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Incubating Cambodia’s startup culture

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The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), helps nurture Cambodia’s startup culture. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Incubating Cambodia’s startup culture

If you have a business idea and want to pitch it, then send it to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), which helps build not only your business, but also the startup culture in Cambodia.

KOTRA, a state-funded trade and investment promotion organisation operated by the South Korean government, has long worked to promote young entrepreneurship in both its own countries and other countries with the Global Young Businessmen (GYB) program.

The startup incubator has nurtured young entrepreneurship in Indonesia, Vietnam and United Arab Emirates since 2013. This year, the program comes to Cambodia, where the competition “Next Business Leader in Cambodia” has been organised in May under the program.

Ten teams out of 37 were selected to enter the final competition. During the six-month incubation period, all teams can receive business training including in marketing and accounting.

In addition to the funding support of $200 for each team every month, the 10 participating teams can grow with assistance in the form of offices, mentoring and networks.

For extra funding, however, participants have to find their own investors to raise their own funds like startups do in real business environment, which differentiates the competition from others like it.

“Most people take part in business competitions and win prizes or gifts, then that’s it. I don’t know how many of them will start their businesses afterwards,” said general manger of KOTRA Daniel Park. “But for our program, members would at least try to own their business after the training courses, gaining business experience.

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Working alongside Korean advisors, Cambodians can fine-tune their business ideas. Hong Menea

While there are many competitions where participants can only set up their businesses after they win the funding from the competition, KOTRA’s competition starts with providing a $200 startup grant to each team to carry out their business plan in one week, aiming to help its members to set up their own companies.

After one team dropped out from the competition, three teams stood out from the nine teams because of their business strategy and profit, including the teams of graduate student Meon Savoeun and university student Hang Viseth.

Everyone can sell soft drinks, but Meon turned it into a successful business plan by contributing part of his profits to charity. Meanwhile, Hang proved that large investment is not necessary by using less than $50 to make more than $100 in profit simply by selling taro desserts.

“Most of the team made profit in the first round. This shows that if people want, they can make profits and create jobs without investing a huge sum of money,” said Park, adding these are the role models that Cambodia needs.

“In South Korea, in addition to the rich resources available to new startups, there are many successful businessmen as role models for young people to look up, showing people that setting up their business can be one of the ways to success,” said Park.

In Cambodia, however, Park noticed even more than 70 per cent of university students choose business-related subjects as their major, and many of them choose to work at banks or large companies, “I have talked to many young people about entrepreneurship, but many of them said that they don’t have enough money, their thinking of business needs money.”

Hang’s friends may even think that owning their businesses sounds unrealistic. “When I talked to my friends about my business plan, they just laughed at me, saying I was dreaming,” said Hang. “ Most of my friends only care about how to study hard, they do not think about starting up a business, even some do but they never take actions.”

Hang, nevertheless, likes to act rather talk. After the first round of the competition, he and his teammates worked on another business “Mario”, making their own Korean-styled lunch boxes and providing delivery service.

Finding it hard to ask restaurants to provide delivery service for orders less than $10, Hang successfully pitched his idea of offering cheap or even free lunch box delivery to an investor, earning $50,000 seed money for his business.

After spending one month on research and learning to make Korean food, Hang stated his business days ago and has already received nearly 20 orders.

Meanwhile, with his experience in marketing industry before, Meon also managed to find an investor for his company V-Direct Marketing to provide marketing services including marketing research, business consulting and promotion.

“I have to build my own dream, if I don’t, someone will hire me to build their dreams,” said Meon.

It may sound like a cliche, but process is more important than outcome in this competition. All the teams, with many of them being students, can gain important experience in running a business. They can even bring their businesses to another level by cooperating with Korean teams if needed.

Still the prize is equally tempting. A judging panel consisting of members from education and business sectors and organiser will select the qualified teams, which can receive an investment worth up to $50,000 from the Korean company Joybells Co, Ltd.

However, if no team is qualified, the company would not make any investment. “It is not a donation, it is an investment, they [investors] want people with real business minds,” said Park, who believes this program can provide a platform to match local startups with Korean companies according their needs.


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