As part of ongoing efforts to bolster entrepreneurship and leadership in Cambodia, Smart Axiata and Impact Hub Phnom Penh (IHPP), alongside 17 universities across the country, have renewed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the SmartStart Unipreneur Learning Platform (ULP). 

The May 29 renewal ceremony was presided over by Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron and the CEOs of Smart Axiata and IHPP, as well as representatives from numerous universities.

“Under this partnership, we will continue fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit and bringing forth more innovation by supporting lecturers in delivering blended curricula,” said Ziad Shatara, CEO of Smart Axiata. 

“We hope to directly engage with more than 2,500 students in over 50 classes by the end of 2024,” he added.

Launched in 2019, SmartStart ULP was established to equip young learners with essential 21st-century skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. 

The platform offers a comprehensive approach to learning that combines classroom instruction with practical experiences, such as field visits to local startups. 

The programme culminates in a business-pitching event, providing students with a real-world evaluation of their skills.

Over the past four years, SmartStart ULP has had a major impact on the educational landscape by integrating project-based learning into university curricula. 

“To date, it has provided 1,413 students from 44 classes across 10 universities with valuable experience in their fields of study, leading to the creation of 25 startups which each address various market needs,” said a joint press release.

Some of the key achievements of the platform include narrowing the skills gap between students and the demands of the job market, fostering an entrepreneurial mindset, and addressing the need for Khmer language curriculum content. 

The programme has also strengthened entrepreneurship education through partnerships with universities, knowledge transfer to lecturers, and the annual "National Hackathon," where students collaborate on real-world issues.

The press release described the expansion of the programme through the renewed MoU – with 10 existing universities and the inclusion of seven new partners – as underscoring a commitment to broadening educational opportunities. 

This expanded network aims to empower more students with the tools, knowledge, and resources necessary to thrive in the digital world, it added.

The programme's reach is further strengthened by support from the CBRD Fund and collaboration with 17 universities, including the Cambodia Academy of Digital Technology, University of Puthisastra, Royal University of Law and Economics, and others across Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Svay Rieng provinces.

“We started the programme by piloting with four universities in Phnom Penh back in 2019. The successful pilot and strong interest from university partners outside Phnom Penh motivated and allowed us to expand our course to other provinces,” explained Kim Kosoma, CEO of IHPP.

Kosoma said that as part of their partnership, they provide a dedicated learning platform where students can learn from their mobile phones and laptops. Through the platform, students have access to 15 sessions with instructions on how to form business ideas.

University students participating in the course gain an in-depth understanding of entrepreneurship, develop their entrepreneurial mindset, and improve their employability and life skills, he added.

“I want to see the students who took the course be able to exchange ideas and test out their ideas in the market through a business competition that they learned from class,” said Chhoun Phearun, campus director of Build Bright University in Siem Reap.

“It would be beneficial for the students to have some small seed funding for them to kickstart their business idea,” he added.