t mature but has significant potential to thrive. We begin this process by engaging government and state agencies, corporates based in that region as well as the grassroots communities and begin building from the ground up, developing the startup ecosystem one block at a time.

We also do this with developing quality talent within the same ecosystem, fulfilling the 2 sides of the coin to a vibrant ecosystem. With talent require high quality jobs, and startups requiring skilled talent to help their business scale, we make the logically forward step where we start with talent in terms of providing high quality technology training and upskilling. From there, we identify entrepreneurs in-the-making and support them in starting their own startup journey. As a whole, even if there isn't an ecosystem on the ground, BEYOND4 bridges that gap by building an ecosystem from the ground up from the grassroots level and embarking on a journey to creating an Innovation Hub of the future.


Can you tell us about a recent successful project or initiative that BEYOND4 has undertaken, and what made it successful?


Beginning in early 2022, we have been working hand-in-hand with the Pahang State Government and Yayasan Pahang (YP), in building a comprehensive startup and talent ecosystem. Pahang is West Malaysia’s largest state, and it has a keen focus on the agricultural side, feeding into the national agricultural economy.

When we came onboard, the number of trained and certified tech talent was limited, with their startup ecosystem being limited as a result. With a focus on traditional businesses, Pahang-based startups struggled to secure traction. Beginning this journey, we started working with the Pahang state government and YP just over a year and a half ago, with just a flat piece of land being our first building block, which they were looking at developing into a talent center or as a possible entrepreneurship hub. With that mandate in hand, we put together a comprehensive engagement plan to develop a talent and startup hub.

Our key success factor was that the state government and YP bought into the idea that and our proposal to build an ecosystem from the ground up, counter to what most of the other accelerator programs or ecosystems were trying to do. For us, it was very important to make this a success as it was our pilot ecosystem building project.  We helped with the development of the hub, and put together a full plan in terms of how to develop talent, and how to nurture startups. 

There was a lot of skepticism early on, with many believing that scaling startups in Pahang would be like drawing blood from a stone. This was admittedly a huge challenge, but one we took on with grit, tenacity and an iron will to succeed. A lot of credit goes to our CEO Ruban who championed the vision of developing ecosystems from the ground up. Once we put our feet to the ground, we have been at full speed ever since, having run three cohorts of our Pre-Accelerator Program. As of now, there's close to 400 trained tech talents from the beginning of 2022 and 39 startups in total, that have come through our doors, with this just being the start of the journey together.


What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges facing Beyond4 in the next 5 years?


I think in terms of the opportunities that we have, Malaysia at this stage is in a perfect place to be in this startup and ecosystem building space. There's a lot of government goodwill and support in building Malaysia as an innovation hub, with initiatives towards startups aplenty. Due to these government initiatives, there are more startups that have cropped up, slowly allowing Malaysia to catch up within the global startup space. 

Apart from that, what also matters is the overall support that they get to scale and grow. Previously, we've seen a lot of Malaysian startups move to Singapore, due to the abundance of support, resources and capital, with the most successful example being Grab.

As such, there are still some key challenges to be addressed, namely that Malaysia has a very small population that goes into STEM education, creating a deficit on the talent availability. The talent developed then faces challenges due to this deficit, leaving the nation in search of better opportunities, causing significant brain drain, further deepening the lack of talent. 

Despite this, Malaysia is a great place and market to be in as a startup, with tremendous potential for Malaysia to develop into a leading startup ecosystem. Malaysia’s growth in the startup space will be significantly determined by government policy as well. Factors such as ease of doing business, taxation, grants, subsidies etc. will play a key role in developing and retaining startups within Malaysia. Since Malaysia has so much potential, we're seeing more startup accelerators coming through. I think what really determines what we can do and what would help us to be successful is if we can genuinely help the startups progress, get traction, and scale.


What are your long-term goals for Beyond4's project management and operations, and how do you plan to achieve them?

Our model itself is something that we developed based on the gaps we see within our startup ecosystem. It’s good to have a flexible model which caters to startups and their requirements rather than having a cookie-cutter one that fits all kinds of solutions. In terms of the pathway for Beyond4, we aim to be a pioneer of the end-to-end startup development model. As a part of this, we recently announced our Singapore-based VC fund, as part of our expansion into the Lion City. We're looking to raise capital for this fund from individuals, funds and corporations who share our vision for the future and we'll be closing the fundraising for this in March 2024. 

This fund is focused on developing and investing in startups and scaling them across the Southeast Asian region. This forms a particularly important pillar in developing an end-to-end ecosystem. This helps the startups that come through our accelerator program go through at least one or two rounds of crowdfunding so that we can validate the product, the business, and the value the startup can create through its solution. On the next step of their journey, we will look to invest our fund in the select few startups that are able to meet our investment criteria. This is another step in providing them the necessary support on the funding angle so that we can take them to the next level. Through this, we position our startups so they can get the necessary traction through the support that we provide, making sure they are in a better place where they now have funding as well and it prepares them for the next few stages of fundraising, traction, and expansion, and so on. 

At the end of the day, BEYOND4 seeks to enable startups to develop and scale. We hope to do this by understanding the needs of the startups, providing the necessary resources & support and enabling them through their journey as a startup. On an operational front, this requires us to be organized and efficient with a clear strategy in mind. With time, we look forward to developing a large number of startups that can expand into the ASEAN region and beyond. With all these initiatives working in tandem, we also want to play a leading role in making Malaysia a burgeoning startup hub.


Tathagath is a problem solver with over a decade of management consulting experience. He has extensive cross cultural leadership experience having worked with Fortune 500 companies, large Global Enterprises and startups in all major geographies. He specializes in a Systems Approach to developing Strategy, Business Models, Design, Efficiency, Cost Management, Implementation and Execution. Tathagath joined BEYOND4 in 2021, playing a key role in the design and delivery of the startup ecosystem. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow In his pivotal role as the Head of Projects, Operations, and Delivery at Beyond4, Tathagath’s primary mission is to enable startups to reach their potential by successful delivery of services and solutions. With fervor and dedication, he takes charge of identifying potential partners, cultivating and nurturing these relationships, and overseeing the program's diverse initiatives.


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