Bridging the Startup Gap Between Cambodia and Israel

In this conversation, Cambodia Israel Chamber of Commerce’s president Moran Hadad and Secretary General Deng Dara talk to Kiripost’s Bun Tharum to unveil CICC’s plan to support business and technology in Cambodia.
The first Israeli ambassador Orna Sagiv from Thailand visited Phnom Penh (Photo: supplied)
The first Israeli ambassador Orna Sagiv from Thailand visited Phnom Penh (Photo: supplied)

Known as a startup nation, Israel, through its Chamber of Commerce in Phnom Penh, is working to support the development of Cambodia’s technical system.

Moran Hadad is an Israeli social entrepreneur. For more than three years, he has served as president of CICC, which is trying to build a bridge for Israeli companies to collaborate with Cambodia.

CICC has just started to orchestrate business relationships between the two countries, its Secretary General Deng Dara told Kiripost’s Bun Tharum in an interview at its temporary office in Phnom Penh.

“We want to bring more Israeli technology to Cambodia. We lobby the Israeli business community to come and invest in Cambodia.”

Israeli Chamber of Commerce set to help Cambodia’s tech

Official diplomatic ties between the two nations were established in 1960, but were cut off in 1975. It wasn’t until 1992 when ties were restored, although no Israeli embassy or consulate has opened in the Cambodian capital.

In June, the first Israeli ambassador Orna Sagiv from Thailand paid a three-day visit to Phnom Penh. Currently, there are about 300 Cambodian students in Israel on scholarships. This is more than any other countries in the world, said Dara.

“We’re currently working on organizing Israeli business communities to provide mentorship for Cambodian entrepreneurs and startup founders.”

In June, a number of Cambodian delegates also toured companies to study a variety of agritech businesses, including greenhouse, Israeli-made Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) technology for salmon aquaculture on land, seaweed, biogas, sea water for banana crops, and lab-grown meat, among many others.

A dozen Cambodian startup founders will visit Israel as the CICC has started working to support the Cambodian technology ecosystem in September.

Two Cambodian serial entrepreneurs sitting on CICC’s board as members are Chy Sila, co-founder of Kirisu Farm, a joint Israeli and Cambodian dairy operation, and Kent Sim, co-founder and vice chairman of Sim Brothers PLC, an investment and venture capital firm in Phnom Penh.

A conversation with Israel Chamber of Commerce President

To delve deeper into how the Phnom Penh-based Israeli Chamber of Commerce helps bridge the two economies, Kiripost’s Tharum sat down with Moran Hadad, CICC president. [This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity].

Bun Tharum: Can you elaborate more on what and how CICC is planning to support Cambodia’s tech ecosystem?

Moran Hadad: What we're set to do with the Israeli chamber is to support the development of the tech ecosystem in Cambodia. I personally believe there is tremendous potential and in terms of human resources in Cambodia, the ingredients needed for success.

So, I really believe the future of Cambodia is R & D [research and development] and tech development.

The process has started. And we are very happy to play a role in helping it improve and how we do it first of all through organizing delegations to Israel, creating bridges, because Israel has done very successfully what Cambodia is attempting to do today.

And Israel has done this more than once.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, contact the experts that already did it. They have the experience, so let’s learn from their experience and take the essence of it and apply it to Cambodia. So we can have faster growth and faster success here.

The other thing we do is organize events that I believe will be the next step, and bring the know-how to Cambodia.

We also have consultancy programs, mentorship programs, and also for next year a full-fledged entrepreneurship program. But we don't create incubator, accelerators. We don't come to compete. We come to support what exists.

Bun Tharum: What are your thoughts on the current Cambodian startup ecosystem, and what is missing or needed to further improve? And can the chamber jump in to play the role?

Moran Hadad: The current ecosystem, I think there's a lot of good that is done. I also think there’s a need to be professionalized. And there's a big need in education for investors. This is something that we will try to contribute with investors. Investors need to understand how to invest in startups and how to encourage startups development.

Those are things that we can contribute. We have this experience and we can help investors understand better, but we have also helped startups to be more efficient in their development.

Another thing that is missing is the understanding by Cambodian people that hurdles are a good thing. Difficulty is a good thing. If you manage to push through difficult hurdles, that's the only way you can achieve success. So that's also one of the things we're trying to push.

And if you look at the ecosystem system in a horizontal way, there are a lot of holes. One example is the fact that a lot of young Cambodians are not going into technology. And the reason for going into technology is because there's no reward.

We need to build a system where there is a reward to choose the difficult path of technological development in science rather than go into real estate or sales. Not that it's bad, but it just contributes less to the development of the country in terms of technology and R&D.

Those are things that we also do with schools. We’re looking into education programs; we're looking into open scholarships for Cambodian people in Israel.

That goes for the establishment of an official connection between Israel and Cambodia.

Bringing in an ambassador here was an important step, but also bringing officials from Cambodia to Israel to meet the Israeli officials and slowly start to create bridges not only between sectors, but also between the countries.

Bun Tharum: What are the key activities the chamber is doing to support Cambodian startups and founders?

Moran Hadad: We're going to have mentorship and a consultancy program for members. We're going to have big events that will bring know-how into the country. We also work to support founders in terms of what they need to evolve through the programs that we’ll launch next year.

The delegation’s back and forth. Bringing Israeli know-how, not only Israeli, but mainly the real know-how [experts] into Cambodia trying to build the bridge where Israeli companies can collaborate with Cambodia developers, so there's a win-win for both sides.

Cambodian developers have the chance to work with the very professional ecosystem and learn from it, but actually can be trained by the Israeli. The Israeli can have a source of manpower. This is what is lacking in manpower as Israel is a small country.