Behind The Geeks – Mekong Business Initiative’s Sambath Sak

The brainchild of Dominic Mellor, a Senior Country Economist at the Asian Development Bank, the Mekong Business Initiative’s development was based on two observations that Mellor made.

First, that there was a wide development gap in ASEAN between the four countries of the Greater Mekong sub-region and the six countries that form the ASEAN economic community.

Another observation was that the burden of closing this ‘ASEAN Gap’ fell on the private sector. Mellor believes that a thriving private sector will help propel national productivity as well as sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth. From there, it will help generate an expansion of investment and an increase in tax revenue which will then support and cultivate a more responsible and citizen-responsive government.

To find out more about MBI’s plans for 2017, as well as what motivates them, Geeks in Cambodia (GIC) sat down with Sambath Sak (S), the Country Manager of MBI in Cambodia.

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

What inspired the creation of the Mekong Business Initiative?

S: We were inspired to get involved in the startup scene in Cambodia to help foster the great potential that we see in connecting the different players – startups, SMEs, incubators, business support programmes, investors, and policy makers – in order for everyone to realise their potential and reach their goals.

Furthermore, we also believe that startups and SMEs play key roles in introducing innovative business models into the market by leveraging on technology, promoting competition, and expanding their market reach.

By supporting the growth of such businesses, we hope to help generate more jobs and thereby increase the income of individuals, households and Cambodia as a whole.

What do you define as the role that MBI plays in the scene?

S: For us, we noticed that there are many individuals in Cambodia who have new business ideas. These individuals are dynamic and hope to make an impact but they face many challenges in creating a business. For example, in terms of finances, they may have an idea for a business model but aren’t sure if the particular model would work.

As such, in terms of MBI’s role, we try to play a coordinating role to link these entrepreneurs with key players in the ecosystem to help them overcome the various challenges they face.

Which area in the startup scene, specifically in the Tech Community, do you see as developing the fastest in the Kingdom?

S: We work across the sector and are pretty flexible in terms of where we work. In fact, I’d say we are quite opportunistic in our strategy. We look for opportunities to jump in to make a contribution so I don’t think we can make an informed judgement in terms of the fastest growing area but what I can say is that technology is being leveraged by many startups and SMEs, particularly those in the e-commerce area.

What areas do you think can be improved to help support the startup scene?

S: At this point, we are interested and focused on startups and SMEs so we are trying to map out the ecosystem in Cambodia to better understand the various key players in the community as we believe that one way or another, these key players need each other.

Once we understand the ecosystem, MBI will be better placed to connect these players together and help them leverage on each others’ strengths. That’s what I think can be improved, in terms of the link between key players.

Could you give us a little preview into MBI’s plans for Cambodia in 2017?

S: Some of the activities that we planned in 2016 will continue to happen in 2017. For example, continuing to work with Angel Investors to secure more investments for startups, as well as continuing to build and facilitate access to technical capacity for startups. We’ll also look into more technologies for agri-businesses.

In terms of what’s new for 2017, we’ll be launching a pre-accelerator for tourism startups called MIST – Mekong Innovative Startup Tourism. It’ll start off as a business plan competition that will invite entrepreneurs from all over the world to pitch tourism projects in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. After several stages of competition, 10 teams will progress to pitch their plans to investors at the Mekong Tourism Forum in Luang Prabang next June.

Another plan that we have is to start a Business Information Centre. This centre will be an online platform for startups and SMEs to access information on regulation, taxation and other relevant material. It’s a kind of one-stop platform for the startups and SMEs. We’re developing this in partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia.

What would be your advice for people looking to develop startup?

S: First off, it’s really amazing to see so many people interested in startups but I think they have to realise that not everyone will be successful. Having said that, I think it is much easier to succeed now with the technology that is available that can provide them with so many resources.

Other than that, I think it’s really important for them to understand the market, their customers and how their business will fit into the marketplace. So keep talking to people, keep researching your market and keep building your solution from that.

There we have it! The end of our Behind The Geeks series.

2017 is gearing up to be a huge year for startups and entrepreneurs in Cambodia with so many new initiatives and programmes to help support this entrepreneurial culture.

Geeks in Cambodia promises to be with you throughout 2017, bringing you the very latest in the scene’s developments.

Tomorrow, we continue on with our EPIC Collaboration as we speak to Rosnow Douy Sabay, an online platform catered to women’s health.