Cambodia’s nascent startup scene is nurtured by tech and incubation hubs, which often partner with business leaders and NGOs to provide mentoring and funding to young entrepreneurs. The Post’s Robin Spiess caught up with Melanie Mossard, director of community at Phnom Penh’s Impact Hub, to see what the organisation has planned for the future.
What is Impact Hub, and how do you contribute to the overall startup ecosystem in Cambodia?
Impact Hub is a startup business incubator for young innovators with original ideas solving pressing problems and improving the life of local communities.
In addition to monthly training, we provide mentoring, facilitate connections with relevant stakeholders and bring them emotional support.
Since we started three years ago, we have been supporting 70 teams of aspiring entrepreneurs and 75 percent of them are still working on their startups.
What has Impact Hub been working on lately, and what does it have planned for the rest of the year?
We are now running a program called YouthEcoLabs, a three-month business model validation program for aspiring environmental entrepreneurs, including an exposure trip to the forest, supported by the United States Embassy.
In the middle of this month, we will launch the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Fellowship Program, with the support from UNDP, which will provide free working space, mentoring and connections.
We are also about to launch the flagship program of the year, the Smart Start Program. It is a nine-month incubation period for aspiring tech entrepreneurs providing leadership, technical and business training for students, in addition to a $4,000 prize. The best team will win an exposure trip to Singapore to visit the tech giants Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Facebook.
What are the main challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Cambodia today?
The first challenge is access to a network, which provides entrepreneurs not only with business contacts but also affirmation and support, giving aspiring entrepreneurs the courage to continue their journey, even in difficult times.
Next, technical business skills. We see entrepreneurs who have a strong understanding of the issue they want to solve, but they lack the business know-how (from financials, to marketing, to value chain management) to turn these solutions into sustainable, replicable models.
The final challenge is lack of access to funding. There are very few options available in Cambodia for entrepreneurs looking to validate their models and enter the market.
How would you describe the state of funding for startups in the Kingdom?
I am an optimist about the funding available for startups. Most of them choose to bootstrap their activities by using personal savings, friends or family money, or grants received through competition.
With the recent launch of the SADIF by Smart and the new network of angel investors, a new range of funding is available.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.