Interview – Founders of MLabs

Education Technology, or EdTech, is very much the buzzword that is on the lips of many policy makers, entrepreneurs and startups today.

With this growing trend, EdTech has taken centre stage at several events in recent months. From Startup Weekend Education to Impact Hub’s Tech For Education, its clear that we are all striving to improve EdTech in Cambodia.

That brings us to MLabs, a startup that is focused on creating EdTech applications in the Kingdom. What sets this startup apart from the others is that it is founded and run by Cambodian university students.

For now, they have several applications on the market, including “Find My Major”, an app that has an interactive built-in questionnaire to help students in Cambodia decide which university and which major they should pursue.

The other app they have on the market is “Financial Dictionary”, which is a database of key terms and definitions in Khmer to help finance students better understand the concepts they are learning.

Geeks in Cambodia sat down with Sovannarote Kang and Lyheng Houng, the co-founders of MLabs to discuss their project.

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

Can you tell us a little bit about how MLabs came about and its primary focus?

LH: Well, MLabs is a non-profit organisation created by students and friends with the primary focus of using technology to improve the quality of education in Cambodia.

SK: In terms of how it came about, there were a couple of friends, university students actually, who came together and thought “why not create a startup company to help tackle the problems that we students face everyday?” And we opted to build applications because people nowadays use more smartphones than computers and I mean, even websites aren’t as commonly used as apps.

In an interview with The Khmer Times, you mentioned that it can take you less than a week to come up with an app – what’s your process like?

LH: It all starts from an idea. We first need to identify what problem the users would like to solve and build it from there. For example in “Find My Major”, we knew that many students in Cambodia wanted to find out which university and which course was best suited to them. So that was our goal, to create an app to help them do that.

SK: From there, we just needed to get information from experts and then, gather the data and put it together. So for apps that only need us to gather data, these are simpler and so it can be done in a week.

How do you connect a problem that people are facing to what an application can do?

SK: To be honest, we just treat the problem like one that you would solve in real life. So with the different steps that you would take to solve the problem in question, we just see which steps can be taken care of by technology. Basically, we just implement and connect technology to avoid doing things by hand.

LH: Just take for example our “Financial Dictionary”, which helps translate finance terms from English to Khmer. The problem was that there wasn’t a textbook or dictionary that helped to translate terms into Khmer so we couldn’t fully understand it. So to solve it, we created a database of definitions and terms in Khmer.

Can you give us a little preview into the apps that are coming out later this year?

SK: Actually, we have a lot of apps coming out in the later part of this year but perhaps we can tell you more about the Financial Management Companion.

LH: This app caters to finance students. It will have a calculator, definitions of several key terms in the finance sector, which will work like flash cards so users can easily refer to the terms on the go. The app will also include some quiz questions so they can test their knowledge after studying.

How can people come alongside to help you develop apps?

SK: Currently, we need some people to help us with the Financial Dictionary translation. People can suggest how the available definitions can be improved or new terms that they want to be included in the app.

What is your ultimate dream for MLabs?

LH: Our goal right now is that in the near future, we become the company that people think of when they want to solve education problems.

SK: At the same time, we also hope to take on projects from outside organisations to build websites or any phone application or any software that they want us to build. We’d hope to take on projects like that as well.

Do you have any advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs?

SK: My advice would be, if you want to do something, try and do it because if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. Be willing to take some risks even if you’re still in school.

LH: Another thing would be surround yourself with good friends. We didn’t start this on our own, we found friends and worked together as team which made it a lot easier.

That was GIC’s interview with MLabs. So if you’re looking for a university course or you are a finance student, the next time you have an education problem, you can check out MLabs and the applications that they have!