Recently, Geeks in Cambodia had the opportunity to catch up with Ki Chong Tran, one of the co-founders of Cambodia’s very first 3D printing startup Arc Hub PNH.
Since our last chat, the team has progressed rapidly, with many more exciting news for us to hear and share with you guys. This includes being invited to participate in the upcoming Southeast Asia Makerspace Summit, as well as how the team became the first official 3D printing distributor in Cambodia. Read on below to find out more!
(This interview has been edited for flow and clarity.)
Can you tell me more about the SEA Makerspace Summit that you will be attending?
It’s in Singapore, and the four of us from my team are all going. Basically all the major spaces will get together to form bigger networks, as ASEAN gains more traction. The idea is for everybody to meet and share ideas. There will be workshops, talks, and there’s also going to be a signing of a memorandum of understanding for the whole region, including the makerspaces. It’s really an event for everyone to connect.
Since Southeast Asia isn’t really known for technology, except for Singapore, the fact that we’re all getting together and working together and trying to build something up is really cool.
How do you feel about being the only one selected to represent Cambodia?
It feels great! It’s really cool; we’re the only ones from Cambodia who were invited. If we weren’t chosen, they probably wouldn’t have noticed any startups from Cambodia. Similar countries like Myanmar and Laos are not on the list. With all the big guys playing the field – Singapore, Vietnam, etc – it’s good that we can represent some of the developing countries.
So, what else is new with Arc Hub?
As you already know, we started out just printing stuff for people who came to us with ideas to make something. These ideas can range from architecture models, to making small prototypes of a product first before selling it.
Eventually, we had more hands to help us. We are now involved in the education sector, where we work with schools and teach them about 3D printing. We are also a distributor for a manufacturer in China called Tiertime – they are the largest 3D printing manufacturer in Asia and they’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years. We’ve had this partnership since April, and we now use their printers in our office. We’ve already sold 2 of them, and will be selling another 3 to non-governmental organisations.
You mentioned that you were getting more requests this time round for 3D printing; can you elaborate?
Yes, what we’re doing now is actually different kinds of projects. My brother (KiHow Tran) is currently working with a prosthetics school in Cambodia, hopefully to make prosthetic prototypes with 3D printing; so this is very exciting for us!
Waseem, an engineer who just joined us last month, is currently working on a machine that we just got funding for. This machine will recycle old plastic bottles to make the 3D printing filament from it. So this is another really cool project!
So those two things are kind of the biggest for us right now. And then of course we want to sell the Tiertime printers. Part of our big plan is this – the more people in Cambodia have 3d printers and know how to use them, the better skills the country will have in the future.
What is the 3d printing scene like in Cambodia right now, compared to when you first started?
There have definitely been changes! When we first started, there was nothing; I think there was absolutely no 3D printing startups here as well. Some people already knew about 3D printing from mass media, like the Internet and TV, but very few Cambodians knew about this.
And now, it’s changed a lot. We’ve done a lot of talks at universities; we go to different schools and so on. We also go for events – last week we were at the Social Enterprise Fair. And we were also recently at the Zaman University for a talk. The more that we expand ourselves, the more people will know about us. So it’s definitely growing.
So, do you have a competitor now, or is there anyone else that is gaining traction in the 3d printing scene in Cambodia?
(laughs) No, not really. There are people now with 3d printers, and some of them do offer their services or a demonstration, but there’s nobody that’s really doing it on the same scale as us.
Have you guys faced any new difficulties?
Yes! I guess because we’re getting bigger, we now have to do more things like registering with the Ministry of Commerce. In fact, we deal with a lot of shipping, including customs, which is kind of a headache. As we expand more, there will be problems like that which are of higher levels, whereas before, we could just get away with simply selling stuff.
But so far, other than that, it’s been good.
The last time you spoke with us, you mentioned that you wanted to start creating your own 3d printers. What are your current plans for that?
Oh, that is definitely not happening anymore. (laughs) So this is what happened – we ordered one on Kickstarter, with the plan of assembling it at Arc Hub. However, it cost a lot more to ship to Cambodia, almost double of what the printer costs since it’s so big and heavy. So that was one obstacle.
The other thing was that the company was bought out by a bigger company, so they weren’t even making those printers anymore.
In the end, we decided to do something else, which is working as a distributor for 3D printers now.
Since you will not be creating printers on your own, what are your future plans now?
We want to continue selling more of these printers in Cambodia. Like I mentioned before, the more people use it, the better it is for the country as Cambodians will become more tech savvy.
Since you are the first movers here, do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or startups that want to do the same?
If you’re a first mover, you just have to do it. There’s no reasoning really, or logic, or even research, cause when you’re the first mover there’s no market. So when people ask you,”What is your market?” you’ll usually reply with “I don’t know”.
The market doesn’t exist; you have to go and build it. There are also a lot of other things like getting investments for this and that and so on. There are always things that you have to do before you start, because when you are the first mover, you might not really know what you need. But just start, and take it step by step.