For entrepreneurs in Cambodia’s capital, a key mission is simply gaining visibility – to get everyone from local university students to foreign investors to engage. Phnom Penh’s startup ecosystem is nascent and so far international successes are few. But investor interest is on the rise, despite fierce competition from neighbouring countries.
‘The market itself is getting more mature, with more serious startup projects, co-working spaces and incubators now covering all the Phnom Penh districts,’ says Soreasmey Ke Bin, managing partner of Confluences, an incubator and point of contact for startup founders and investors looking for a route into Cambodia. ‘We are seeing more and more regional funds eyeing our market.’
At the same time, a growing number of Cambodian funds are appearing. The city’s co-working spaces and incubators – among them Raintree, Impact Hub and Emerald Hub – are providing places for investors and founders to meet. Meanwhile pitch competitions, including Startup Weekend and BarCamp, provide platforms for entrepreneurs to connect with investors.
The main challenge is nurturing software engineers to support the entrepreneurs’ tech dreams. Zoë Ng from Raintree says meeting this demand would require interventions at various levels, ‘from developing interest in tech and self-motivated learners in early-stage education, through to rapid skills training at the young adult or professional level.’
Tech education programmes are cropping up, including Saturday Kids, which teaches technological literacy to children – potential tech founders of the future. In the short term though, adds Ng, clarity on policy for startups, such as registration, investment and tax incentives ‘would enable faster growth of the startup community in the formal economy’.
This infrastructure upgrade, coupled with a few big investments, is needed for Phnom Penh’s tech scene to get bigger headlines. ‘There is always room for improvement but our ecosystem is complete now,’ says Bin. ‘The players are ready, and we are all excited to see what will be the outcome.’