Overshadowed by the big guns of mobile telecoms technology, internet service providers, and the smartphone industry, the start-up market for digital innovation was barely more than a haltingly growing seedling.
In 2013, with funding from USAID – which noticed a gap in the Cambodian innovation market – came about the creation of Development Innovations (DI) in a bid to foster joint efforts among the tech community, technology companies, and NGOs here.
Its innovation lab, according to Jesse Orndorff, DI’s innovation program manager, is “a co-working space for civil society, with a grant fund to help fund technology ideas, technology event space, and an internship program for youth Cambodians interested in working with technology.”
Prioritising technology ideas that focus on solving development challenges in the Kingdom, the fairly young DI team is now a team of 15 that offers hands-on activities and training for video production centering around storytelling, camera techniques, and video editing.
DI is the missing piece that is sealing the tech market industry in Cambodia, having formed previous partnerships with national household-name brands Ezecom, Cellcard, and MyTeb, since its inauguration.
Orndorff emphasises on the fact that “part of our aim is to help foster partnerships with the private sectors and connect them to project they’d be interested in sponsoring.”
One of the firm’s biggest accomplishments was in 2014 when they gave Cambodians a digital voice by helping to develop a Khmer keyboard app for smartphones. Vanna Kruy, a software engineer who helmed the initially hopeless development, as he had nowhere to turn to for help, said, “I wanted to develop this keyboard app, but I felt alone. I posted a picture on Facebook, and someone commented: ‘You should come to the [DI’s] 5D Lab!’” The rest was history, and in April 2015, it was the number one Khmer language app in Cambodia’s smartphone app market, with over 170,000 downloads for smartphones.
While Orndoff sees user design to be the biggest hurdle to overcome in the next few years, he is happy to declare that the DI lab is open to working with anyone interested in addressing development challenges through technology.
“We would love to connect with anyone that has an interest or idea in technology. We are here to coach and provide resources to the community, and our team maintains open office hours and a new coaching lab for the community to test their ideas.”