Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian duo’s Eco-Plastic takes second in Bhutan startup challenge

Cambodian duo’s Eco-Plastic takes second in Bhutan startup challenge

Teammates Sokhana Ly (centre-left) and Bunhourng Tan (centre-right), standing between their mentors, celebrate their second-place win at the Mekong Business Challenge in Bhutan on Saturday. Photo supplied
Teammates Sokhana Ly (centre-left) and Bunhourng Tan (centre-right), standing between their mentors, celebrate their second-place win at the Mekong Business Challenge in Bhutan on Saturday. Photo supplied

Cambodian duo’s Eco-Plastic takes second in Bhutan startup challenge

A pair of female Cambodian entrepreneurs placed second in a regional business competition on Saturday, beating out university teams from six countries with their startup idea – called Eco-Plastic – that could utilise Cambodia’s plastic waste to pave cheaper, more durable roads.

The Mekong Business Challenge (MBC), an annual competition that launched in Phnom Penh 12 years ago, welcomed 11 entrepreneurial teams from six nations at their contest held in Bhutan last week. The grand prize for the first-place team was a spot in the International Business Model Challenge competition in the US in May.

Stephen Paterson, co-founder and organiser of the MBC, said the contest’s judges – which included representatives from international companies including McKinsey & Company, Google and ManuLife – were impressed by the initiative taken by the Cambodian team in pursuing expansion options for their startup.

“Eco-Plastic came in second in the Cambodian competition [last month], but since [then] they have made so much progress,” Paterson said. “We want to emphasise methodology in our judging, and our criteria takes a look at the failures these teams have had to overcome to make their business models more realistic.”

Since taking home the silver medal, the Eco-Plastic team – female duo Bunhourng Tan and Sokanha Ly – have received funding from a US investor, travelled to China to tour plastic recycling facilities and met with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to discuss implementing their idea.

“We had a great honour to meet the [Transport] Minister, His Excellency Sun Chanthol, who was very supportive of our idea,” said Sokhana. “We got permission to use the ministry’s laboratory to build and test our samples there, before we went to the MBC.”

“Plastic waste is a curse to the environment, to health and to the economy . . . and people face a high risk driving on roads in Cambodia, which are often poorly constructed and damaged by high traffic,” Sokhana said. “By establishing Eco-Plastic, we can use plastic waste to improve our roads, transforming landfill waste into a roadfill product.”

Teammate Tan said that the pair had learned a lot since first coming up with their idea at the end of 2016, having entered several different local startup competitions and coming away with different lessons each time.

“During the last year, we’ve been to many startup competitions . . . and throughout the programs, our team gained more hands-on experience,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey, of going up and down, of failing and of learning from mistakes, of listening and then adjusting to incorporate the feedback.”

Though a Bhutanese team took first place for their startup called Shogjur – which has already turned a profit from sales of recycled paper jewellery and souvenirs – the runner-up Cambodian team won a pair of laptops and has been encouraged to bring the Eco-Plastic business model to the US competition in May via another application process.

“The Eco-Plastic team will be applying for the open spot” in the US competition, Paterson said, adding he had “a very strong feeling they’ll get it”.

Cambodia’s win in a regional competition was a sign of the growing entrepreneurial scene in the Kingdom, according to Paterson, and was likely due in-part to the many local programs and competitions that cater to university students. The next step for the Kingdom’s startups would be to think bigger.

“There are businesses attracting small- to medium-size returns, but there’s still a lack of investable ideas,” he said. “There is still a lack of projects that can be scaled up to a larger level.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this