Cambodia Investment Review
The inaugural Start-Up & Innovation Festival Cambodia 2023, organized by Rising Giants (RG) and Cambodia Investment Review (CIR), took took place at FACTORY Phnom Penh on April 8. The event brought together prominent figures from the Cambodian and Southeast Asian startup scene, including the fifth and final panel discussion on “Finding Your Place in the Start-Up Space.”
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The panel featured Bill Sokhy Chea of Start-Up Grind (moderator), Vorleak Oun of Hospicare, Parth Borkotoky of Azaylla, Lida Loem of SHE Investments, and Leap Sok of Sala.
Finding your passion and business model
Bill Sokhy Chea from the Cambodian chapter of Start Up grind a global startup community of 4 million startups in 600 cities opened the discussion asking the panel what brings people to Cambodia’s developing start up scene?
Lida Loem, co-founder of SHE Investments, a social enterprise focused on supporting women entrepreneurs through tailored incubator and accelerator programs, stressed the importance of pursuing a dream. “If you have a dream to do something and you have a tool or solution for bridging a gap, this will be a good concept to start from. Joining a community that brings change is the first step in making this decision,” she shared.
Parth Borkotoky, founder of Azaylla, an agricultural startup that connects farmers to markets, underscored the necessity of problem-solving in starting a venture. Parth Borkotoky said, “I founded Azaylla because I wanted to solve a problem—the difficulty farmers face in accessing markets, and the challenges buyers encounter sourcing the right produce. I view problems as opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Vorleak Oun, General Manager of Hospicare, a healthcare service for the elderly and disabled, pointed out the need for solutions in Cambodia’s healthcare sector. “The healthcare sector in Cambodia has many problems that need solving. There’s also a growing ageing population that needs help. I believed I could contribute, so I decided to step into this field,” she explained.
Leap Sok, CEO & Founder of Sala, an edtech startup, discussed finding one’s passion and identifying a market niche. He stated, “Not all startups have to solve big problems, but they do need to find at least a small niche in the market.”
Building your team and motivation
Addressing the challenges of starting and scaling a company, Parth Borkotoky shared insights from Azaylla’s journey. “A lot of startups are founded, but not many are taken to the next level. You can’t do everything alone; build your team and secure capital to hire good people who share your vision. That’s key to succeed besides the business idea,” he advised.
When asked about team retention, Parth Borkotoky emphasized transparency and alignment of vision. He said, “I’m open about the business direction, growth, etc., so they feel an integral part of the company. Perhaps that’s a reason they stay.”
Vorleak Oun reiterated the importance of trust and skill development in Hospicare’s team growth. “Does the client trust our staff? We need to educate everyone to develop their skills through education and training,” she stated.
Loem of SHE Investments stressed understanding one’s business model and long-term sustainability. She noted, “Many women want to do something and earn money but may not understand the long-term sustainability model. However, they do have a dream and want to contribute.”
Leap Sok from Sala focused on motivation and alignment with company culture. He said, “We need to show other Cambodians how they too can find their way. I believe this style of motivation is important for students to see a vision and role models to overcome their struggles.”
Company culture and founder’s impact
On the topic of company culture, the panelists shared their unique insights. Parth Borkotoky stressed flexibility in the workplace and a performance driven culture, while Vorleak Oun emphasized the necessity of a positive environment in the healthcare industry.
Lida Loem pointed out that company culture must start with the founder and be integrated into everyday operations. Leap Sok, believed that actions speak louder than words, and a company’s culture should reflect the values and behaviors of its founders and team.
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Parth Borkotoky explained his approach to building company culture, “I’ve tried to make performance the key focus, getting the task done. We hire staff without looking at their CV, because our interviews are very much focused on what we want and they want to achieve. This approach has helped us retain our staff.”
Vorleak Oun elaborated on the role of founders in setting the company culture, “We as founders need to be the role model for our core team and wider staff. We cannot go alone to reach the goals that we have set ourselves.”
Lida Loem shared a similar view, “The culture at She investments is about what you do every day. It starts with the founder and core team, and what values they bring to the company. Everyone needs to work together. We have regular check-ins for our values and when we get candidates, we ask them about their core values.”
Leap Sok, on the other hand, emphasized self-reflection and personal growth, “I started looking more at myself and my team, which could transform something bigger than who we are and the company.”
The festival offered crucial insights into the Cambodian startup space, providing aspiring entrepreneurs with a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within this rapidly growing ecosystem. As Cambodia’s startup scene continues to develop, the experiences and advice shared by these panelists will undoubtedly guide many in their entrepreneurial journey, helping them find their unique place in this vibrant market.