Technology startups gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to pitch their business models and vie for a singular spot in a prestigious regional competition.
The Echelon Top 100 Cambodia Qualifiers, hosted by local telecommunications company Smart Axiata and tech media platform e27, was held to shine a spotlight on Cambodia’s tech scene and the competition’s organisers stressed the importance of the event for promoting Cambodian startups on a regional scale.
Most of the 21 competing teams were founded by Cambodians, however all were beat out by Myanmar-based startup Goama, which advertised itself as the “Netflix of games for emerging countries”.
Four Cambodian startups also received recognition at the event and will be flown out to experience the regional competition in Singapore as part of their rewards, but only Goama will be given the opportunity to compete at the event.
[Note: Following publication of this article, representatives of the event contacted The Post to say that while Goama is the only company guaranteed a spot to pitch, the four Cambodian startups may have an opportunity to pitch their ideas as well, depending on their rankings among startups from the 20 cities where competitions will be held.]
Mohani Belani, CEO and co-founder of e27, said at the start of the event that he had decided to bring his company’s startup competition to Cambodia for the first time because he was inspired by the potential of the country’s youth.
“The ecosystem here is great, because a lot of the population is very young,” he said, addressing the crowd before the final judging. “This is the time for the young generation to take charge here, to localise and execute their ideas.”
The Cambodian startups that were runners-up to Goama were Spare, which facilitates booking of available office space in Phnom Penh; Demine Robotics, which builds robots to rid the Cambodian countryside of landmines; and BookMeBus and CamboTicket, both of which provide online bus and train ticketing platforms in the Kingdom.
At the end of last year, Asia was home to more than one-third of the world’s billion-dollar startups, also known as “unicorns”. Only four of those unicorns were based in Southeast Asia, however, and none were from Cambodia.
“To get a unicorn out of Cambodia? Well, it’s probably a long shot, but it’s an exciting idea,” said Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart. “Right now, I think we are grooming a tech ecosystem here in Cambodia . . . which is why we were excited to bring [this competition] here, to really tell the region, ‘Look, Cambodia has something to offer’”.
Kan Chanmeta, secretary of state at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication, attributed the increase in number of viable tech startups to the government’s recent efforts to streamline policy for the nascent sector.
“Our industry is still passive, and it’s still facing big challenges . . . for example, startups need to register, and many don’t,” he said, adding that the ministry would soon have “good news” for the tech industry on that front.