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Social Enterprise Cambodia co-founder Laura Smitheman.
Social Enterprise Cambodia co-founder Laura Smitheman. Miranda Glasser

Boot camp for budding social entrepreneurs

Calling all bright young sparks – Siem Reap’s first Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp will be held for 2.5 days on July 18 at 1Hotel 1961. It’s organised by Young Startups and Social Enterprise Cambodia, in partnership with The Hub Singapore and renowned international business school INSEAD, to equip people with skills to “start a sustainable business to meet a neglected social need.”

The boot camp is open to everyone, says Social Enterprise Cambodia co-founder Laura Smitheman, and will strive to help individuals turn ideas into social ventures.

“It’s going to be run by The Hub Singapore which is a co-working space for social entrepreneurs,” says Smitheman, “They have taken business material from INSEAD and developed an eleven-step program to take the people through from identifying an initial social problem, to finding a solution, to developing a business plan, to doing a pilot and at the end of it you pitch it to 11 judges.

Smitheman stresses that, “This is very much a business boot camp, not an NGO boot camp.”

The weekend will be run by The Hub’s Grace Sai, recently quoted alongside Sir Richard Branson and British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in The Guardian article, 50 voices: what does social enterprise mean to you?.

Also involved will be Raya Papp, co-head, Asia Pacific for global impact investor LGT Venture Philanthropy.

“We met Grace at INSEAD and she said they want to try and take it outside of Singapore. They’ve only ever done the boot camp there so far, so this’ll be the first one outside Singapore.”

Echoing UK hit BBC television show Dragons’ Den, where entrepreneurs present business ideas to a panel of ‘dragons’ (wealthy investors,) 32 entrepreneurs will be mentored by a group of experts, with judges assessing their ideas.

“Throughout the weekend we’ll have speakers who are quite senior social entrepreneurs, impact investors and philanthropists working in Cambodia,” says Smitheman. “They will talk about their experiences and then there will be mentors supporting each group of entrepreneurs, and at the end you pitch your idea to the judges.

“It’s a bit like Dragons’ Den. In that sense it’s a competition because everyone pitches their idea, the judges choose the top three, you take their feedback away, do a little re-jig with your team and then you go back out again and re-pitch, and then they choose who the winner is.”

Smitheman says the boot camps attract a variety of people from all walks of life.

“It’s basically for anybody of any age,” she says. “At the one I went to in Singapore there was a kid of about 17 who was just interested in how to start a business, then a guy who was 55. The process you go through is specific to social business because it is identifying social problems, but it’s about general business skills. How do you do the financing, how do you the marketing, creating an advert, doing market research and so on.

“So this one we’re doing will be open to anybody, Cambodian or expat. You can either come with an idea you’ve already got and then work through your idea, or you can come just because you want to see the process because you’re interested in it academically or practically.”

Smitheman feels boot camps such as this are vitally important to young Khmers in terms of development.

“I think it is important because it’s practical skills as well,” she says. “Obviously they’ve got MBAs at universities but you don’t really see how to use them practically, and specifically in a social business context.

“It’s very much either, you do an MBA and that’s business, or you do social work and that’s NGO. There’s absolutely no understanding at the moment that you can blend those two. And for me why it’s so important in Cambodia – that’s how Cambodia’s going to get itself on its feet. It’s not through aid and NGO money; it’s through people recognising that you can use business skills but in a social way. And that’s the most sustainable way of Cambodia sorting itself out.”

In the week leading up to the boot camp, Social Enterprise Cambodia is also organising a "Social Enterprise Week", which will involve local social businesses with presentations, talks, shows and workshops.

The Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp costs $125 including all food and drink – scholarships are also available. For more information and for online applications please visit: http://www.venturesforchange.com

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