Lo­cal start-ups pre­pare for ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - STEVE GILMORE s.gilmore@mm­times.com

Six teams of young tech en­trepreneurs have been se­lected to en­ter into a six-month pro­gram with $25,000 each to pitch to in­vestors on a range of ideas, from an on­line comic-read­ing app to a mi­croloan plat­form.

YAN­GON in­no­va­tion lab Phan­dee­yar wel­comed the six teams se­lected for its ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram last week. The young tech en­trepreneurs have US$25,000 and six months to pre­pare to pitch in­vestors with start-up ideas rang­ing from an on­line comic read­ing app to a mi­croloan plat­form.

Myan­mar al­ready has a hand­ful of es­tab­lished tech firms that have spent the past few years over­com­ing reg­u­la­tory and hu­man re­source is­sues to cre­ate suc­cess­ful gam­ing com­pa­nies and de­sign stu­dios.

Phan­dee­yar is hop­ing its ac­cel­er­a­tor, which pro­vides of­fice space, men­tor­ing and $200,000 worth of ser­vices from sup­port part­ners, will help a new wave of tech en­trepreneurs achieve suc­cess in months – not years.

“They’re not just go­ing to be hang­ing out here,” said Phan­dee­yar CEO David Mad­den. “There is a tried and tested ap­proach to rapidly build a suc­cess­ful tech start-up.”

The pro­gram is full-time and comes with coach­ing and sup­port across a range of ar­eas – Edulink will pro­vide English classes to help teams pitch to in­ter­na­tional in­vestors, and Ogilvy will ad­dvise on mar­ket­ing.

A few of the cho­sen teams have al­ready launched their prod­ucts. KoAung Ye Kyaw and Ko Nay Oo Linn have de­signed the White Merak comic reader app, which fea­ture’s semi-an­i­mated Myan­mar comics from past and present in dual lan­guage.

Most, like Tech­no­holic’s co­found­ing sis­ters Ma Honey Mya Win and Ma Shwe Yee Mya Win, are still work­ing on the me­chan­ics. Tech­no­holic’s first prod­uct is a plat­form that con­nects skilled free­lancers and po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers.

But no mat­ter at what stage the idea, each team is form­ing its own Sin­ga­pore-reg­is­tered com­pany – with de­fined own­er­ship stakes in or­der to re­ceive the $25,000 in fund­ing, which is part of a $2 mil­lion grant from eBay founder Pierre Omid­yar’s phil­an­thropic in­vest­ment firm.

The mo­ment the loan is signed, ideas that have been bat­ted around and per­fected among friends be­come the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty of the teams’ Sin­ga­pore-reg­is­tered firms.

If a team is suc­cess­ful the $25,000 will con­vert into a 12 per­cent eq­uity stake held by Phan­dee­yar, and suc­cess de­pends on rais­ing a round of fund­ing from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors.

The start-ups spent their first Fri­day in the down­town Phan­dee­yar of­fices giv­ing each other feed­back on pitches, which will need to be finely honed by early next year.

“There will be a demo day in early March,” said Jes Kaliebe Petersen, Phan­dee­yar’s ac­cel­er­a­tor di­rec­tor. “In­vestors [will be] com­ing from Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land, Ja­pan, Malaysia that are com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing in tech­nol­ogy in Myan­mar. [The teams] need to demon­strate they have moved to hav­ing a prod­uct in the mar­ket.”

De­mon­stra­ble rev­enue could be use­ful dur­ing pitch­ing, but the most im­por­tant thing is that it is clear the prod­uct has “trac­tion” in the mar­ket, he added. Each team was cho­sen based on a range of cri­te­ria, but it was cru­cial that each was “pas­sion­ate about solv­ing a real prob­lem,” Mr Mad­den said.

Lau­rent Savaete and Mi­randa Phua have co-founded ZigWay, which plans to pro­vide what they call “nano loans” of up to K50,000 to help low-in­come Myan­mar fam­i­lies meet daily ex­penses. The plan is for an ex­ist­ing mi­cro­fi­nance firm to un­der­write the loans, while ZigWay will cre­ate the plat­form to re­ceive ap­pli­ca­tions.

Rarhub is aim­ing to pro­vide a plat­form of­fer­ing list­ings of places to stay – apart­ments, dorms, hotels – for a range peo­ple in lower in­come brack­ets, as op­posed to ex­ist­ing Myan­mar prop­erty web­sites cater­ing to peo­ple will­ing to pay over $1000 a month.

“It’s tar­get­ing stu­dents and young pro­fes­sion­als in lower in­come brack­ets [along with] work­ers and labour­ers mov­ing from ru­ral ar­eas to Yan­gon and others cities,” said Mr Petersen, adding that Rarhub, like Tech­no­holic’s free­lanc­ing plat­form, could help re­place an opaque ex­ist­ing sys­tem run by agents charg­ing high prices.

Kargo, founded by Alex Wicks and Htun Khaing Lynn, will also pro­vide con­nec­tions, in this case be­tween truck drivers and in­di­vid­u­als or busi­ness in need of ship­ping space or an en­tire ve­hi­cle.

An­other thing sev­eral start-ups have in com­mon is that their prod­ucts will in­cor­po­rate an on­line pay­ment sys­tem – some­thing that would have been al­most im­pos­si­ble a year or so ago.

White Merak is us­ing Red Dot, but could also use WaveMoney – a pro­gram part­ner, said Mr Petersen.

Even if some firms have not de­cided on ex­actly how their fees or com­mis­sion struc­ture will work, the spread of mo­bile money tech­nol­ogy in Myan­mar has helped solve the pay­ment so­lu­tion prob­lem for the new gen­er­a­tion of tech start-ups.

“Now is ex­actly the right time to be do­ing this,” said Mr Mad­den.

‘There is a tried and tested ap­proach to rapidly build a suc­cess­ful tech start-up.’ David Mad­den Phan­dee­yar

Photo: Steve Gilmore

Tech­no­holic’s Honey Mya Win prac­tices her pitch at the Phan­dee­yar of­fice.

Photo: Supplied

Phan­dee­yar staff with mem­bers of the six se­lected teams pose for a pic­ture.

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