Khmer Times’ May Kunmakara sits down with Tapas Kuila, partner at Ooctane, a venture capital firm under the umbrella of Wordbridge Group that seeks to fuel the aspirations of exceptional local entrepreneurs and transform Cambodia into a digital powerhouse.
Mr Tapas discusses the company’s first year of operations and takes a look at Cambodia’s startup scene.
KT: Your company launched last June with the aim of helping local startups. Can you tell us about the most important developments in your first year of operations?
Mr Tapas: Since the company was launched last year, we have added three new members to the team. First, Joshua Hong, who has worked in a multitude of areas within the financial services industry. He began his journey in Cambodia as an analyst for frontier markets private equity firm Leopard Capital. He has a BA from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US, and an MA from Sciences Po in Paris.
Second, Steven Liew, venture partner at Ooctane. Steven is also the co-founder and CEO of private investment firm Cosmic Café, which is present in Singapore and Japan. Steven was a lawyer and public policy professional for more than two decades before becoming a full-time investor.
Finally, myself. Prior to joining Ooctane, I was country manager for Sweden-based micro-insurance company BIMA. I received my MBA from INSEAD in France, and have additional experience in the fields of management consulting and various areas within the financial services industry in Singapore.
KT: How many startups have you invested in so far?
Mr Tapas: We have been running in a kind of “stealth mode” for the last six months while working hard under the cover scouting for good deals. We have not invested yet, but are carrying out due diligence on a handful of startups. Now that we have a strong team in place, we are fully ready for business and go all guns blazing.
KT: How many startups do you expect to fund?
Mr Tapas: On top of the original $5 million we have in our fund, we have raised an additional $50 million. We expect to have 3 to 5 portfolio companies across different industries and stages of growth by the end of this year.
KT: How would you evaluate the local startup scene? What are the major challenges and how can they be overcome?
Mr Tapas: The Cambodian startup scene is still very nascent, but is growing rapidly, and will continue to grow even more. We are designing our new fund to add fuel to the fire and be an ultimate game-changer in the startup ecosystem here in Cambodia.
We feel that the entrepreneurs here have a lot of potential, but could do with more mentorship and competition to scale their ventures. Ooctane can provide the right kind of mentorship to these entrepreneurs and also help to inject more competition into the market by bringing foreign startups into the Cambodian market.
We will have more to share when we have closed some of the investments we are currently evaluating and formalised some of the partnerships we are pursuing.