Many things come to mind when one mentions Elon Musk: successful, wealthy, brilliant, and perhaps, even eccentric. Mainly though, to us, innovation is synonymous with Musk’s fame. Add a side of audaciousness and self-deprecation and you almost have him sized up. He is widely respected by pioneers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, philanthropists, as well as a large part of the general public.

What is it about him that incites creativity, inspiration, and determination in others? Easy. His genuine mission to improve technology and humanity, to contribute to a sustainable future through his own innovations and collaborations with like-minded entrepreneurs. His progressive thinking is big-picture, with a view more focused on evolution and making a difference and not just making a tonne of money.

Innovation can be difficult to measure and, in some cases, define—especially in context with the various sectors and individuals present in Southeast Asia’s startup scene. Here, we focus on the ‘next-level’ innovation demonstrated by Musk. Tesla, with Musk at the helm, has extended itself beyond its initial goal. Its scope has widened to solve the background ‘issues’ that rippled out from its original intent. In other words, instead of just thinking how the electric car would work, they’ve delved into the energy systems that ensure effective functionality and support for the network of cars, as well as the overall concept.

Applying this same premise, here are three contenders across the energy, blockchain, and property sectors who are ‘Muskesque’ in their respective fields.  

Zheng Zuo – SpaceChain

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Zheng Zuo, CEO and Co-Founder of SpaceChain. Image courtesy of Facebook.

Zheng Zuo, the 26-year old, Singapore-based, co-founder and CEO of SpaceChain, is an early adopter in bitcoin and blockchain. Within seven months of the company’s inception and with the shared expertise and visionary plans of Jeff Garzik (co-founder and CTO), the company has launched and tested the world’s first blockchain satellite. The advisory panel, collaborative partnerships, providers, manufacturers, and the network used, in addition to the private funding behind SpaceChain, is essentially a ‘who’s who’ of venture capitalism, spacetech, bitcoin, and blockchain technologies.

Overall, the company’s core goals are to benefit the planet, and—by extension—humanity, through its relationship with space. The SpaceChain Foundation, reports that their aim is to encourage space accessibility for people outside of the normal ‘government-only’ restrictions and to assist in making space exploration sustainable by achieving constant expansion of knowledge. At this stage, this has translated into applying blockchain technology–in space–to invent solutions that better serve the world.

Specifically, sights are set on building the world’s first open-source satellite network, enabling a next-generation infrastructure for the blockchain industry. The decentralised, yet highly secure satellite network, using a low earth orbit (LEO) approach, is well on its way to becoming an alternative for data transmission, storage, and application development.

Visions have already become reality with the first successful launch of blockchain nodes. They have partnered with Arch Mission Foundation to archive and preserve knowledge for future generations. The aim of the alliance is to distribute human knowledge and data across the neutral, unregulated realm of space. Additionally, two further satellites will be launched in 2018, to form a network of blockchain sites. Future plans revolve around creating an entire ecosystem that connects businesses, developers, and consumers. With SpaceChain joining The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), providing support and funding to other Spacetech ventures, plus the introduction of a community incentive model, encouraging more talent to embrace and contribute to this ecosystem, this is only just the beginning for Zheng Zuo. Watch this ‘space’.

Vinesh Sinha – FatHopes Energy Sdn Bhd

Founder and CEO of Malaysia-based FatHopes Energy, Vinesh Sinha earned his place at the London School of Commerce, studying business and finance, but felt it was a foreign language he did not need to learn. Dropping out at the age of 18, Sinha then volunteered with three companies specializing in waste oil collection and the production and distribution of biodiesel fuel used in London’s black cabs. Using his tuition refund, Sinha bought the conversion unit he’d been operating in London and took it to Kuala Lumpur to help a friend in the logistics business who was charged with building a “green” fleet. Nine months later and backed with two years worth of discarded restaurant waste, he started FatHopes, so named because friends and family alike thought he was crazy,

Today, FatHopes operates a 2.6-acre site near Sungai Buloh, yielding about 17,000 tonnes of biodiesel a month, all of which are currently exported to Europe. The Peak reports that since its inception in 2010, the company has since generated nearly $105.4 million USD (414.6 million MYR) in revenue, along with the conversion of 150.5 million kilograms of waste oil to biofuel.

Without the support of startup investors, Sinha built partnerships instead, collecting from over 35,000 different sources, and securing 70% of the oil-waste market in Malaysia. Taking a cue from the Musk playbook, Sinha explains: “We understand you have to make financial sense to make ends meet, but it doesn’t justify being unscrupulous or opportunistic… I embrace [competition] by engaging and collaborating in order to spread this initiative to a bigger geographical footprint.”

Sinha’s goal is to be an underlying infrastructure provider and to service 18,000 points throughout the ASEAN region by 2020. Indonesia is his next expansion target.

Sinha isn’t in it for the money, though. The humble entrepreneur says he has no desire to drive a fancy car. In fact, for him, it is about making the world a better place for all. “Enabling or creating options should always be a priority of national development strategies because that’s when you instigate people to think differently – and to think in general, instead of just being a follower,” he said.

In an interview with The Star Online, Sinha explains:

…if I buy that waste and distribute the wealth down the supply chain towards much more fragmented parts of society, I feel this will be a single trans-generational, trans-border solution that – irrespective of who and where – will be able to be implemented….We hope to enable the locals in these countries to run the collection business.

From a simple, practical idea, Sinha has used inquisitiveness and innovation to find a solution that not only serves the people but promises to help the planet as well. “We need to save the human race from itself, which is driving itself to extinction due to greed,” he said.

Robbie Antonio – Revolution Precrafted

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Not the first time to make our list of top innovators in the region, founder and CEO of Manila-based Revolution Precrafted, Robbie Antonio appears to be following the Musk example. Through his approach to Proptech, Antonio is taking economic housing and building solutions to the next level, leading the way in innovation with architecturally designed, precrafted ‘modular’ buildings.

Revolution supplies transportable, collectible, and customisable homes, pavilions, museums, condominiums, hotels, pop-up retail, food and beverage outlets, offices, and coworking spaces, to landowners, developers, and consumers all over the world. If Antonio has his way, he will have designed and built 85 properties in as many countries by 2020. Antonio focuses on developing countries, bringing award-winning style and affordability to these nations and communities. He is able to build the iconic designs at a low cost and in less time by manufacturing his own materials.

He describes himself as “deal-hungry,” yet fair. And instead of competing with other developers, he partners with them, building relationships with a win-win focus. Sound familiar? Quite ‘Musk-like’ really. This high-achiever, with unicorn status (the first in The Philippines), is bringing small designer homes to the masses all around the world, and in destinations that will greatly benefit from the innovation and growth.

The most exciting part of finding the “Elon Musk of Southeast Asia”, is that in addition to these, there are many other contenders across several sectors. This translates to a plethora of entrepreneurs with the same forward-thinking, earth-first, humanity-enhancing, and even space-friendly solutions that are setting new precedents in conducting business and utilising technology. Oh, what a future to behold!