The “animal fun phone”. The “progress laptop”. The “baby discovery mirror”. “My first clock”. These and other educational toys for children line the shelves of Toys and Me, a store founded four years ago by a young Cambodian entre-preneur just after he graduated from university.
Customers browse the toys as several saleswomen try to help them decide which are best for their children.
“I am really happy with my business because I get to help Cambod-ians find educational toys here in Phnom Penh so they don’t have to order them from abroad,” Sok Piseth, the store’s general manager, says. “At the moment, I employ 20 staff, and 60 per cent of them are university students.”
“In many countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can employ young people from rural areas,” says Hiroshi Suzuki, the chief economist at the Business Research Institute for Cambodia.
Ken Chanthan, president of the Cambodian Young Entrepreneur Association, which brings together adolescent entrepreneurs for networking and information-sharing events, says those between the ages of 15 and 30 account for a third of the Cambodian population.
He says this demographic must be encouraged to create their own jobs through SMEs because the public sector alone cannot provide enough employment.
Ken Chanthan also notes that the development of many countries has been based on SMEs, which provide for local demand and invite investment from overseas.
Hiroshi Suzuki says: “Young entrepreneurs can learn from the histories and experiences of neighbouring countries, including Japan.
“Sony, Honda and Suzuki were SMEs 50 or 60 years ago. They were very careful to study lessons from businesses overseas.”
Sok Piseth, of Toys and Me, took third place in the 2007 Small Business Plan Competition. With the support of his friends and family, he implemented the award-winning plan, creating Cambodia’s first toy store. Today, he own three toy stores in Phnom Penh.
“Running a business, even a family one, is not easy,” Sok Piseth told Lift.
“I had to manage everything meticulously and save what I could to avoid failure, because I didn’t have much business experience or many resources.”
Ken Chanthan acknowledges the difficulty of founding one’s own business, especially as a young person. “I observe that many Cambodian youth are thinking about creating their own businesses and fostering a support network for their own improvement,” he says.
“However, they will still need some support from relevant institutions in terms of finance and business management.”
Hiroshi Suzuki comments: “The SME sector in Cambodia is still weak. However, I believe there are many potentially very strong entrepreneurs who have the tools to succeed.”
According to Suzuki, there are two important steps that can be taken to promote young entrepreneurs.
The first is increasing access to finance. It can be difficult for entrepreneurs to get loans from commercial banks but, luckily, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has completed a feasibility study for an SME finance system in Cambodia.
The second is to encourage human development, which will entail providing the specialised education necessary to produce entrepreneurs.
“Although it may be challenging to garner direct foreign investment during the early stages, young entrepreneurs can get good ideas and vital know-how from potential foreign investors,” Suzuki says.
“I hope domestic entrepreneurs have the opportunity to start SMEs and find great success.”