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Borneo: An Inside Look at the Newest Digital Nomad Hub on the Block

The island of Borneo conjures up images of vast jungles, exotic animals, and pristine beaches. However, the up-and-coming startup community in Kuching, situated in the state of Sarawak, puts both the city and the island of Borneo on the digital nomad’s map. Leading the charge of this evolving community is coworking and incubator space iCube Innovation.

This well-kept secret is the perfect spot for digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and startups for many reasons. Possibly the most convincing reason is the extremely low cost of living. Accommodation at a boutique hotel will cost you MYR 150 (USD 35) a night including breakfast. A delicious meal of the local favorite, laksa can easily be had for MYR 7 (USD 2), and a coworking space can be secured for MYR 220/month (USD 51/month). Talk about the perfect place to get your strapped-for-cash startup off the ground!

iCube Innovation is the first coworking space to hit the scene in Kuching. It was established 2 years ago and joins a well-established cohort of other coworking spaces in Southeast Asia. I had the pleasure of working in this vibrant, cool (read: air conditioning is a must!) space for a week while I was in Kuching doing the digital nomad thing and exploring this lesser-known hub.

Strategic Manager and startup champion Malcolm Wu and I sat down in the open and colorful premier lounge where you can get a seat at a table or relax in the bean bags for MYR 10.60/day (USD 3/day) to chat about the startup and coworking community in Sarawak.

Q: Tell us about iCube Innovation and how it got started.

Established in 2015, iCube Innovation is the first coworking space and innovation hub in East Malaysia for Sarawak’s young entrepreneurs.  It is about 10,000sq/ft and is designed to facilitate the creation and growth of entrepreneurs through collaboration and co-incubation.

iCube was born out of OurYouth.my, a social enterprise which aims to develop and support the youth in Sarawak. OurYouth.my works to engage with young minds to help foster entrepreneurship from a young age. iCube Innovation’s aim is to nurture and take these young entrepreneurs to the next level.

Q: Tell us about yourself. What do you do at iCube and how did you get involved?

I was born and raised in Kuching. I also lived in Kuala Lumpur for about nine years where I studied and worked in hospitality management and was also in the field of marketing for a few years.

Currently, I am the Strategic Manager for iCube Innovation. As the lead community builder in the local startup ecosystem I manage and facilitate many local programs such as Startup Weekend Kuching, Google Business Group Kuching, Rails Girls Kuching and many others.

As I got more involved I become extremely passionate about entrepreneurship, education and a creating positive change in my own hometown, Sarawak. It is certainly true that when one has a passion, it becomes your driving force and you would eventually become involved with all things related to it.

Q: Coworking is a relatively new concept in Sarawak, what have been some of the challenges in creating a coworking culture here?

It is indeed a very new concept in Sarawak. Most people are still confused about the differences between small/medium enterprises as compared to an entrepreneuring venture. Even the idea of working from home or generally just working out of the office is a concept that has yet to be accepted by many. It is a culture that needs some time to become more exposed. I’ve found that once they have a taste of it, they are able to see the value and benefits of coworking.

Hence we are constantly playing the role of educating by organizing various community driven events such as Cube Talk Specials, networking sessions over Pizza Fridays and free coworking on every first Thursday of the month. We reach out to the youth by working closely with universities and colleges as well. Frequently, we would also give talks and be the panel for forums. These are all part of gradually building towards a larger vision of creating a startup ecosystem in Sarawak.

Q: What does iCube offer their members?

iCube is more than just a space, we are a community. We offer members networking opportunities, upskilling sessions, social and startup events. We also connect our members with our network outside of Kuching as well. Before one can market anything or connect people to the right directions, we need to know who they are and what they aim to do first. So it is a community that helps each other achieve more. Often times, we will also find ourselves learning from our tenants who are experts in their own field too. One major benefit of being a part of the iCube community is the sharing of knowledge, experience and network.

Q: Are most of your members remote workers, entrepreneurs, digital nomads?

The majority are still local SMEs but we are seeing a swift increase of young entrepreneurs, remote workers and digital nomads both local and abroad in the past year. This is what we have set out to achieve – to expose locals to the world of entrepreneurship and to attract more digital nomads to make Sarawak for the exchange of knowledge and culture to take place.

Q: There seems to be a growing expat community in Sarawak. Why do you think more expats are coming to live here?

Well, to be honest, I haven’t come across a tourist who has visited Sarawak and not fallen in love with the land and its people! The nature, the food, the people, the harmonious environment, there is very little not to love. There are many from abroad whom we have come across that really cherish and admire what we have here.

Q: Are there other coworking spaces in Sarawak that people should know about?

There is an exciting innovation hub launching very soon in the central region of Sarawak called Sarikei Innovation Center. Initiated by the Sarawak State Government, the first innovation centre in Sarikei is created with an aim to connect the local communities and to propel more enterprising ventures and opportunities for the local community, especially the youth. The building has been repurposed into a creative space to be used for entrepreneurship development and creating economic opportunities.

Q: iCube Innovation is part of a community of coworking spaces in Southeast Asia, can you tell us more about what the community offers and hopes to achieve?

Two other coworking space operators and I launched a casual and fun initiative called Free Coworking Day on every first Thursday of the month. This is purely a community effort and platform for coworking spaces. The objective of this initiative is to get all coworking space operators and community managers to get to know each other and collaborate with each other. This initiative will help educate and promote the general public on coworking cultures. It also gives the operators more reason to create and organize an event to showcase their coworking space.

Spaces that participate in Free Coworking Days:

iCube Innovation (Kuching, Sarawak)
@CAT Penang (George Town, Penang)
SCOOPOINT (George Town, Penang)
Paper + Toast (Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur)
WORQ (Glo Damansara, Kuala Lumpur)
H Space (Bandar Utama & Kota Damansara, Kuala Lumpur)
The Launchpad (Cyberjaya, Kuala Lumpur)
The Wave (Kwun Tong, Hong Kong)
Emerald Hub (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Impact Hub (Singapore)
. . .

Been to Borneo or planning a workation there? Tell us all about it in the comments below, or tweet @Workfrom using #untethered.


#coworking #digitalnomads

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