Competition puts funds toward business ideas

Cellcard Lab, an initiative to help young Cambodian entrepreneurs develop their ideas into viable businesses, completed its fourth and final round on Tuesday evening, with teams pitching their projects to a panel of judges for cash prizes.

The initiative, led by local co-working space Impact Hub and financed by Cambodian telecom operator Cellcard, was divided into four rounds over a six-month period. For each round, six to eight teams were selected from a pool of around 50 applicants to participate in a two-month-long process of business model validation, culminating in a pitching event where the top three teams could earn prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, according to Mélanie Mossard, community builder at Impact Hub.

“Every two months, we have a selection and we open applications to any young Cambodian who has an idea to solve a social or environmental issue using an innovative solution,” she said on the sidelines of the event.

“I think it has been a very successful programme and if you look at the previous winners, they have used their money to invest in machinery or invest in things like marketing.”

Winners in the first three rounds included Doy Doy, a company making low-cost educational toys, La Chhouk, a clothing designer using recycled materials, and Eco-Plastic, which focuses on turning plastic waste into functional products.

Participants in the initiative rapidly improved their business development by the final pitch day, Mossard said.“I think when they first came to this programme, they had very small ideas and they didn’t really think about how they can generate revenue,” she said. “We helped them to understand the bigger picture and to think better, for example to not just see Phnom Penh as their market but to see Cambodia, or even Asean and the world as their market.”

Thao Puthearith, founder of Scan SeavPhov and the winner of the fourth round of Cellcard Lab, said the $5,000 prize money would help him officially launch his venture and expand his team. His project aims to develop a mobile application that enables high school students to scan black and white images in their standard issue textbooks to access more detailed information or content on their phones, such as instructional videos.

“My next goal is to hire a team and create this app and make it available for students to download, because it is still a prototype right now,” he said. “I need to make a lot of content and I need a lot of people to help me do this, because this is going to help improve the whole education in Cambodia and I am doing it alone so I need a team.”

Sam Khann, project and quality assurance manager at Cellcard and one of the judges for the fourth round, said he was impressed by the quality of the participants. He floated the possibility that Cellcard could repeat the initiative next year.

“One of our objectives is to offer to Cambodian youth opportunities for success very quickly,” he said. “It is an open opportunity for young people, regardless of whether they are entrepreneurs or not.”