“Great entrepreneurs have the ability to change the way we live and work, on local and national bases. If successful, their innovations may improve standards of living, and in addition to creating wealth with entrepreneurial ventures, they also create jobs and contribute to a growing economy. The importance of entrepreneurship is not to be understated.” –Shobhit Seth, Investopedia
In 2020, in response to COVID-19, PEPY expanded from its career development focus with a new entrepreneurship and social-enterprise program called PEPY’s Youth Innovators’ Space and Incubator (YISI). With a collapsing economy in Siem Reap, the PEPY team recognized the need to not just create job seekers but to also invest in job creators. Preparing and nurturing a climate where entrepreneurs will be able to thrive will undoubtedly be necessary for the country’s survival. Through YISI, we are making a space for innovators and change makers to realize their potential and work toward stimulating the economy.
The individual heading up this program is our new Incubator Manager, Phalla Yai. Phalla comes from a business background as the founder of Welcome Home (formerly called Krousar Khmer Home) Homestay. Through her previous work abroad and in-country, Phalla learned how to test out business concepts, market a company, identify funders, and develop a pitch for a business. In response to COVID-19, she adjusted her business model to provide long term stays so that she could keep it running while also fundraising to provide food response packages to families in need.
When Phalla heard about the job opening at PEPY she researched the organization and realized the efforts and goals of PEPY were similar to what she envisions for the community she works in. With her work slowing down, she was excited to share her experience and skills to entrepreneurs in the hopes that it would help uplift communities. Phalla believes that young entrepreneurs will be strong leaders and ultimately change the country for the better. She admits that she was initially worried about applying when she considered the time commitment, but realized that this would allow her to be part of something bigger and would undoubtedly teach her many things in the process.
Right now, the NGO community and Phalla see several challenges for Siem Reap’s and even Cambodia’s economic recovery and development. For starters, people are losing jobs and businesses are closing in great numbers since so much work is based on the tourism industry. It is incredibly challenging for people to think creatively and thoroughly on the next steps for Siem Reap when they are having difficulty supporting their daily life. Beyond that, there are ongoing challenges. In Cambodia, there is a lack of diversity and creativity when it comes to establishing a business. In addition to their being too many hotels and restaurants to begin with, people often copy each-others’ ideas. Whether the individual is a farmer or corporate business owner, if they are succeeding, they can expect their neighbor attempting to do that same thing. There is little innovation and collaboration, with people mostly following existing ideas and creating direct competition.
Phalla considered why this continues to be the case and raised the question, “why can’t we do something different?” In her experience, the reason why diversity is so limited is directly linked toward Cambodia’s lack of resources and education centered on critical thinking and creativity. Many people that have the potential for creativity often do not have the resource or network to develop themselves. For example, a youth may have the potential to be a great pianist but will go through their life not having access to a piano. Similarly, potential great entrepreneurs may not have the technology or business classes to help them analyze what concept or idea they could do that would best contribute to the community.
At YISI, Phalla and the Incubator team will be working to help youth identify the skills and strengths they have to develop a successful social enterprise. In the incubator classes, 20 Youth Innovators will work with the team and with mentors to find an idea that they believe in.
For Phalla, providing Business Planning sessions will be extremely important so that the youths have to think their idea through by conducting both local and online research, so that their idea is fully formed and clarified. Youth participants will be able to see examples of good entrepreneurship both in and outside of the classroom through business tours of their mentors places of work as well as through Phalla and the Incubator team’s demonstration of entrepreneurship. So far, the team has successfully marketed the incubator space to other organizations for their meetings and events, and plan to work on cultivating a lively co-working space, start-up testing site, and youth led event site in the Incubator Office.
Furthermore, youth will also be tasked with conducting a market test depending on the business they are planning. For example, Youth Innovator, Visam, is planning to sell his product in the local market. He will be encouraged to conduct a sample day in order to receive feedback from the local community (to help determine market value and to establish if there is a market need).
For most of the youths joining the program, learning how to be successful marketers is an imperative step for their businesses to succeed. These activities in the incubator are necessary for youths’ development and for them to identify if their concept is filling a market need. By the end of the course, the PEPY team hopes to see the innovators’ knowledge and awareness increase so that they are contributing more dynamic and community conscious businesses in Siem Reap.
Phalla has both long term and short term goals for YISI and its participants. First and foremost, she wants the program to run effectively so that the younger generation is committed to supporting the needs of our community. For the first year, the focus will be on identifying mentors, investors, and ensuring that the course content is relevant and helpful. We hope that the program is impactful enough that we will see other organizations start initiatives similar to YISI so that we can collaborate with start-up programs across the country and create space for all entrepreneurs to succeed and network with each other. On a broader note, Phalla hopes the program brings about a distinct change in the Siem Reap economy with the expansion of online business start-ups as well as local start-ups with their own unique brand and vision.
In conclusion, the Incubator Team and Phalla, are ambitiously putting forth a program that pushes the status quo to tackle community development and economic challenges in Siem Reap. This is in pursuit of our goal to see the youth develop business concepts that are creative and will help enable more education opportunities to future youth. We thank Phalla and her team for dedicating themselves to this mission and cannot wait to see what how the Youth Innovators impact their communities!!