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Technology Leaders from Cambodia Leave US with Ideas


Cambodian tech entrepreneurs, who participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), visited Token office in San Francisco. (Sreng Leakhena/VOA Khmer)

Five technology experts from Cambodia had never met each other until they made a three-week trip to the United States.

Recently, the five techies returned home to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. They are now excited about working together on creating a start-up company.

The Cambodians met through a State Department project called the International Visitor Leadership Program, or IVLP. During the U.S. visit, they visited technology companies and spoke with tech industry leaders. They discussed how the two sides could work together on future projects.

“Before, when I thought about a million-dollar business, it was only a dream,” said Sopheakmonkol Sok, co-founder of Codingate, a developer of computer software.

Exchanging with Americans and Learning from each other

The purpose of the State Department trip was to take the five Cambodians to small- and medium-sized businesses in the technology industry. They met with tech leaders in five U.S. cities: Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Ohio, Raleigh, North Carolina, and San Francisco and San Jose, in California. The group also went to California’s Silicon Valley, where Sok said they visited “successful technology companies, big and small.”

“…We saw how they operate and manage their business, and we learned from their success,” Sok said.

“We [told] them about the development in our country,” said Langda Chea, who founded and heads a service called BookMeBus. Its app helps users find Cambodian buses, boats and taxis.

Langda Chea, founder and CEO of BookMeBus, talked during a meeting with the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation while he was on a three-week International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). (Sreng Leakhena/VOA Khmer)
Langda Chea, founder and CEO of BookMeBus, talked during a meeting with the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation while he was on a three-week International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). (Sreng Leakhena/VOA Khmer)

Chea listed other changes taking place in Cambodia, such as a fast, low-cost internet infrastructure, an improving business environment and the growth of an educated workforce.

These developments, Chea said, “show potential because it’s an advantage for us if they invest in Cambodia.”

Nicholas Geisinger works as a program officer for the IVLP. He led the Cambodian group during its U.S. visit.

Geisinger says the program is successful when it provides support for an exchange of ideas among the visitors and Americans. It is effective when the visitors learn “and have new ideas by talking with each other in this new environment,” he said. “That’s a huge win for the program, a win for the people of Cambodia, and I can’t wait to see what they will do next.”

The Cambodians say they plan to work together to create a financial technology startup company.

“The advantage is that, when we succeed, it can help Cambodia, it helps the next generation,” Chea said.

Working with local governments

The five visitors said they were surprised how different levels of government in the United States provide support to startup companies.

In San Francisco, the five visited the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. There, they and local technology representatives discussed how local businesses and the city government can support each other.

Siobhan Oat-Judge, who works in the office, says the San Francisco community profits when it supports start-ups.

“They are bringing new ideas, new technology that are helping us to improve the way we are doing things,” Oat-Judge said.

Siobhan Oat-Judge, Pearson fellow at the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation, hosted tech entrepreneurs from Cambodia who participated the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). (Sreng Leakhena/VOA Khmer)
Siobhan Oat-Judge, Pearson fellow at the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation, hosted tech entrepreneurs from Cambodia who participated the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). (Sreng Leakhena/VOA Khmer)

This kind of partnership is not as easy in Cambodia, said Visal In, co-founder of the first Cambodian technology startup supported by Silicon Valley investors.

“Some companies outside Cambodia totally depend on getting grants, and in Cambodia it would be difficult if we did that,” In said. He added that other companies outside Cambodia might be able to support themselves for five or six years without a profit, if they have a good idea.

“In Cambodia, that’s impossible,” he said.

Kounila Keo, one of the two women in the group, said she would like to see the Cambodian government increase its support for startups.

“What I want to have in Cambodia in the future is a better and closer cooperation between the government and private companies in order to enhance the tech startup and tech entrepreneurship initiatives.

I’m Phil Dierking.

Leakhena Sreng reported this story for VOANews. Phil Dierking adapted the report for Learning English. ­­­­George Grow was the editor.

How do you think technology start-up companies can support local communities? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

accelerate - v. to move faster​

entrepreneur - n. a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money​

founder - n. a person who creates or establishes something that is meant to last for a long time (such as a business or school)​

initiative - n. a plan or program that is intended to solve a problem​

start-up - n. a new business​

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