Entrepreneurship is a trendy word in Phnom Penh these days, and local business owners still face challenges when it comes to setting up their own companies. The Post’s Robin Spiess sat down with Kitty Ly, vice president of the Phnom Penh branch of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia, to discuss the challenges for local startups and the growing interest in entrepreneurship among young Cambodians.
When was the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia (YEAC) established and what is its mission?
YEAC was established in September 2009 by a group of young entrepreneurs from various sectors with the passion to create an association to help other entrepreneurs. The mission is to create a resilient community of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Cambodia.
Currently, our Phnom Penh branch has about 200 members. We also have branches in Siem Reap and Kampong Cham, the latter of which just launched last year. The reason we expanded to the provinces is because we know the entrepreneurs outside of Phnom Penh have very limited support options. If nothing else, it’s so useful to have an organisation like this to show business owners how to register their companies, how to file taxes and how to get a hold of the information they need to be successful.
What does YEAC offer its members?
From my point of view, I think YEAC plays an important role in helping its members and other young entrepreneurs. In order to join, applicants must be Cambodian, younger than 45 years old, and have to have an established and registered company in Cambodia.
When they join, they get training in capacity building, connections to international trade partners and the opportunity to raise their concerns to the government. For example, when it comes to increased taxes, we give business owners a voice so the government will hear.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for young entrepreneurs in Cambodia?
From my personal opinion as an entrepreneur, the biggest challenge to me is having access to resources and financing. First, we need to find where we can get information about what we need to do for our businesses – and if we have all the knowledge and experience we need, we still need to find financial support.
Currently there are some supportive institutions, like banks and microfinance institutions, that can help offer loans, but still I feel there are very limited options. Personally, I don’t get much support for my businesses from government organisations. In my opinion, there should be more organisations to support SMEs, which often struggle to find the funding to grow.
What trends have you seen in Cambodian entrepreneurship in the past decade, since YEAC was established?
Times are changing for entrepreneurs in Cambodia, definitely. It used to be that no one wanted to join a group like YEAC because they didn’t see the benefit, but now more and more businesses are signing up.
Cambodian entrepreneurs have started to have a voice at the international level right now, I think, because our entrepreneurs and leaders have been joining global meetings and summits to help establish a voice for our people.
Also right now, I think many young Cambodians are starting businesses. Some have a very unique idea and a well-defined business model, and they do quite well – but some just think of an idea and try to start a business immediately, and they can fall down easily. I believe that to be able to stand firm in the market, young startups need not only financial support, but also a creative idea so that they can compete with the other companies coming into the market.
College students in Cambodia seem to be embracing the entrepreneurial spirit. What advice would you give them?
College students are becoming more and more entrepreneurial. Many people have noticed this trend; college students have started to depend on establishing their own businesses rather than working for others because they have been inspired by other young entrepreneurs’ success stories in Cambodia.
There are a lot of social media platforms that share these successes, and more and more young people want to pursue this method of success. I am also seeing more women, in particular, who want to be their own bosses and are becoming entrepreneurs.
This is good and bad. It’s good because it’s nice to see that fire in young people, but I suggest to each of them that they work as an employee for some period of time before they become their own boss. They will learn a lot from being an employee, and that will help them eventually grow their own businesses.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.