Cambodia Investment Review

Rising Giants e100: Rithy Thul on KOOMPI’s Educational Mission and Cambodia’s Startup Ecosystem

Rising Giants e100: Rithy Thul on KOOMPI’s Educational Mission and Cambodia’s Startup Ecosystem

Cambodia Investment Review

In episode 100 of the Rising Giants podcast hosts Max Thornton and Dom Kalousek sat down with veteran tech entrepreneur Rithy Thul to Rising Giants to mark the 100th episode release! In the last two years Rithy has been busy building and supporting the next wave of grassroots tech innovation in the country focused mostly on KOOMPI (computers) and Selendra (web 3).

Read more: Rising Giants e99 – Shivam Tripathi on Navigating Entrepreneurial Journeys from Cambodia to India

SmallWorld Ventures has been at the forefront of building the startup community in Cambodia providing a collaborative space for entrepreneurs to thrive. Since inception they have made 10+ seed equity investments into promising startups and have also built an internal team of technicians engaged in research and development projects with an aim to spin off new ventures.

Veteran tech entrepreneur Rithy Thul.

Rithy kicked off the conversation by discussing his sustained commitment to KOOMPI, an initiative focused on providing computer training in schools and learn of all age who interested in Open Source technology. For schools, these “mini-stations” are designed to accommodate 10-15 users, a significant step toward filling the digital void in Cambodian schools. “This is in line with the government’s plans to expand computer access over the next five years,” said Rithy, emphasizing the scarcity of traditional desktop computers compared to smartphones in educational settings.

Regarding the adoption of his local brand over international competitors, Rithy revealed that around 40 schools have already implemented KOOMPI Onelabs. “The immediate plan is to grow to 100 labs and then expand our outreach to between 500 and 1,000 schools across the country,” Rithy stated. He added that feedback from these 100 labs will inform improvements in their setup.

An “Observer” Rather Than an Active Participant

Rithy also discussed Weteka, an education platform for sharing knowledge among students, teachers, and professionals. He is planning to make the platform accessible offline by the end of 2023 and is working to coordinate certification of completion with the government.

Read more: Cambodian Tech Enterprises Pioneer Digital Transformation of Agriculture Supply Chain

When asked about the recent deployment of a Starlink device in Cambodia, Rithy brought up the significant costs associated with the technology, which comes to an initial $700 and a monthly fee of $250. Rithy noted that SmallWorld had initiated a project, KOOMPI Fi-Fi, aimed at cost-sharing among communities, but voiced concerns about potential regulatory issues.

KOOMPI “mini-stations”.

In the podcast, Rithy also revealed personal struggles with burnout in 2020 and he moved to VitaminAir to focus on healing and work remotely from there for several months in 2021, a land SmallWorld purchaced  near Sihanoukville. The land serves as a retreat for him and others to live in harmony with nature. When asked whether this was a step back from his role in the startup community, Rithy described his current state as being an “observer” rather than an active participant.

Regarding the changing dynamics in Cambodian startups, Rithy said that founders who began their journey before 2015 seemed better qualified in their respective niches than those who started later. He attributed this change to a boom in seed funding and accelerator programs after 2015, which produced startups more focused on short-term goals.

Addressing the growth in crypto and Web3 projects, Rithy said, “There is more developer activity in the industry than ever before, and hopefully, this will lead to more long-term thinking.”

A More Balanced Approach to Work And Life

Regarding his recent embrace of meditation, particularly Vipassana, Rithy shared that it had led him to a more balanced approach to work and life. He revealed that these teachings helped him navigate the cash flow crunch at SmallWorld Ventures during the COVID pandemic, emphasizing a return to the company’s original mission and long-term goals.

Veteran tech entrepreneur Rithy Thul.

When asked about KOOMPI’s fundraising plans, Rithy said he was still debating between external funding and self-financing. “Business is like counting; you start with 1, 2, 3, then go to 10, 20, 30, and so on. We’re developing a strong foundation for growth by focusing on getting to 100 school labs first,” he added. This incremental approach, he said, offers a strong foundation for scaling, emphasizing that his business approach isn’t necessarily ‘scale or die.’

The episode served as an insightful deep dive into Rithy’s evolving roles and projects, offering a window into the future of tech development and investment in Cambodia.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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