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Slush, the tech startup event started in Finland, is expanding with a new conference this fall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The KL Slush’D 2023 event will be an extension of the global startup event, Slush, coming on October 26, 2023. I’ve been to the Helsinki event multiple times — the last time in late 2019 just as the pandemic was hatching abroad. It’s a fine gathering of global tech leaders.
The aim for the Malaysia event is to help spread the tech religion around the world and spark “a powerful AI revolution” in the region. Malaysia has a rising startup ecosystem and it’s seeking to follow in the footsteps of its Finnish predecessor.
The theme for KL Slush’D 2023 is “Shock the System”, with a focus on the disruptive power of AI. The event aims to bring together 1,000 inspired and influential leaders in AI, including startup founders, operators, investors, and visionaries from both local and global AI communities.
“When I came to Kuala Lumpur last year, I spent months working in the most underground of places, hacking away with a team of local developers in the tropical heat,” said Damon Grow, cofounder of KL Slush’D, in an email to GamesBeat. “We were in a run down, three-times burned former cinema hall with rain crashing on the tin roof and neon lights flickering against the stripped concrete walls. I was literally in Cyberpunk’s 2077 ‘Night City.’”
Grow added, “You have to be on the ground and experience the tech ecosystem to truly understand why Malaysia is becoming the next epicenter of Southeast Asia’s digital economy. Malaysians are real hustlers – working hard to get things done, and buzzing with the appetite for cutting-edge ideas. It’s places like these that will birth the next AI innovations in the developing world.”
And he said, “Slush saw the same challenges and opportunities that we saw – that Malaysian founders do not lack resilience or fiery spirits, but they are hampered by the lack of global exposure. The startups here need ambitious thinking at a global scale and a vibrant international ecosystem, which is precisely why we chose to bring Slush’D to Kuala Lumpur. We want to inspire Malaysians to seize their purpose-driven future by tackling complex problems and colliding with people from different countries and areas of expertise – this is what Slush is all about.”
The event organizers see AI as the beacon leading the charge, a seismic force rewriting the rules of the game, challenging established norms, and propelling us into uncharted territories. AI’s transformative potential is disrupting how we live, work, create, and innovate, shaking the very foundations of every industry, from healthcare to education, finance to entertainment, and beyond. That sounds a bit like our own themes around Transform 2023 in San Francisco today.
“KL Slush’D is our opportunity to showcase this potential and to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and risk-taking that propels Malaysia onto the global stage as a significant force in the AI revolution,” said Grow. “We’re embracing the power of AI to redefine the realm of possibilities, orchestrating a new age where Malaysian startups can dream bigger, reach further, and make a profound impact on society.”
Mahadhir Aziz, CEO of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), acknowledges the challenges of building a startup ecosystem in Malaysia but emphasizes the opportunities that lie ahead.
“Yet, in the face of these challenges, the opportunities brought by AI are both electrifying and transformative,” Aziz said in a statement. “Initiatives like KL Slush’D are the catalysts, provoking a radical shift, inspiring AI-native companies to emerge, and stimulating the growth of a talent pool that thrives amidst this disruption.”
The event, which is a non-profit initiative, is launching public ticket sales now. Grow said the group plans to grow KL Slush’D year after year, leveraging Malaysia as the nexus for the Southeast Asia (SEA) tech ecosystem. The SEA region is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030, driven by its young, educated, and increasingly online population of 700 million, Grow said.
“If you are looking for growth, this is the place to be,” Grow said. “KL Slush’D is part of a bigger mission to transform Malaysia into the world’s first AI-native nation – what we’re calling the ‘Malaysia Beyond’ initiative. This initiative aims to catalyze the AI research, commercialization and application ecosystems in Malaysia by bringing together diverse stakeholders to collaborate.”
The Malaysian economy is now roaring with 8.7% GDP growth in 2022 (fastest in Southeast Asia) and 5.6% GDP growth in the first quarter of 2023. Malaysia also stands out as the top destination in Southeast Asia for data center investments.
“With the recent announcement of new cloud regions by Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft, Malaysia has a four times greater data center output than the next highest market, Thailand,” Grow said. “As you know, all of this is extremely important for laying the foundations of an AI-driven economy.”
While KL Slush’D carries the DNA of Slush, Grow said the new event is rooted in local soil by embracing rich Malaysian culture and diversity, as well as the indomitable spirit of the Malaysian people, represented by the fearsome Malayan tiger.
“We aim to deliver a truly unique celebration of founders with the same magic that participants have come to expect of the Slush brand, with a little jungle twist,” Grow said. “Ours is a distinct and intentional approach to kindle the startup ecosystem of Malaysia by nurturing a vibrant pool of AI talent and fostering a dynamic culture of daring entrepreneurship and thoughtful risk-taking. We believe this will propel the next generation of unicorns in Malaysia.”
In Finland, Slush 2022 brought together 4,600 startup founders and operators, accompanied by 2,600 investors, representing $1 trillion in assets under management. At no other gathering will you find the same critical mass of people you absolutely have to meet, Grow said.
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