New award scheme is aimed to boost nation’s entrepreneurial skills

Sok Chan

Government-backed competition is designed to encourage innovation and expansion in developing startup businesses

The government has initiated what it calls the National Entrepreneurship Awards to support  entrepreneurship and innovation among startup, small and medium-sized enterprises  (SMEs) and agro-processing.

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It’s hoped the move will raise public awareness of the important role of entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises among nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector, public institutions, youths, innovators and successful entrepreneurs at the national level for Cambodian-produced goods and services.

It is also hoped it will strengthen engagement of public-private partnerships in contributing to the Kingdom’s economic development and corporate social responsibility through sharpening the culture of entrepreneurship in Cambodia, said Mel Pho, deputy director of the National Institute of Entrepreneurship (NIEI) and the Innovation of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT).

Thyda Thaung, the founder of Thaung Enterprise. Supplied

Social responsibility


“This National Entrepreneurship Award will target enterprise and business categories in agriculture, manufacturing, information communication technology, services and hospitality,” he said.

The decision process will break down into a series of sequences: January to April for partnerships and networking to develop, May for the award programme orientation, June to July to decide categories and August for actual awards, he added.


Thyda Thaung, the founder of Thaung Enterprise, a salt supplier in Kampot, says that she is convinced the initiative is good for startups, especially SMEs in Cambodia that don’t have much opportunity to attract attention.

“This initiative will be a good platform on which the government can focus more on SMEs, especially they form the backbone of the economy and have good insight into what their challenges are, she said.

“It’s also a good opportunity for every SME in Cambodia to show off what they have, the challenges they are facing, to seek more support from every relevant sector, especially our government,” Thyda added.


Backbone of the economy


“On top of that, it enables them to understand what their position is in terms of business competition because everyone needs to develop and improve more and they get the chance  once they know their weakness compared with others.”

The National Entrepreneurship Award is a collaboration between the NIEI and the innovation department of the MLVT, Khmer Enterprise, under the Ministry of Economy and Finance. It is supported by the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Industry and Handicraft.

Applications will be announced early next month from 25 provincial and capital tech startups, services, agro-processing and agriculture for export and manufacturing.

“We want to promote entrepreneurship in Cambodia,” said Mel.

“Our award is designated by categories – agriculture, service-tourism, information and technology and manufacturing.

“The applications will open in early March this year and the competition process will start in June.”

Chhieng Vanmunin, chief executive officer of Khmer Enterprise, the national platform for promoting entrepreneurial activities. KT/Siv Channa

$10,000 first prize


“The first prize will receive $10,000, with a second prize of $5,000 and $3,000 for the third prize,” he added.

“The purpose of the national entrepreneurship award is to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in Cambodia.

“We are trying to build the capability of entrepreneurs and SMEs and young startups through sharing experience, success and lessons from failures learned through entrepreneurship,” Mel continued.

“We support them through mentorship and building a network between young entrepreneurs, SMEs and young tech startups to link each other up to exchange and cooperate and share lessons learned.”

Mel added that it is the first platform of its kind hosted by the government, supported by the Ministry of Economic and Finance, through Khmer Enterprise and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training; Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Industry and Handicraft.

He said that starting from 2020 the government will make this award annually to support and promote entrepreneurship and innovation.

“We plan for 500 applicants to participate in the award,” Mel added. “We will conduct three months of the competition process in five zones – Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Svay Rieng province and Phnom Penh.


Coaching opportunities


The final round and announced winner will take place in Phnom Penh.

“After announcing the winner, we will continue coaching them. They will become advisers of the NIEI, guest speakers and judges.”

“We plan to announce the winner in August for the final round. The competition will take place from June to August in the five zones. Khmer Enterprise will provide funding.”

Chhieng Vanmunin, chief executive officer (CEO) of Khmer Enterprise, the national platform for promoting entrepreneurial activities, said that it is the first time it has hosted this award across the country.

“It is an ambitious project to coordinate competitions in five zones covering 25 provinces and the capital. Then the winners from each zone will compete for the final round in Phnom Penh,” Chhieng added.


Platform to show off


He said that it is a national-scale project, not only a national small project or national award. This award is also engaging entrepreneurs in the provinces to join in.

“We have relationships  across the country to promote entrepreneurs, so entrepreneurs in the provinces also have  an opportunity, not just those in the capital,” he said.

“For this award, if the entrepreneur is good, has an innovative idea and is based in the provinces or a city, we will take care of them,” Chhieng said.

“We will provide a platform for them to show off their products and services.”

“We also, help to shape their business to scale up to the regional level.

“If they cannot scale up, but their business model can grow regionally and internationally, we will help them. They can either work with the NIEI or Khmer Enterprise.

“We want this event to be held annually.

“Khmer Enterprises will think about longevity and sustainability.

“This is the first year that there is this competition.

“Khmer Enterprises will offer support both financially and with public relations.”

Chhieng said he wants more partners to join in and run the competition.

He added Khmer Enterprises will also find partners for this event and help set up partner frameworks.

“For startups that do not win the competition, we will have a follow-up programme, providing new experiences, strengthening the weak, so that they can join the competition again from a better position the following year,” Chhieng added.

“We also help the winners by bringing them to show their products, business model and services to private investors [venture capitalists] to see whether they want to open up to investment from the outside.

“It will provide an opportunity to sell shares to venture capitalists so they can grow and expand their business.”

Mel Pho, deputy director of the National Institute of Entrepreneurship and the Innovation of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.
KT/Siv Channa

Financial access


The current eco-system is separated between information technology (IT), startups, SMEs and foreign direct investment companies.

Some information technology segments include financial technology, agriculture and education.

However, the connection is poor between agriculture products and  agro-processing.

Thyda used to see a lot of business competition from the private sector but this is the first time she has heard of such an initiative from the government.

Thaung Enterprise would be happy to apply for this competition if applicable, she said, pointing out it would help  entrepreneurs in terms of financial access – winning the competition would help them to use the cash for their business operations.


To dare to dream


She added that the winner will also get mentoring support to help them improve their business model as well as to learn strategies to apply to their business and to help them achieve more especially in terms of scaling up their business for both the local and international market.

In addition to that, it will also help inspire all SMEs in Cambodia to dare to dream and set their own goals and challenges to achieve an award and to bring more pride to Cambodia as  a successful entrepreneur.

Thyda stressed that the challenge for local entrepreneurs is that startup businesses and SMEs always find the first stage is lacking finance for investment and the financial management of their budget plan.

She spoke of the need for good structure, human resources and the knowledge and education needed for an insightful supply chain eco-system.

She also spoke about the need for knowledge of the law and regulations to protect them, which the competition will provide.

Cambodia has traditionally been too reliant on agriculture, tourism, garments, footwear and handbag production.

The government is determined for it to diversify and modernise to increase people’s prosperity.


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