More than 200 entrepreneurs and investors in the country’s fledging technology sector gathered yesterday at the Tech Startup and SMEs Forum in Phnom Penh to discuss the biggest opportunities and most pressing challenges of doing business in a digital economy.
The forum was organised with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in mind, aiming to increase awareness among entrepreneurs of digital computing technologies and aid businesses’ transition to the digital plane.
“The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications decided to launch this forum to help scale ICT entrepreneurship for social impact and provide a platform for tech SMEs from around the country to share experiences, grow and create jobs,” said Tram Iv Tek, the Minister of Telecommunications, during his opening remarks.
“The overall objective of this initiative is to increase the number of small, young and nimble tech firms with high-growth potential, and provide a platform for these firms to expand regionally and globally.”
He added that the government has made it a priority to grow the domestic tech ecosystem and encourage the development of homegrown digital products and services.
Heng Sokong, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft, said SMEs are the backbone of the country’s economic development, but resented the fact that only about 0.2 percent of Cambodia’s 520,000 SMEs have reached the latest stages of digitalisation and automatisation.
The only way the government can help businesses stuck in more primitive, paper-based systems is if they register with the Ministry of Commerce, he said.
“To get support from relevant stakeholders and the government, all SMEs must register and operate legally. This way the government can find ways to help them adapt to the digital economy,” he said.
Sok Narin, the country representative for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), said a lot of the groundwork to prepare the country for the digital economy still needs to be laid.
“To take advantage of the opportunities that come with the digital economy, we need proper regulation, ICT infrastructure that can reach more villages, as well as training programmes to develop our human capital,” Mr Narin said.
Thomas Hundt, the CEO of Smart Axiata, the leading telecommunications operator in Cambodia and one of the event’s sponsors, said the opportunities for building a digital economy and society in Cambodia are very promising.
“Through accelerated innovation, mobile operators like Smart Axiata are ready to support and grow future economies of cashless societies, smart cities, borderless application services and digital inclusion,” he said.
“This also includes providing tech solutions for startups and SMEs to develop and increase in scale.”