Despite progress, startup founders in Cambodia continue to face challenges in accessing information and talents
By Q2 2018, Cambodia had seen at least 12 tech startup funding announcements, which was exactly a 140 per cent increase from at least five in the previous year, according to a new report on the kingdom’s tech ecosystem by Mekong Strategic Partners and Raintree Development.
Launched during the inaugural Cambodia Tech Summit 2018 in Phnom Penh today, the report also detailed the kingdom’s tech startup landscape by category, with fintech leading as a popular sector with more than 50 active startups operating. Examples of such startups are Morakot, Banhji, Pi Pay, BongLoy, and SmartLoy.
Digital media and advertising followed with more than 40 active startups such as Direxplay, Khmerload, Sabay, and Soyo.
E-commerce and logistics, development services, and “other disruptor models” followed with around 30 startups in each category.
Despite startups such as BookMeBus and BongPheak raising external funding, digital marketplaces remain the least popular category in the report with only around 20 startups.
Generally, Cambodia is experiencing a shift of perception on entrepreneurship.
One-hundred per cent of startup founders surveyed for the report agreed that perceptions of entrepreneurship have “drastically improved” over the past three years; even 52 per cent of them named entrepreneur as a “generally accepted” career choice.
But for these founders, despite the increasing number of funding announcement in Cambodia this year, they continue to face challenges in accessing funding information.
A whopping 61 per cent of founders said that information on legal and tax advice, as related to startup investment, is “difficult or impossible” to access. In addition to that, they also struggle to access feedback sessions with investors and experts (49 per cent) and mentoring (47 per cent).
Cambodia = the next big thing?
Paul Ark, Managing Director – Corporate Venture Capital at Digital Ventures, attended the Cambodia Tech Summit 2018 as an ambassador to global early stage startup competition for emerging market Seedstars, which just made its debut in Cambodia this year.
Speaking to e27 in the midst of a mentoring session, as part of the competition, he expressed his optimism about the Cambodian startup ecosystem.
“Doesn’t matter where you go in the world, if you find a startup community, you’re going to find some really passionate, creative entrepreneurs,” he said.
“On one hand, our skills might still be raw [compared to those in Silicon Valley], especially in an ecosystem like Cambodia, which might be one or two years behind Indonesia, Thailand, or even Singapore. But it means that the value of the advice is extremely high in impact. I can go to Singapore and give some advice on how to pitch, and I think it will be well received. But you come here to Cambodia … they can walk out of the door feeling like ‘Wow, my knowledge has increased by ten folds’,” he continued.
There are several factors that can support Cambodia’s position as a promising tech ecosystem in Southeast Asia.
The report described the kingdom as having a young population with high smartphone penetration (over 50 per cent), high-level English proficiency, and cheap data (mere US$1 for 20GB per week).
From the government side, apart from providing less capital flow restrictions compared to its neighbouring SEA countries, Cambodia has also launched support in the form of new innovation labs and a national fund of over US$10 million to support tech innovation.
The market saw its first Series A funding announcement with Agribuddy’s US$730,000 round in 2016, followed by its US$2.8 million round in 2018.
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