The IVLP Experience with Rithy Thul, Founder of SmallWorld Cambodia

Back in November, we heard from Codingate’s Co-Founder and CEO, Sopheakmonkol Sok not only about his future plans and startup business, but also all about his 3-week IVLP trip in the USA. Together with 4 other prominent tech players in the Kingdom, the team learnt a wealth of knowledge and information that can be applied to Cambodia’s tech market to make it flourish even more.

IVLP, which also stands for International Visitor Leadership Programme, is a prestigious programme for professional exchanges spearheaded the U.S. Department of State. This gives foreign nationals a chance to meet and confer with American businesses and professionals firsthand to exchange knowledge and experiences. Furthermore, since 1994, the U.S. Embassy has sent over 205 visitors from Cambodia to participate in this program; ranging from distinguished guests from the parliament, potential leaders in the government, educators, journalists, economists, human right activists and NGO leaders.

In our third instalment of ‘The IVLP Experience’, we hear from Rithy Thul, Founder of SmallWorld Cambodia, on his exciting 3-week stay in the USA and future plans after his trip and acquired insights there!

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

What encouraged you to apply for this IVLP trip in the first place?

 Rithy (R): IVLP is a unique programme. We were lucky that we were nominated by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh. At first, it was a tough decision (to join) because we were quite busy running our day-to-day businesses. Though, (at the end), it was the best decision joining IVLP after all.

Can you give us a brief summary or outline of what you have experienced during this programme so far?

R: The experiences were so broad, yet focused on technology startups and ecosystem building.

In DC, we met many government agencies and some private funding incubators. In North Carolina & Ohio, we learnt about the research triangle. We learned how ecosystem builders and incubators are working together with universities and research centers to bring products to the markets. In San Francisco, we learned how the magnet town managed to grow, attract talents and funding to fuel development and innovation there.

What else have you learnt during the entire trip?

R: We learned how to leverage on resources and build more partnerships. We also learned that in the US, they are very effective in branding and marketing their products. It’s a very important element (to remember) when building up a startup or any organization.

What was your favourite and the most impactful part of the trip?

R: Personally, the nature and fresh air part of the US that struck me the most. It helps me to realize what exactly I do want to see develop back in my home country.

Relating it back to your own business, can you elaborate on ways you have been inspired to improve your innovation or work processes for the future?

 R: After returning to Cambodia, we started to review our vision and activities at SmallWorld. We learned to be more effective with time and follow up with a short term plan. And most importantly, we started to divide work and responsibility among our team members. There’s more room for improvement, but we learned that team (spirit) is very important.

Considering that America is a country with totally different culture and work processes, what do you think Cambodians can learn from the Americans?

R: As America’s startup community is much more structured and mature, they have a well-funded mechanism to support startups and entrepreneurs. Though Cambodia has a very entrepreneurial culture, (many require the basic support to succeed).

I think Cambodia can also benefit greatly if we utilize technology and information well. This means investing more time and money into the young people (of Cambodia); from the ideas stage to the early stages, giving them room to experience and develop their venture. We are implementing this too now.

Are there any upcoming plans or collaborations between the 5 of you who attended after this programme?

R: We are planning to work together on a joint venture regarding a simple technology project development, which each us will use. Though it is a bit hard to implement since most of us are a bit busy with our work, we will see what happens in the first semester of 2018.

To find out more information about Rithy Thul’s company, SmallWorld Cambodia, you can visit their Facebook page or their website here. Also, you can read last week’s edition of “The IVLP Experience” with Managing Director of REDHILL Asia (Cambodia and Indochina)’s Kounila Keo here or the previous instalment featuring BookMeBus CEO, Langda Chea here.

Don’t forget to stay tuned to our platform for the following instalments of “The IVLP Experience” to hear more exciting insights from the other most innovative Kingdom-based minds in tech!