Small Start, Big Impact

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HUB Academy participants group around their mentor for a group discussion after a team-building activity. Supplied

Starting a business can be a stress-inducing ordeal. There’s research, strategy and planning. Finding the time, resources and sustainability to get your idea off the ground. Drawing up a business model, identifying a consumer base — and of course financing it all. 
But where to begin? 
The folks at Impact HUB say they have the answer.
Impact HUB is a global, social-enterprise driven network, with over 80 locations spanning five continents. Boasting more than 15,000 active members, the network’s success is spurred by its emphasis on collaboration. At Impact HUB Phnom Penh, COO Laura Smitheman has helped to create an innovative new program primed to kickstart local businesses into overdrive.
HUB Academy holds a one year course designed to enable young entrepreneurs to develop strong business models, create a prototype and understand finances and investment — with a focus on positive impact. 
“I think that we meet a lot of [Cambodians] that are very aware of many [social] issues in Cambodia…they really want to take it in their own hands and start finding their own solutions, but they don’t know how to do it. That’s where we come in,” says Smitheman. 
“The idea of the HUB Academy is to work with people who are aware of a social or environmental issue they want to tackle and do it in a sustainable and innovative way.”
Twenty-two applicants were selected to join the Academy’s pilot program, made up of aspiring entrepreneurs, university students and NGO workers. One Saturday a month, participants get together for a full day of training, team-building and planning, with a variety of mentors leading sessions and sharing their knowledge of business. Participants are organized into teams that rally around a specific cause. 
“In the first session we had individuals pitch a particular issue they were passionate about and the rest of the participants grouped around that,” Smitheman says. 
One aspiring entrepreneur academy members have gathered around is Sokkheng Kaing. Kaing is the co-founder of Krupet, a health oriented website that provides information on healthcare institutions and providers in Cambodia.
Kaing says the program, which launched in February, has taught her beneficial lessons on improving the structure of her business. 
“I decided to join HUB Academy because it has a strong influence to help me in building networks with like-minded people and investors. Also participants can share and learn from each other since we need to create a project for our team. It’s the most comprehensive social enterprise and startup training course [available],” she said.
The academy’s curriculum was developed through collaboration with Impact HUB Singapore over the course of four years. Through HUB Singapore’s partnerships, Smitheman was able to seek the counsel of Singaporean business schools, which helped the group curate the social-enterprise driven course. 
“We’ve developed this really great curriculum with a specific focus on a social start-up. So we spent a lot of time thinking about [how to] really understand and identify the root cause of a social problem and [how] to create strong solutions…You’re tackling a problem that’s perhaps very prevalent or long lasting so you have to use innovative thought to come up with new ideas, because existing solutions are not working,” says Smitheman. 
Chhunny Noem, one of the program’s leadership mentors, exemplifies this school of thought. 
The Cambodian is co-founder of Anakot Asia, a social enterprise that provides “innovative” training solutions with a focus on building “mindful leaders.” 
It wasn’t too long ago that Noem was struggling to find his way in the start-up world. Now, he serves as an example of success to a new class of socially-empowered entrepreneurs who — according to Smitheman — relish the opportunity to “meet people who have been in their shoes.”
Noem says the program addresses many of the challenges facing aspiring entrepreneurs in the Kingdom. to the end of the sentence, before says Noem
“Starting a business has never been easy. In Cambodia, there is a lack of legal platforms and encouragement which creates challenges for young start-ups. [I] myself faced a big problem with cash flow management [because] I was new to owning my own social enterprise,” says Noem.
“Fortunately, HUB Academy has addressed all of these issues. HUB Academy plays a very important role in supporting start-up businesses in terms of helping participants understand the process very well and build enough confidence and knowledge to create their business plan.”
And Smitheman says participants will have much more than a business model. She highlights the importance of students having an understanding of their customer, differentiating from their competition and grasping the more complex legal issues — like registration and taxes. Towards the end of the course, students will learn how to find investments through equity, loans and grants. In the future, the academy hopes to facilitate the creation of an “angel investor” network focused solely on social enterprise.
The $120 course is mainly funded by the internet service provider EZECOM, with additional support from Transparency International (TI). The NGO provides training to participants on the importance of responsible business and how to use anti-corruption measures.  
Olivia Hough, programs and partnerships manager at Impact HUB, says feedback has been wildly positive.
“I’ve been to a few sessions and the impression I’ve been given is that [the students] absolutely love it. The workshops aren’t just boring, sitting down, let’s do some technical work. They’re split up with games to do team building and speakers. [The students] all have so much fun and they all know each other really well now because they’ve formed strong friendships and bonds which is really nice to see,” she said.
Hough thinks HUB Academy’s focus on social enterprise and sustainability from the ground up is one of the best ways to prepare Cambodia’s next generation of socially-conscious entrepreneurs. 
“At the end of the day, they know what’s going on in their country best,” says Hough. 

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