Cambodia has seen rapid progress in the last decade. While largely industrial, the country is seeking to diversify and transform into a skill-driven industry. Over the past 7 years, Cambodia’s startup ecosystem has grown significantly, largely because of the support that it received from various players such as incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, investors, and the government.
The growth of the country’s startup ecosystem has also been helped along by supportive government initiatives such as The Startup Policy Hack, various startup and digital SMEs forums, and other events that link policy makers, tech startups, SMEs, and the ecosystem stakeholders to create strategies to develop Cambodia’s digital economy.
For a better view of what’s happening in Cambodia’s startup ecosystem, we asked a few of its members and key players about the state of the ecosystem and where it is heading.
On the state of Cambodia’s startup ecosystem today
Young but growing, Cambodia’s tech scene is largely the adoption of global technologies into local opportunities. Though, its increasing digital literacy makes it a good place for both local and foreign entrepreneurs to explore.
Alberto Cremonesi, CEO of Impact Hub: In a word: burgeoning. The ecosystem has been going through an acceleration process itself, with an impressive number of programs, spaces and initiatives coming up in the past year alone. I think there are lots of incredible opportunities for those people with a vision and the perseverance to see an idea come true.
Chantra Be, National Institute of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Communication Technology: Cambodia is a country that offers opportunities for both local and foreign entrepreneurs, and we have a good base for the development of the entrepreneurial, digital and tech industry.
Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Axiata: The startup scene in Cambodia is probably still at a nascent stage but I believe that it has a lot of the building blocks in place for an exciting future – high mobile phone penetration, one of the cheapest mobile Internet charging rates in the region, two-thirds of the population are under 30 years old and are increasingly digital literate, strong collaboration and support between government and private sectors, growing number of supportive platforms for tech entrepreneurs, and more.
Long Leakhena, Co-Founder and COO of Joonak Delivery: The startup ecosystem in Cambodia right now is emerging and growing rapidly, considering that there are a lot of supports to the whole ecosystem including incubation programs, financial opportunities from angel investors and VC funds, and some public sector supports as well.
Dek Dary, 2018 National President of JCI Cambodia:We are at a very early stage of the ecosystem, whereby most ideas have been imported from overseas and many of these startup owners are students who have been managing their companies from small development funds from non profit organizations and event contests.
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia: When it comes to education and human resources, there are some limitations compared to other countries around the region, but supportive initiatives like mentorship, incubator and accelerator programs are being established and expanded.
On the advantages of youth for Cambodia’s startup ecosystem
While there is advantage to experience, Cambodia believes that their youth is taking the lead into taking the country to digitisation. With almost three quarters of its population under the age of 30, the country is banking on youth’s resilience and openness to bring it to the global stage.
Long Leakhana: The interest of young people to be entrepreneurs is increasing, many of who are very talented with innovative ideas and great determination to impact the society and make people’s lives easier.
Thomas Hundt: Cambodia’s startup scene is young and agile. A lot of new start-ups have popped up in the last few years from various sectors such as fintech, gaming, e-commerce, logistics, transportation and many more. Most start-ups are looking at utilizing technology to transform the traditional ways of getting things done which is very encouraging!
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia: The vibrant country has provided many opportunities for young dynamic Cambodians to start up their own companies. Startups have been notably growing since 2015. Most startups in Cambodia are tech-startups and tech-related service startups focusing on the development of games, apps, fintech, and e-commerce businesses.
On startup challenges and how Cambodia addresses them
Much like its neighbours in the region, Cambodia’s startups face a lot of challenges – more so, given that they are still at a very early stage. The good thing is that startups are very much aware of what these challenges are, and are working together with both private firms and the government to address these challenges.
Dek Dary: Cambodia currently is seen as an outsource destination, whereby many international players come to the country to source low cost IT engineers to develop solutions to serve the global market. Our current challenge is lack of scale. Our locally grown startups are yet to prove that they can capture substantial market size in order to attract more funds.
Thomas Hundt: More and more co-working spaces and accelerator programs are being run which provide opportunities for these start-ups to upskill, network as well as to grow. At policy level, the government is approaching the rise in entrepreneurial mindset positively by further supporting them through proposing facilitative policies as well as promoting development programs or initiatives nationwide.
Alberto Cremonesi: Network, community, mentors, funds are now becoming readily available. Some work still needs to be done in terms of entry, regulation, some specific services… but hey, this is a perfect time to start a venture and show the way!
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia: About 30 per cent of our population is still offline by end of 2017. To address this challenge, as a broad vision of the Royal Government of Cambodia, we have 2020 targets of 100 per cent broadband coverage in urban areas and 70 per cent in rural areas. Affordable access to high quality ICTs has become a key priority for our Government and businesses. As a result, we are streamlining our Telecom-ICT development policy through the implementation of digital agendas through both national and regional broadband plans. These strategies not only aim to expand broadband coverage and infrastructure, but also to create a platform for digital transformation and build a healthy and dynamic digital ecosystem in Cambodia.
On the future of Cambodia’s startup ecosystem
As Cambodia develops its digital economy, it does so with the vision of modernising the country and transitioning to become a service-driven and innovation-supported as it connects with regional and global economies.
Alberto Cremonesi: Sustainability is important because today Cambodia faces some of the most pressing challenges in terms of resources – but this also represents an opportunity and the perfect chance to show that great things can be achieved while respecting and improving our environment.
Dek Dary: We need to prepare our talents to think regionally and globally if we are to attract more investors and prove that we are serious play in the startup scene.
Chantra Be: The interest of young people to be entrepreneurs is growing in tandem with the involvement of government in tech startup & digital economy, the growing community including co-working spaces and events, the involvement of the private sector in incubation and acceleration programmes, and stroger international support. This will certainly move Cambodia’s Startup Ecosystem to the next level.
Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia: It is important for SMEs to adopt digital systems as the key driving force to develop Cambodia’s digital economy and to leverage the use of technology to expand their businesses beyond the Kingdom, as well as to introduce our products to international markets.
Thomas Hundt: There are many great talents and ideas locally, thus, we all need to put our expertise and strengths together to support them more. We have also seen a growing interest in investing into Cambodian start-ups over the last year since the launch of Smart’s very own venture capital fund called SADIF. I’m sure this trend will continue in the coming months as a testament to Cambodia’s growth and readiness in the being a potential destination for local start-up investments in the region.
The outlook is positive, the players are determined, and Cambodia’s startup ecosystem is all set to take centre stage.
We’re talking about Southeast Asia at Echelon Asia Summit! Visit Cambodia’s Pavillion and meet their very own startups!