The Future Is Now
Insect-based burger patties, artificial intelligence (AI) facial recognition and an online platform to rent out one’s underused car – these are some of the technology-driven innovations that have now become a reality in Sunway City Kuala Lumpur, the flagship smart city of Sunway Group.
Envisioned as Sunway Group’s ‘Living Lab’, Sunway City is the company’s testbed for innovation, bringing together researchers, experts, and academia to generate real-world solutions for a sustainable future. As a part of the diversified conglomerate, Sunway City can harness the talent and resources of the Group’s 13 business divisions to develop and test innovative ideas.
Sunway City’s Living Lab comprises six key focus areas or verticals – Smart Cities, Edutech (education technology), Digital Health, Agrifood Tech (agricultural technology), E-Commerce, and Fintech (financial technology).
This is in line with Sunway’s commitment towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serves as the framework on which Sunway’s core business strategies are formulated to pursue sustainable development. Through digital transformation, Sunway City can achieve its fullest potential as a smart, sustainable integrated township.
Financing digital innovation
Supporting the Living Lab initiative and addressing gaps in funding is Sun SEA Capital, a corporate venture capital fund launched by Sunway Berhad in 2018.
Sun SEA Capital enables Sunway Group to accelerate the conglomerate’s digital transformation through investments in tech start-ups that are aiming for regional business expansion. The fund also allows Sunway Group to discover untapped potential in the region, adding value to its existing businesses and the communities it serves.
While Sun SEA Capital focuses primarily on start-ups in the fintech, to digital health, edutech, e-commerce, and new retail, the fund also looks at sectors such as logistics, enterprise solutions, proptech (property technology), hospitality and other verticals that Sunway has business interests in.
Among the prolific start-ups Sun SEA Capital has invested in thus far include Singapore-based e-commerce enabler Intrepid Group, regional logistics player TheLorry.com and AI facial recognition platform, WISE AI.
Accelerating digital innovation
Addressing global food insecurity and promoting sustainable food production is Ento, one of the five start-ups selected to join the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator Programme in October last year.
Specialising in whole roasted cricket snacks, Ento aims to meet the demand for alternative protein and the growing interest in the agri-food sector with its homegrown brand of insect protein.
“Insect and cricket protein offers a superior form of nutrition – three times more protein than beef, seven times more iron than kale and four times more fibre than oatmeal. Crickets are also sustainable to farm and requires fewer resources to produce – 20 times less land, 2,000 times less water, 12 times less animal feed, 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions. This makes crickets the Tesla for food nutrition,” said Ento founder and CEO Kevin Wu.
In December last year, Ento partnered Sunway Group to launch the region’s first insect-based burger patty, developed in partnership with a two-star Michelin chef in Singapore.
Ento is also currently working with Sunway Malls to connect with retail chains such as 7-Eleven, Family Mart, MyNews.com and Jaya Grocer to expand its distribution to customers.
“Sunway iLabs has connected us to useful industry insight, product feedback, relevant experts as well as R&D consultation. During the mentoring sessions with the key business divisions, innovation leaders from Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway University, Sunway Property, Sun SEA Capital and Sunway FutureX Farm provided us guidance, validation as well as explored potential synergies with us,” said Wu. Under the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator Programme, start-ups such as Ento were able to secure funding of up to RM100,000 and a potential pilot project across 13 Sunway business divisions.
In January this year, Ento, along with four other start-ups – Juzdrive.com, CozyHomes, Quadby, and Fitscovery – received an additional RM200,000 worth of investments following their respective pitches to more than 100 venture capitalists and partners at Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator Virtual Demo Day event.
Launched in July last year, the three-month Super Accelerator programme provides seed funding, mentorship, and market access to Sunway City’s six ‘Living Lab’ verticals. Supported by Sunway Group, Sun SEA Capital and regional venture capital firm Gobi Partners, the next programme opens for enrolment in April and kicks off in July.
“We work closely with the founders and help set clear milestones as we are not looking for short-term investments with quick exits, but long-term collaborations with companies keen to grow together with us in our smart cities and ecosystem,” said Sunway Group chief innovation officer and Sunway iLabs director Matthijs van Leeuwen
A critical component of Sunway Group’s digital transformation is ensuring Sunway City’s digital infrastructure is up to date with the latest technological solutions. Last year, Sunway Group signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with telco player Celcom and Huawei, the global leader in 5G applications, to advance 5G technology in Sunway City.
