Shariah-compliant VC Ficus Capital looks for ESG innovation

shariah-compliant VC
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Touted as the world’s first shariah-compliant VC (venture capital) firm, Ficus Capital has announced it is on the hunt for early-stage revolutionary startups with global growth potential in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

Ficus Capital based in Malaysia

The Malaysian-based VC kicked off its investment drive from a flagship RM60 million fund by eyeing ‘revolutionary, sustainable and purpose-driven startups that are bringing impact to the environment, social and governance (ESG) in a sustainable way’.

A statement confirmed the company had invested US450,000 in Eclimo (a Malaysian-designed and owned electric vehicle company) and a US$400,000 investment in Assemblr, an Indonesian augmented reality (AR) platform company that helps users create AR content via its web-based platform.

Why being a shariah-compliant VC matters

shariah-compliant Ficus Capital VC firm
Abdullah Hidayat

Ficus Capital’s co-managing partner Abdullah Hidayat commented: “Eclimo and Assemblr are testimonials to our principles in investing in companies that are making future impact now. We are committed in supporting the growth of companies that are beneficial to society and sustainable economically. Being a shariah-compliant venture capital, we believe ESG and sustainability are deeply rooted in Islamic economics and investment ethics within the parameters of people, planet, profit and principle. All our investment portfolios will be based on that.”

Agencies backing Ficus Capital include anchor investor Malaysia Venture Capital Management Berhad (Mavcap), MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation), among others. Its portfolio includes initial investments in electric vehicles, batteries and augmented reality (AR).

So far, Ficus Capital has made 21 VC investments worth RM14 million, generating RM84 million in total capital returns, according to its website.

Green tech and AR

From its roots in green technology research and development, Malaysian startup Eclimo evolved to developing and building electric motorcycles (ES11 and EB25) and lithium-Ion battery packs (Eclimo Power) and modules.

Its founder Dato’ Dennis Chuah said the company relied on collaboration and partnerships. “The investment from Ficus is a solid partnership that supports our plan to enter the regional market. Ficus is a strategic and value-added investor who understands our vision and is a proponent of sustainable investment.”

This comment was echoed by the founder and CEO of Assemblr, Hasbi Asyadiq. Describing the company’s core as an augmented reality online platform, he adds that the focus is on creating, discovering, and sharing AR experiences for businesses, personal users and students.

With a special focus on the youth, users can digitally build and visualise their own worlds and place it in real-life settings with only a few taps, dragging and dropping on their computing devices, he said.

Assemblr currently has more than 2 million projects created globally. Assemblr is an alumnus of various renowned international accelerators, including Techstars Hub 71, Facebook Accelerator and Plug And Play. It has also been featured as Apple App Store’s App of the Day in more than 100 countries.

“We have always been committed to make AR accessible for everyone,” said Hasbi. “The partnership with Ficus Capital will help us to accelerate the adoption of Assemblr as we will reach more users across the region and subsequently the world. We have put an extra emphasis on the design and usability of the platform’s UI/UX to empower user to easily create their content and enliven their ideas.”

Malaysia’s digital focus

Rina Neoh

Ficus Capital’s mission is aligned to Malaysia’s digital aspirations, said Rina Neoh, co-managing Partner, Ficus Capital.

Malaysia’s transformation as a digital economy has seen rising investment prospects, according to Tan Sri Sulaiman Mahbob, chairman of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), speaking recently to local media.

“As the Malaysian economy undergoes transformation, we must continue to develop the people’s core competencies so that our workforce can compete effectively in the global economy for the benefit of the country, attracting high-tech investments and transitioning to new sectors of comparative advantage,” he told media.

The MIDA chairman pointed to the country’s track record of support for information technology, which has made it a preferred destination for tech investors. He also encouraged investments in innovations linked to renewable energy and use of energy-efficient machinery such as solar panels, wood-burning stoves, biogas and mini-hydropower plants.

Sulaiman spoke of a ‘new paradigm in local investing environment’, under the New Investment Policy (NIP), which favoured innovative, high-impact, high-tech investments.

Furthermore, he said Malaysia’s 2023 economic growth forecast remains positive –with next year’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth estimated at 4 to 5%.

Speaking about Ficus Malaysia’s role, Rina concluded: “As a key enabler to the ecosystem, we are aware of the challenges faced by start-ups as we regularly engage with them. Ficus is not just a financial investor, as we commit our energy to help the startups scale their growth and sustain their businesses. Our network and experiences are their value-adding resources to help them bridge the gaps in their strategic planning, market expansion and increasing their valuation.”

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