Cambodia / Smart’s innovator programme paves the way for young startups

By: Robin Spiess - Posted on: September 6, 2018 | Business

As Smart Axiata’s Young Innovator Programme enters the final stages of its second cycle, the five finalists can draw inspiration from two of last year’s successful startups which are making promising strides

Members of the GoSoccer team promote their app Photo: GoSoccer

Launched last year, Smart’s young entrepreneurial programme SmartStart aims to provide mentorship and financial support to Cambodian university students, helping them to launch their own startups in cooperation with the telecommunications provider.

And this year’s five finalist do not have to look much further than last year’s competitors for role models, with two of the startups in particular making solid progress.

GoSoccer, which claimed first prize last year, proudly launched its app just under two weeks ago, and though the app is still in its beta stages it has already seen hundreds of downloads. The five-man team developed the app during the SmartStart competition to help young football players find free fields for their upcoming football games, further utliising the city’s fields and expanding potential play times for hundreds of local teams.

As it stands, the fresh startup has already partnered with ten field operators in Phnom Penh and expects to grow to partner with dozens more in the upcoming months, according to team member Lyhour Sovann. The app charges field operators a 10% commission per field booking – a small price to pay for operators whose fields have been underused in the past.

“We plan to cover other sports too, and expand to other provinces soon,” said Sovann. “But right now we want only to focus on soccer, [because] we know how important it is not to expand before we’re ready. There aren’t many local competitors out there, so we feel good about the idea.”

Another team of seven fresh graduates competed against GoSoccer last year with their idea for SpareAsia, an app that would allow users to find and book short-term venues and event spaces in Phnom Penh.

As one of the five finalists in the competition, SpareAsia received $4,000 in seed funding and six months’ worth of work space and support from local incubator, Impact Hub. With the additional funding and time, SpareAsia was able to breathe life into its startup idea, and on 20 August the team launched its venue rental website.

“SmartStart came at a very good time, as it allowed us to build on our idea and bring it to the next level,” said SpareAsia co-founder Soeun Tharith at the website’s unveiling ceremony. “By going through all the stages… we were able to adjust, validate, and test our business model and product.”

SmartStart’s second cycle has seen its finalists work on apps and websites that could connect artists, technicians and tutors with potential clients, as well as apps for booking beauty appointments and systems for using QR codes instead of paper slips at parking lots.

The winner will be announced at the end of the year, with that team earning the chance to visit a tech giant such as Google, Facebook or Microsoft in Singapore.

As the five teams of young entrepreneurial Cambodians pitch their business ideas in the hopes of winning a chance at making their startups a reality, they can look to GoSoccer and SpareAsia as indicators of their potential for future success.