My Remote Year Series // Phnom Penh Reinspired

By Gemma Hughes

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Cambodia has a very dark recent history, but during my month in Phnom Penh I was truly inspired by the locals who generally had a positive demeanor with a lot of hope for the future. From 1975 - 1979, the Khmer Rouge Regime resulted in the deaths of up to 25% of population. During this time the educated and elderly were particularly targeted, causing 50% of today’s Cambodian population to be under 25 years old.

This past month I discovered many of these young adults are passionate about empowering Cambodians and striving for a better future for their country. Learning about the emerging tech scene and various NGOs and social empowerment projects was very uplifting.

Because so much of the Khmer history was lost during the Pol Pot Regime, it was very inspiring to see The Khmer Magic Music Bus which brings back traditional music performance and education to the people of rural Cambodia. I was also introduced to This Life Cambodia, an organization working on community empowerment at the grassroots level. Their goal is to help communities develop the essential infrastructure, skills and programs needed to make positive change in their lives and break free from poverty. We also got to experience a special performance by Tiny Toones, a group focused on getting kids off the streets through breakdancing. They start the kids in dance classes before introducing them to other academic lessons. They have had a lot of success in building self-confidence amongst the at risk though, through helping them achieve better employment possibilities. One of my fellow Remotes organized a group trip to spend time with the children supported by Shanty Town Spirit, an NGO focused on keeping children in school and helping their parents find employment.

Much of Cambodia’s development aid funds have gone into NGOs since the 1990s but in recent years there has been additional emphasis on tech incubators and development programs. There is a growing start-up community across Cambodia, with a number of co-working spaces in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Phnom Penh is where more of the local entrepreneurs are while you will find more digital nomads in Siem Reap. We spent our month working out of a bustling shared co-working space, Emerald Hub, in Phnom Penh. We worked alongside entrepreneurs, startups, growing small business, service providers, freelancers, investors, social activists, and NGO’s. One notable business I was introduced to was SHE Investments, a business focused on female entrepreneurs in Cambodia and helping them scale their micro-business through their incubator and newly launched accelerator program.

One of the challenges for Cambodian entrepreneurs is the relatively small local population, with just over 15 million people. This means that to be successful, it’s often necessary to think on a global scale. This is particularly challenging when it comes to creating an online presence that is effective for both local and international customers. Language is definitely one obstacle, as it is important to have content in both Khmer and English. Another is the need for separate online destinations. Over the past few years there has been a dramatic surge in social media in Cambodia, so most businesses prefer to have their online presence on Facebook, whereas the global community would typically be searching for an actual website to land on.

For foreigners interested in starting a business entity abroad, Cambodia is arguably one of the easiest places to do so compared to other popular expat destinations in Southeast Asia. Setting up a business entity is a relatively quick process, it can take as little as a month (compared to 6 months in other countries), even for non-citizens. It is also important to factor in things like the low cost of living and relatively minimal competition for talent.

Below is some more information regarding the tech scene in Cambodia and stay tuned for my next post about Split, Croatia!

Interesting Cambodia founded companies

Sabay Osja - Cambodia’s first game development studio.
CheckInTonight - Last minute hotel booking.
Chibi - dating site that brings people together via SMS.
Codingate - focus on developing interactive web applications, design services, and social media marketing. They also have a project where they partner with students to develop technical solutions and in return provide them laptops.
Sabay - One of Cambodia’s biggest tech companies and Cambodia’s biggest online portal.
Sompom - Mobile app development in Phnom Penh.
Goldengekko - Mobile development.

Co Working Spaces

coLAB - 1st coworking space in Phnom Penh.
Emerald Hub - hugh workspace that Remote Year subscribed to during out month in Phnom Penh.
Angkor Hub - Coworking and coliving space in Siem Reap targeting digital nomads.
SmallWorld Cambodia - Community of business startups founded by Cambodian entrepreneurs.
Impact Hub - co-working space, a business incubator, and a social enterprise builder.

Incubators/Accelerators

Startup Weekend - Weekend course in Phnom Penh founded in 2011.
SHE incubator - 6 month intensive business training program, specifically designed for and delivered by Cambodian women.
Development Innovations - roots more in aid work, a five-year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that helps civil society organizations (CSOs), technology companies and social enterprises to design and use information and communication technology (ICT) solutions that address Cambodia’s development challenges.

Resources
Tech In Asia