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Innovate UK

Business opportunities in the Malaysia's urban sector

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The global market for urban technologies is expected to reach $408 billion by 2020 by conservative estimates (if you're a “glass half full” kind of person, you’re looking at a $1.5 trillion opportunity).

UK businesses could be attracting a $40 billion slice of this total every year, particularly in cross-sectoral areas and in high-growth markets around the world.

One such market is Malaysia: it has one of the highest urbanisation rates in East Asia and an average GDP growth rate double that of the UK (consistently over the past decade).

Today, 3 in 4 people in Malaysia live in a city. Urban populations have doubled over the past 20 years, resulting in both an economic boom and a myriad of urban challenges linked to infrastructural disconnections.

Solving Malaysia’s congestion problems through soft transport modes  

Road and MRT infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Road and MRT infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysian cities have given cars priority without foreseeing the impact this massive urban population increase would have on road space, air quality and productivity.

In Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL) alone, traffic congestion costs an estimated RM3,100 per resident, which equates to over 1.1% of the country’s GDP. The situation also impacts people’s health and welfare, as pollutant concentrations are on the rise and hundreds of hours are lost in traffic every year.

But what might surprise even more than these statistics, is that locals would systematically recommend getting a car, even when the destination is 5 minutes away. Do not mistake this for a status symbol: it can literally take 30 minutes and 5 conversations to navigate your way to an objective 100 meters away, as sidewalks are scarce and heavily disconnected, new developments often add multiple levels to your path, and transport nodes tend to connect lines through complex combinations of access points. With tropical weather as a complicating factor, your 100 meter walk could take even longer!

Cyclists also need to brave sharing road space with the overwhelming vehicular traffic, as no guidance is available for soft modes.

British solutions for digital 3D way-finding and weather-proofing routes would find a growing market in Malaysian cities. Their residents have a considerable appetite for smart solutions (mobile ownership is higher than in the UK) and both developers and the public sector would be keen to work with UK businesses to tackle congestion.

Integrated transport solutions for better public services

New MRT infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
New MRT infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Public transport and shared mobility alternatives have traditionally lagged behind, plagued by unreliability and limited service provision. While new mass transit infrastructure is being built at an impressive scale and speed, the connections between modes and providers are non-existent.

For example, an average resident in KL would own around 5 different public transport cards, use at least half a dozen apps to navigate the city and would always rely on the private car for most city trips.

The UK has lots of experience with efficient public transport, which it could share with Malaysian urban centres. Solutions to integrate public transport providers and modes are needed, as are systems transforming the real-time data most transport companies collect into useful information for residents, operators and public decision-makers.

British businesses could also combine technical solutions with new business models, making public transport more affordable, reliable and better connected to private mobility options.

Water challenges and urban opportunities in the sector

Smart mobility systems could also save people’s lives. Malaysia is prone to urban flooding; while infrastructure investments such as the SMART tunnel (a road tunnel that converts into a storm water management system in case of flooding) have helped mitigate the effects of monsoon rains, cloud bursts and unpredictable flash floods still prove disruptive for urban economies.

Businesses could close this gap by providing technologies for the real-time monitoring of flood conditions and integration between city-wide data streams and urban emergency response systems.

There is a considerable market for citizen-centric solutions, including:

  • emergency routing
  • personalised alerts
  • crowd-sourcing data for flood detection

As flash floods also have negative effects on water management infrastructure, non-invasive technologies to detect water leaks and prevent pipe bursts add RM410 million (GBP75 million) per year to the total market opportunity for British enterprises.

Efficient urban waste management is needed

UK companies active in the area of urban waste can also find opportunities in the Malaysian market, estimated at 50% of the total operating budget of local authorities. Technologies in particular demand are linked to de-centralised collection and sorting, recycling and extracting valuable components from commercial and household waste. This is in response to the country’s per capita waste production that is higher than in comparable South East Asian countries.

Newton-Ungku Omar Fund call

UK delegation visiting MRT building site in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
UK delegation visiting MRT building site in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Innovate UK supports businesses in accessing all of these opportunities through our live Newton-Ungku Omar Fund call on city challenges.

Businesses interested in working on urban innovation but concerned about partnering and IP rights can access further support from the Knowledge Transfer Network, the Enterprise Europe Network and the regional IP support office.

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