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MBI programme fosters ag startups

Head of Mekong Business Initiative Dominic Mellor speaks about new MATCh programme at an event yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Head of Mekong Business Initiative Dominic Mellor speaks about new MATCh programme at an event yesterday in Phnom Penh. Robin Spiess

MBI programme fosters ag startups

The Mekong Business Initiative (MBI) launched a new startup accelerator programme aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the agriculture sector in the Mekong region, with specific focuses on international companies eyeing expansion and early-stage local agritech startups, the head of the initiative said yesterday.

MBI, a programme launched by the Asian Development Bank and funded by the Australian government, has developed the Mekong Agriculture Technology Challenge (MATCh) platform to boost funding for agriculture in a region where agritech can make a significant impact, said Dominic Mellor, head of MBI.

“By 2050, the population of Asia is going to grow to 5.2 billion people, and the Mekong region is going to be critical in providing food for those people,” he said. “But we have limited resources and challenges to production, so the answer is going to be technology.”

With agriculture identified as a key growth sector for regional economies, the MATCh platform will look to boost private-sector-led innovation.

“We have a focus on supporting young entrepreneurs,” he said. “Everything starts with grassroots initiatives. They identify the people with ideas, and we give those people the opportunity to have their ideas scaled and funded.”

The MATCh project, which officially launched its application for interested businesses two days ago, will run for about six months and will seek to create partnerships between local entrepreneurs or startups and experienced innovators in the industry from across the world.

A successful application to the programme will put forth an idea which has the potential to enhance the efficacy of agricultural value chains, promote sustainability and advance farmers’ livelihoods.

“The proposal has to be commercial, and it has to be able to have an impact,” said Mellor.

According to Sambath Sak, MBI’s Cambodia Regional Manager, the project will be outfitted with a panel of local experts who will review business proposals and decide which startups are most commercially viable.

“The [MATCh programme] allows for selected businesses to get their technologies or products tested and validated within the country,” he said. “We will form a local committee made up of business and industry experts in Cambodia to join us in evaluating and selecting the best solutions and startups for Cambodia and the Mekong region.”

The project will culminate in a summit in Vietnam where selected startups will get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to potential investors.

ID Capital, a venture capital investor in agritech and food tech, is co-organizing MATCh along with MBI and is expected to bring more investment partners into the programme, said Sak. Local partners, including makerspaces Trybe and Confluences Incubateur, have agreed to implement pieces of the MATCh programme as well to promote agritech in the Kingdom.

“The countries of the Mekong region face many common challenges,” said Sak. “They also share a common need to invest in technologies that contribute to more robust supply chains for safe and nutritious food.”

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