‘Startup Kingdom’ highlights achievements and opportunities of startup ecosystem in 2018

Cambodia’s digital startup ecosystem is vibrant and dynamic, with strong opportunities as well as entrepreneurial culture, according to the most in-depth report authored by Mekong Strategic Partners and Raintree, endorsed by the Board of Capacity Building and R&D (CBRD) Fund and officially launched under the witness of H.E. Akka Pundit Sopheacha Aun Pornmoniroth, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy and Finance, over the weekend at Digital Cambodia in March 2019. The public and tech community were given a preview of the key highlights of this report in October 2018 during the Cambodia Tech Summit in Phnom Penh.

“The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications are in the process of formulating a policy which will help spur innovation, promote tech startup and MSME sectors as well as provide opportunity for Cambodia youth, in line with the Royal Government’s Rectangular Strategy IV to diversify the Kingdom’s economy, to prepare for the Digital Economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I am delighted that with the Capacity Building and R&D Fund, multiple line ministries, academia, private sector and tech startup community, Cambodia is able to showcase a snapshot of the ever-booming startup ecosystem as well as to understand the enablers for the future,” said H.E. Tram Iv Tek, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Chairman of the CBRD Fund Board.

The report, which synthesizes the views of over 120 stakeholders, highlights the startup landscape, the ecosystem’s progress over the past three to five years and lays out the foundation needed to foster a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. It notes that “Cambodia has the building blocks to create a positive environment for startups to flourish and solve some of the economy’s most pressing needs, and that several undeveloped sectors present opportunities for innovation and leapfrogging.”

An improvement in startup investment was also illustrated in the report, highlighting that from 2015 to 2018 the number of publicly-disclosed startup investments had doubled. Moreover, corporates are expressing more support and interest in startups to drive innovation and digitization while the tech sec¬tor has been identified as the key driver of the government’s economic growth. This is evident through the immense regulatory discussions and increased policy initiatives by multiple ministries.

“What was once a relatively quiet ecosystem has really burst into life in the last few years. While there is positive momentum in the sector, the ecosystem is still nascent, hence this report provides a great baseline for multi-stakeholders to spur Cambodia into the digital future,” H.E. Minister added.

The report also emphasized the challenges digital startups face especially in terms of workforce where skills and experience are lacking and where experienced mentors with deep technical knowledge or high-growth experience are extremely limited. Putting investors together with investment-ready companies were similarly underlined as a key challenge in Cambodia, especially ensuring startups are investment-ready.

Policy and regulation clarity around the digital startup economy, the report said, “are needed to ensure the government is a proactive supporter of this important economic sector”.

In its summary, the report proposes multi-stakeholder solutions that shape future policy, create an optimal business environment, and nurture talent in the tech startup ecosystem. All in all, it holds out hope for a bright digital future saying now is the time to act to ensure the sector continues to develop.

“Stakeholders are increasingly open to partnerships that will boost the digital economy, mindsets are shifting, and there is real energy and momentum to develop this sector. Collaboration and innovation in local solutions will ensure the ecosystem thrives to produce strong Cambodian startups that ultimately contribute to the global digital economy,” the report concludes.

The report was commissioned by the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms & ICT (NIPTICT) and Smart Axiata. Since late 2017, the Board of CBRD Fund has released its two-year plan 2017-2018 highlighting the urgent need for better understanding of the current Tech Startup Ecosystem in Cambodia. The proposal for conducting this study was jointly developed and submitted by NIPTICT as well as Smart Axiata, and received CBRD Funding to carry out this project in mid-2018.

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