ICS Asia: Creating Change In Cambodia

The Investing in Children and their Societies (ICS) organisation has made quite an impact with their presence as a social startup incubator in Cambodia since last November.

Based in the Oddar Meanchey province originally, the organisation started by supporting Child-Friendly School development, as well as working with communities to start Multi-Purpose Rice Banks. Then two years ago, they committed to a social business philosophy and moved to Siem Reap. Since then they have started other social businesses including a social franchise to sell drinking water in villages, an organic vegetable capacity building project, and right now, Young Startups. With their successful entrepreneur program now online, they continue to bring the rest of their social entrepreneurship projects to great results.

Photo Credits: MindTech

Photo Credits: MindTech

The Young Startups program is essentially a campaign hoping to kickstart great ideas and/or innovations from young Khmer entrepreneurs. They offer aid in the form of professional coaching, support in business model and business plan development, and funding up to $10000 if the startup meets the requirements stated. Values like social responsibility, alongside innovation and scalability, are considered when the individual projects are proposed for funding.

Believing in both the quality and quantity of startup ideas, ICS aims to be an infrastructure to facilitate the process of realising the physical product from creative thoughts. Aside from providing the skill building and small investments required, they also urge the younger generation to take the reins and be the boss of their ideas. The program proved to be popular with the homegrown entrepreneurs.

We had an interesting chat with Nicole Sirivansanti from ICS about their mission and what startups can do better to enhance their potential earlier this morning, so read on for the full interview:

(Editor’s Note: This interview has been modified for clarity.)

Good morning Nicole. Let’s start with how ICS has changed over the years with the Young Startups projects.

Sure. We only started the program last November, but ICS itself has changed a lot over the years. We recently adopted the philosophy of being a social business, and we are still learning as we go on. Just two years ago we were still influenced by the mentality of solely being a NGO, but now we want people to know that they can depend on us for more, like solid mentorship and funding.

How has the reception for the Young Startups project been?

It has all been positive because there is a need for this service towards entrepreneurs. We are still working towards the refinement of our message and offerings, but we see no adverse reaction so far.

What is the envisioned future of this project for both the organisation and startups?

We are still in our pilot years, but we want to learn about what the true need is and how we can fill it. Our workings are very much like a startup ourselves, where we work hard to change people’s attitude towards maintaining their businesses with social responsibility.

What is your advice to startups that want to advance to the next step?

Networking. They should also evaluate what resources they already have, and fully utilise them. For us, we have a number of experienced foreign mentors, but we want to look for experienced local mentors. It will be truly inspiring if we can link an aspiring startup to have a local mentor to aid the project.

There are certain requirements for a startup to take note of when it comes to the Young Startups system. Is any one value (eg. innovative, ethical) more important than another?

I think that the most important part is that the startup has to be ethical. We also look for innovators who are very passionate about their ideas and beliefs for the project. Most of time, the startups do not necessarily need funding. They are more interested in the need to set a structure for their plan, to figure out their next few steps; and that is where we come in. We coach and educate them, give them a concrete plan and then consider the funding at the end.

Interesting insights. Thanks for your time, Nicole!

ICS has so far received a dozen of applications, and invested in an IT training and service business, MindTech Computer Center. They are always on the lookout for the next big startup to show the potential of the Cambodian society, so if you are interested, we urge you to take the leap forward and contact them through their website for more information!