Singaporean and Burmese investors deliberate the fast rise of the Myanmar start-up ecosystem and why investors should view it as the next big destination in Asia for tech investment.
According to a recent World Bank Report With an economy growing at nearly 7 percent and expected to remain steady over the next year, Myanmar has quickly become a rising star in Southeast Asia’s economy. Buoyed by strong performances in trade and communications – in addition to a significantly large youth population and state efforts to improve the country’s human resource quality – Myanmar may be underlining its credentials as the region’s next top investment destination.
Online logistics and transportation service company Kargo, recently hosted a panel discussion in Myanmar, to discuss the nation’s economic rise and how technological innovation can fill unmet socio-economic gaps. The meeting drew insights from investors from Myanmar and Singapore, the latter being the largest foreign investor in the country to-date.
The discussion saw participants deliberate the opportunities and challenges surrounding Myanmar’s burgeoning start-up scene, and what can be done by stakeholders to realise the inherent technological prospects that the country holds.
There appears to be an increase in ‘first-time’ business founders whom are originating from a new generation of Burmese entrepreneurs.
The emergence of new entrepreneurial talent appears to have grown in tandem with the growing number of community organisations focused on local start-up growth, namely the Phandeeyar accelerator and the Yangon chapter of the international Seedstar competition.
From a start-up perspective, Kargo CEO and Founder Alex Wicks says that start-up growth in Myanmar will be heavily reliant on corporate partnerships.
“Our company found growth to be very challenging in its early stages, however investment support from partners helped to propel business forward to provide people in Myanmar with an innovative logistics solution. Our partnership with Yoma Bank, Myanmar’s largest commercial bank, to source unsecured SME financing to facilitate same-day payments to truck drivers, help grow the company’s fleet and customer base nationwide,” says Wicks.
In terms of technology, Wicks says global partners such as Amazon Web Services, also helped the company grow its platform, alongside helping to grow the local start-up ecosystem in general.
From the investors’ side, Yoma Strategic Holdings Group Chief Technology Officer Rita Nguyen, shared her experiences from corporate perspectives – explaining that they are always on the lookout for agile solutions providers to help them overcome longstanding business hurdles.
Cocoon Capital Managing Partner Michael Blakey, also shared his views on the local startup scene from a venture capitalist’s perspective – particularly on what investors look for in entrepreneurs. He says founders need to have a clear understanding of who their audience is and how they should approach the right investors.
Overall, participants had a positive outlook on Myanmar’s start-up growth. One key area that may benefit emerging businesses is the ecosystem’s infrastructure; namely a more open business environment and improved internet connectivity. Nevertheless, systemic challenges remain, namely education, which all the participants agreed that initiatives such as university-backed accelerators.
It was also noted that technology start-ups should focus on solving greater socio-economic issues, such as digital payments to help Myanmar foster greater financial inclusion for its large unbanked population.
“As a start-up ourselves, we have seen first-hand at how working with partners within the national ecosystem has helped us grow to what we are today. It has been a collaborative effort that requires the buy-in of stakeholders from various backgrounds. We were proud to have hosted this panel discussion – the first of many I am sure – as we were able to share our experience to a new generation of entrepreneurs in Myanmar, who in turn, can help the country realise its high start-up potential,” says Wicks.
(Ed. Kargo claims to be the largest virtual truck fleet in Myanmar. Cocoon Capital Management is a Singapore-based venture capital firm focusing on early-stage, enterprise tech companies across Southeast Asia with assets under management of SGD40m. The fund says it invests within the medtech, fintech, insurtech and other deep tech verticals.)