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Leader talks: Khmer Enterprise CEO Dr. Chhieng Vanmunin on selling Cambodia’s start-up sector to the world

Harrison White

Cambodia’s start-up sector is aiming to become an attractive destination for both local and international investors as the sector aims to formalize and grow the government-backed support fund Khmer Enterprise and Dr. Chhieng Vanmunin is ready to help.

Khmer Enterprise, which operates under the Ministry of Economy and Finance, was launched in 2019 as a government-funded program in line with Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy IV.

The fund aims to mobilize, invest and manage resources to support the development of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and to provide financial and non-financial support to related entrepreneurial ecosystem builders.

In charge of this mission is Dr. Chhieng Vanmunin who before joining Khmer Enterprise worked for several multinationals in Australia then returned to his birth country to work for Cambodia’s stock market then lead the program and develop Cambodian start-ups.

Speaking to Cambodia Investment Review – Leader Talks Dr. Chhieng Vanmunin spoke of his backstory before taking on the role, the fantastic opportunities Cambodia presents for international investors, and the challenges the organization is looking to address.

Dr. Chhieng Vanmunin and Cambodia’s start-up sector 

“For me taking on the role with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Khmer Enterprise also meant coming back to my birth country after spending over 20 years studying and working in Australia’s investment banking sector,” Chhieng said.

“Working at large international firms in Australia has allowed me to understand what is required for Cambodia to compete for international investment and the strong competition we have in comparison to our regional neighbors,” he added.

One of the major obstacles for international investors looking to Cambodia’s start-up sector is the lack of formalized companies and implemented business processes for many small and medium scale operations in Cambodia.

The signing of the MOU by Dr Vanmunin Chhieng, CEO, Khmer Enterprise and Anthony Galliano, President of AmCham.

“Formalization of the Cambodian economy is a key agenda of the government and our developing start-up sector is also included in this – we understand that while compliance is hard for small-scale businesses it is a must for investors and hence this is a key area we assist in,” Chhieng said.

Looking to address this issue Khmer Enterprise recently partnered with Venture Capital firm OBOR Management to offer select start-ups with over $100,000 in historical revenue workshops to understand how to implement business processes and effective compliance. To read more about the OBOR program click here.

Impact investment in Cambodia’s start-up sector

Cambodia has been aiming to attract more impact-driven investors which from 2017 to 2019 recorded a 62% average year-on-year growth in impact capital invested by regional Private Impact Investors (PPI) while in Cambodia there were eight PPIs with a combined investment of $55 million.

Impact investing is an investment strategy that aims to generate specific beneficial social or environmental effects in addition to financial gains.

In addition, more entrepreneurial support organizations have also been entering the market and providing investment in building capacity gaps as well as mapping investment potential in Cambodia.

OBOR
OBOR and Khmer Enterprise team

“Khmer Enterprise has also been working closely with many of the impact investors and support organizations that have been entering over the last five years recently. We see these groups as a vital conduit between first-time entrepreneurs and free market investors,” Chhieng said.

“For example, Khmer Enterprise is currently in cooperation with the Swisscontact and USAID on the ‘Give a Day’ program that is building the entrepreneurial support ecosystem of Cambodia and providing a platform for impact investors to understand more about the market and its challenges,” he added. To read more about the ‘Give a Day’ initiative click here.

Selling Cambodian start-ups to the world

Despite the growing sector the country is yet to produce a standout business on the international stage and hence Cambodia’s startup scene has not received a high level of exposure to international media.

“We understand that Cambodia is a relatively small market in the region when compared to regional markets so we have to work extra hard to make sure international investors know what amazing companies we have here,” Chhieng said.

“That said, we are looking to reach out to more international and regional media outlets so investors understand that Cambodia has a growing start-up culture looking for investment in an economy which is very business-friendly,” he added.

Khmer Enterprise is collaborating with both marketing agencies and media outlets in Cambodia, regionally and event internationally to spread the word to more investors as well as change the narrative around what is possible in Cambodia.

“In summary, it will take an entire ecosystem to develop Cambodia’s start-up sector into its full potential and Khmer Enterprise and the Cambodian government is ready to make it happen,” Chhieng Vanmunin said.

‘Cambodia Investment Review – Leader Talks’ interviews Cambodia’s most influential and important decision-makers.

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