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Mixing charity and profit at the city’s newest co-working space

Impact Hub Phnom Penh founders Kuy Sophea ( left) and Laura Smitheman in the new co-working space.
Impact Hub Phnom Penh founders Kuy Sophea ( left) and Laura Smitheman in the new co-working space. Charlotte Pert

Mixing charity and profit at the city’s newest co-working space

Social enterprises are on the rise in the Kingdom, says Laura Smitheman, co-founder of new socially conscious startup ‘incubator’

Startup social businesses in Phnom Penh have a new place to call home with the opening of the city’s first Impact Hub. Touted as “part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center”, the co-working space above Joma Cafe on Norodom Boulevard is intended to be a place where people can develop ideas, build projects and meet like-minded entrepreneurs.

While there are already a handful of co-working spaces in Phnom Penh, co-founder Laura  Smitheman said the Impact Hub was different because it facilitated interaction between members and hosted events and workshops.

“We want it to be more than just paying for a desk,” she said. “You pay for the networking, the people you meet, the community, the free access to our events.”

Smitheman, a former accountant, founded the co-working space – part of a network of 66 Impact Hubs operating around the world – with Alberto Cremonesi, an Italian, and Kuy Sophea, a Cambodian, who all met while doing NGO work with street children in Pondicherry, India.

In 2013, the trio created an online communication platform for like-minded change-makers called Social Enterprise Cambodia, and the Impact Hub is the physical manifestation of that original idea.

After opening its doors in March and an official launch last month, the stylish space is in full swing.

Services offered include wifi, a rentable conference room and also tailored mentoring, with full-time members paying $150 a month, while part-timers pay $30. The casual rate is $6 per day.

Among its 20 members – mostly expats – are Start Some Good, a crowdfunding site for humanitarian projects; SHE Investments, which supports female Cambodian entrepreneurs; and SGFE, a maker of fully recyclable charcoal briquettes, along with a handful of freelancers.

The hub has also hosted workshops on social entrepreneurship, and the founders are currently running a course at Zaman University on the topic.

“Social entrepreneurship is about coming up with big solutions to big problems that often NGOs aren’t able to tackle because they’re too restricted by their donors,” said Smitheman.

“A lot of NGOs are starting to transition to become social enterprises,” she added. “Either the donor money’s drying up or the money is too restrictive and they can’t do what they want to do.”

Sophea said the trio hoped to attract Cambodian entrepreneurs just as much as expatriates, but mixing business with charitable work was a new concept in the Kingdom.

“There’s not even a word for social entrepreneurship in Khmer,” she laughed. “I have to explain what it is every time.”

The Phnom Penh Impact Hub is located above Joma Cafe, on the corner of Norodom Boulevard and Street 294. You can find more information at phnompenh.impacthub.net or facebook.com/impacthubpp.

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