With unlimited data capacity, lower latency – the delay for a signal to travel to its destination and back – and 10 to 100 times faster speeds than the existing 4G LTE network, 5G wireless network technology is crucial in enabling connected devices to communicate with one another, making innovations such as Internet of Things (IoT), AI and machine-to-machine communications, a reality
Effective IT systems and productivity platforms are critical to support Sunway’s continuous growth as the company expands its presence across Asia and diversifies into new ventures, said Sunway Group chief information officer Kevin Khoo.
Last year, Sunway Group collaborated with Google Cloud and Deloitte to consolidate data across its business units under a unified data system and began using predictive analytics to better understand customers for cross promotions and opportunities, as well as individual marketing campaigns.
In 2019, Sunway had begun migrating data to the Microsoft Office 365 online productivity cloud, allowing employees from different business units the flexibility to collaborate and work from anywhere, anytime and on any device.
Digital transformation is made possible at Sunway City because of the Group’s visionary leadership.
“The commitment towards digitalisation comes from the top, driven by Sunway Group president Tan Sri Chew Chee Kin. Ultimately, this is to offer better services to the customers. With more data, we can better understand customers and tailor to their needs, which in turn, generates better profits,” said Sunway City Kuala Lumpur Hotels senior general manager Alex Castaldi.
Castaldi said that Sunway Resort Hotel was able to embark on its digital revamp during the pandemic due to the strong, financial backing of the diversified conglomerate, as well as the decisive leadership of the top management, which invests into the long-term future of the Group’s businesses.
“For many years, Sunway has been promoting and advocating the idea of a smart, sustainable township, a concept that encompasses a holistic vision that goes beyond just ‘going green’ and reducing carbon footprint. We hope that our journey to becoming a smart and sustainable city will create a ripple effect that encourages citizens to participate in creating a better future for all,” said Sunway Group president Tan Sri Chew Chee Kin.
For Juzdrive.com founder and CEO Gim Teck Yew, it was the success of Sunway City as a sustainable smart city that drew him to join Sunway Property in 2014, and eventually, to start his car subscription and car sharing company, Juzdrive.com.
“Due to the current car ownership options, on top of the depreciation of cars, hire-purchase car loans are one of the causes of bankruptcy in Malaysia. Car subscription options would allow consumers to manage their car expenses better in accordance with their income levels. This is where a more flexible option would be ideal during these challenging times,” he said.
Besides offering car subscription services, Juzdrive.com enables people to list their underutilised cars for rental as an alternative source of income, which proved useful during the pandemic
“We have tour agencies who had lost their source of revenue but managed to tide over the pandemic by renting out their cars through Juzdrive to expatriates. This is also a new business model opportunity for car dealers who had trouble selling unpopular car models, to explore and generate income instead of the cars depreciating in value,” he said.
His journey with Sunway has now come full circle, with Juzdrive.com joining the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator Programme last year.
Juzdrive.com is now looking into having a joint package for luxury cars and multipurpose vehicles with Sunway Resort Hotel, with plans to target the expatriate and international student market in Sunway City. This year, the start-up plans to launch its services in Singapore.
“Inspired by Sunway’s commitment to sustainable development that aims to serve the community with innovations that enrich the livelihood of the community, I founded Juzdrive.com as a passion project. It sure is a great pleasure that even though I have left Sunway as an employee, I am still part of the Sunway family as partners of my passion project through the Sunway iLabs Super Accelerator programme. It is truly a dream come true,” said Gim.
Sunway City’s Living Lab Verticals
Transforming education with tech-based learning solutions in our campus of more than 20,000 students
Improving quality of life through chronic lifestyle disease prevention and care using Sunway Medical Centre to bring these innovations to market
Improving quality of life and customer experience by integrating technology and infrastructure, with our property arm as the driver
Digitalising businesses and enabling a global reach within a few clicks. The aim is to develop an online to offline infrastructure that provides a seamless experience to our customers in our shopping malls and retailers
Incorporation of efficient and smart technological innovations to optimise food production and safety with the ultimate goal to achieve food security
Enhancing and automating financial processes and services to promote financial inclusion for Malaysians as well as small and medium enterprises (SMEs)
This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 71