Construction of the ICT Innovation Center (IIC), the first facility of its kind in Phnom Penh, will begin next month, with government officials saying it will accelerate the development of the country’s human capital, boost research and innovation, and multiply the number of startups in the technology sector.
The project will break ground at the end of March and will be finished within 18 months, according to Kan Channmeta, Secretary of State of Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
Construction of the building will be funded through the national R&D Fund, with the cost estimated at $4 million.
The R&D Fund was created in July 2017 to aid the development of the ICT sector. Each telecom firm in the country has to contribute one percentage of their gross revenue to the reserve.
A separate fund, known as the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USO Fund), requires companies to contribute two percent of their revenue.
“The upcoming innovation center in a key project financed through the R&D Fund,” Mr Channmeta said, adding that it will be located in the National Institute of Posts, Telecoms and ICT (NIPTICT)
“The center will produce highly qualified ICT experts.”
With universities in the kingdom generally failing to teach research skills and promote innovation, the new centre seeks to fill gaps in students’ academic and professional formation, particularly for R&D, innovation and the promotion of entrepreneurial and startup culture, Mr Channmeta explained.
“It will also promote the linkage between academia, industry and government.”
Startups and students who meet certain criteria will be eligible to take advantage of the services offered at IIC.
“We are now working on the criteria for admissions.
“All qualified startups will be able to access the centre free of charge. We will help them improve their product, and make it into a realistic project that can be monetise. The centre will have mentors to coach them,” he said.
Mr Channmeta said the new centre seeks to equip students with the skills they need to join the labour market, adding that technology is now a key driver of economic growth.
“We need to promote math, science and technical subjects to aid the development of the nation and help Cambodia compete within Asean,” Mr Channmeta said.
The building will have an area of 6,000 square metres on four storeys. It will have a research lab, a co-working space, conference rooms, a restaurant and a café, among other facilities and amenities.
While the centre is being built, the ministry will use money from the R&D Fund to subsidise access to co-working spaces in Phnom Penh for 100 to 200 students a year who need space to work on their startup ideas.
Co-working spaces included in the scheme will be located near high schools and university, Mr Channmeta said.
“We can’t wait for the centre to be ready. We need to start helping students give shape to their ideas now.”
Lim Seng Khun, team leader of GoSoccer, a local company that came on top at Smart Axiata’s latest startup contest, told Khmer Times the new centre will provide guidance to high school and university students who have creative ideas for startups but lack access to proper business mentorship.
“Having free access to co-working spaces and mentors will allow more and more young people to come up with realistic business ideas that can be commercialise,” Mr Seng Khun said.