Behind The Geeks – Laura Smitheman, Impact Hub Phnom Penh

Part of a global community spanning 73 cities, over  150 members and 11,000 makers, Impact Hubs all around the world are known for their treasure trove of innovative programmes, events and inspiring content.

This is no different for Impact Hub Phnom Penh (IHPP). Being a co-working space, a business incubator, a social enterprise builder and a community of like-minded people, IHPP is on a mission to make the world a better place through the entrepreneurs it helps to incubate.

The plethora of workshops, programmes and events IHPP helps to organise are all part of this ongoing effort to nurture entrepreneurs in the Kingdom.

Just this year, the Hub has hosted many events revolving around education technology, technology to help people with disabilities, and technology to help the environment.

On top of that, IHPP has also launched two additional landmark initiatives this year. The first being TekHub, a programme to help innovative business leaders harness the power of technology to achieve positive impact, and the second being EPIC, Cambodia’s first year-long incubator programme.

Geeks in Cambodia met up with Laura Smitheman (LS), the co-founder of IHPP to find out more about her story, why she got involved in the entrepreneurial scene in Phnom Penh, as well as what the Hub has in store for 2017.

The following interview has been edited for clarity, language and flow.

Thanks for taking the time to meet up with us Laura. We just wanted to find out, what inspired you to get involved in the startup scene in Cambodia?

LS: We kept meeting lots of really inspiring young people who were passionate about having an impact in their community and wanted  to bring about positive change, but they were lacking support and lacking access to learning resources as well as networks. On top of that, they were lacking the support of a like-minded community who could give them support when they were having a bad day. So that’s where we decided to step in.

What do you define as the role you play in the startup scene?

LS: I think we see ourselves as a series – that we inspire, connect, enable and grow entrepreneurs. To inspire, we run a lot of events on how you can become a changemaker, especially at the university level. Then, we connect entrepreneurs to our co-working space – we help facilitate connections to the relevant networks they need. Then, we enable through our programmes and our incubation. Finally, we help to grow through our networks as well.

So our role probably spans the whole ecosystem, helping to connect entrepreneurs to the relevant networks they need to bring their ideas to the next level.

Laura (second from left in the second row) together with the rest of the Impact Hub Team!

Laura (second from left in the second row) together with the rest of the Impact Hub Team!

What do you see as a thriving entrepreneurial scene in Cambodia?

LS: Impact hub! Haha! Right here, in two words! Well, I think it would be a space where people can feel confident to be themselves, where they know they will be supported and understood, that they know has good quality mentors and there are people around to help them. It’ll be a place where the aspiring entrepreneurs know that they have access to the absolute best in mentors and coaches who can help them develop their ideas.

What are some areas that you’d like to see develop or grow so that entrepreneurs will be better supported?

LS: I think a lot more can be done in terms of small scale seed funding. There are a number of impact investors out there who want to come to Cambodia but are looking to invest in the area of a quarter of a million dollars. The reality is that there are quite a number of entrepreneurs need a lot less than that, in the area of $10,000 – $20,000, so that’s what we are trying to develop where entrepreneurs can have access to this level of funding.

On that note, can you give us a little preview into what Impact Hub has in store for next year?

LS: It’s all top secret for now! Hahaha, but I think the biggest thing right at the start of the year on 14 Jan is our EPIC demo day, where we will select 5 teams to move on into the acceleration phase. So it’s just really exciting for us to see the teams move through the programme and grow.

On top of that, we’re also working with more corporate partners to bring in new programmes with university students and CSOs as well, to create more sustainable models for their businesses.

As always, we also want to work on improving the value of our space for our members by looking to bring in new mentors and new coaches too!

Nice! So what about the EPIC programme? Will you be running it again?

LS: I think we started EPIC with the view of being an ongoing programme so we are actively looking for new models and funders that we can infuse with next year’s run. We’re also taking a look at other incubators in the region, learning from what they are doing and trying to adapt it for next year’s programme.

Definitely, another thing we are looking at is to give our entrepreneurs support not just for their ideas but as people as well. We want to train up their attitude towards risk, that they will be willing to take them and to help them hone their leadership potential. Essentially, we want to build them as people.

One last question, after working with so many startups and entrepreneurs, what would be your advice for them?

LS: My advice would be – don’t be afraid to fail. Embrace failure as a means of learning and then keep trying until you succeed. Try, learn and fail but of course, try and find a way to do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Another thing would be to spend more time talking about your idea, get it out there, talk to people in the field and spend less time with your laptop!

And that was the first interview in our Behind The Geeks Series with the co-founder of Impact Hub, Laura Smitheman.

It’s really exciting to see what Impact Hub has install for 2017 and to hear from Laura what motivates her to build up the Geek community here in Cambodia.
Gear up for another day of going Behind The Geeks tomorrow as we explore what Emerald Hub has planned for 2017!