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Young tech stars shine in SmartStart program

Seng Solydeth and and Say Tola / Khmer Times Share:
These participants won the SmartStart Young Innovator Program: KT/Seng Solydeth

Five teams of Cambodian university students are currently hard at work developing proposals for tech startups which they hope will lead to the establishment of real business enterprises and the creation of actual mobile apps. These participants in the SmartStart Young Innovator Program organize by mobile operator Smart are learning important lessons about teamwork, planning, business and technology.

The teams were shortlisted from an initial 30 groups, and have already survived several rounds of shortlisting.

Representatives of three of the teams acting as presenters told Youth Today they wished they had more time, as all of the teammates were new to one another at the start, adding to the challenge of coming up with a totally new platform. But this challenge just made them more committed to succeed, they said.

Luy Lysieng, 19, a freshman at ITC, represented B-First team. Ms Lysieng said that her group’s platform, which carries the same name, was designed to teach foreigners about the Khmer language and culture.

“Our app focuses on pronunciation and speaking. It allows for real conversations and voice recording, so users can practice by themselves through the app,” Ms Lysieng said.

Apart from the technical side, Ms Lysieng said that as in any business startups, everything was unfamiliar to the team. “We do not have much experience regarding business and marketing, but we use video calls to communicate,” she said.

“We are about 50% complete: we want to create two platforms for our app, both IOS and Android. We also need a lot of content, so we are cooperating with the ministries of Education; Culture; and Tourism. There are technological issues, because currently there are no Khmer-language voice uploads to Google, so we have to do everything by ourselves.”

Ms Lysieng hopes the app will be used throughout the country within three years. Her team will target foreigners first and Cambodian users later. The version of the app for Cambodians will teach them about foreign languages and cultures.

Soeun Tharith, 20, a student at Zaman International School, said finding a place to meet with his team was hard. So, turning that challenge into an opportunity, they decided to focus their business idea on precisely that problem.

Mr Tharith’s group, SPARE team, believes that offering a new use of technology to businesses, said that “Our app helps people find meeting spaces.”

The team’s plan initially calls for the launch a website, hopefully in the next two or three months. “My vision is to make all potential business meeting places available through my website.”

Sok Heanh, 20, a student at the American University of Phnom Penh, represented the SopheakMongkol team. Mr. Heanh said the team is creating an app that helps anyone planning a wedding ceremony locate vendors including stylists, caterers and furniture rental businesses.

“The app has a lot of special features: Couples can check prices and other information before choosing a vendor through my app. Newlyweds can use the Guest List function to send electronic invitations by e-mail or contact numbers,” Mr Heanh continued.

He admitted that the team members were still young and inexperienced in business, so they needed assistance. Currently, they are working with mentors from Smart and Impact Hub, who are giving them a lot of encouragement.

The SopheakMongkol team hopes that they will become known to all Cambodians who are planning to get married. Mr Heanh said their main purpose is to improve the country’s tech sector by developing websites and mobile apps.

The survivors of this phase of the program will be sponsored by Smart to travel to Singapore to receive training from representatives of tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google.

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