The Hunt for the Holy Grail in Israel to Build Cambodia As a Startup Kingdom

A delegation of 16 Cambodian startup founders and entrepreneurs embarked on a special mission to Israel to learn how it has risen to become the global “startup nation” and bring home tips for success.
Cambodian tech delegates in Israel (Photo: supplied)
Cambodian tech delegates in Israel (Photo: supplied)

Early this month, a dozen startup founders and entrepreneurs from Cambodia landed in Israel on a special mission to find an answer to the trillion dollar question: how a nation of 10 million people has become home to the largest number of startups per capita in the world that contributes 15 percent of the nation’s $400 billion GDP?

A total of 16 Cambodian delegates spent four days in Israel to learn about the essence of its success. From both the government and private sector, the Cambodian delegate hopped from one meeting to another with key players in the Israeli tech ecosystem.

Chea Langda, of BookMeBus, and Keo Reasmey, of UDAYA Technology, were among the Cambodian tech delegation, led by Cambodia - Israel Chamber of Commerce (CICC).

“Being small is not a disadvantage if you have strong support from your parents and uncles. You still can grow tall, very tall and sustainable indeed,” Langda, a co-founder and CEO, told Kiripost of what he learnt from his recent trip to Israel.

Chea Langda, CEO and co-founder of BookMeBus (Photo: supplied)
Chea Langda, CEO and co-founder of BookMeBus (Photo: supplied)

Metaphorically, “By saying “parent” I meant the government, while “uncles” refers to the government’s alliances. The government of Israel has invested heavily on building the startup ecosystem and R&D in the country, from providing funds to extended support for market expansion,” said Langda, who in 2015 founded startup BookMeBus, the one-stop shop for buying bus tickets in Cambodia.

After numerous workshops and meetings with key players and entrepreneurs crunched into the five-day trip from September 3 to 8, Langda said, “As an Israeli early stage startup, you are funded with a half a million dollar grant to focus on your R&D.”

He added that once an Israeli startup is ready to go to market, its government has a special agency of market experts, legal advisors, investors and connections in the US market ready to support growth. The Israeli government also facilitates co-investment with private firms and investors to lower the risk and push innovation forward.

“Thus, every startup in the country is urged to think globally from day one,” he said.

Langda added, “Our Cambodian government’s implementation approaches are not very different from Israel.” He said through the establishment of Khmer Enterprise (KE), Techo Startup Center by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and many more, a Cambodian startup ecosystem is now developing to replicate what Israel has achieved with their startup ecosystem growth today.

While developing a supportive startup ecosystem is vital, the strategic market for the growth stage is equally important.

“Our government just needs to strategically put more support in our growth-stage startups to expand the market beyond the border, especially in ASEAN countries with all the great advantages we have so that we can have more role models to look up to and pave the way.”

Why Cambodia should aim for centaur startups, instead of unicorns

Reasmey, who founded his tech company in 2010, sees the trip as a way to compare the Cambodian tech ecosystem with its counterpart in Israel. What fascinated him, among other things, is the great contributions from overseas Israelis who have returned home to build and transform its startup scene.

He added, “Most successful startup founders in Israel are aged over 40.”

Keo Reasmey, Managing Director of UDAYA, in Israel (Photo: supplied)
Keo Reasmey, Managing Director of UDAYA, in Israel (Photo: supplied)

“I love the fact that the rich human capital of experienced, intellectual Israelis return home to educate their younger generation at universities,” Reasmey told Kiripost upon returning from his study tour with the delegation.

Building startups with B2B business models for export, especially Intellectual Property, has captivated Reaksmey the most. He said Israel has moved from a startup nation to a smart-up nation advancing in deep tech, including semiconductors, artificial intelligence, space, and sensors, among others.

“Tech innovations for the development of non-trivial new intellectual properties from the startup nation really impressed me.”

Moran Hadad, the CICC president who led the delegation, wrote in a brief, “Having strong armed forces and a constant threat for your survival is definitely not a compulsory element for success. It is merely an accelerator, a constant reminder you can never take your foot off the gas.”

He added that the way “to circumvent this Israeli reality in Cambodia is to find a way to constantly remind our future tech leaders of this necessity, as well as to educate the general public towards understanding the stake and embracing those who dare to try”.

A visito a bioengineering lab that supports the development of startups in Israel (Photo: supplied)
A visito a bioengineering lab that supports the development of startups in Israel (Photo: supplied)

The visit allowed the Cambodian entrepreneurs “to receive the largest view possible on the Israeli tech ecosystem, how it was built, what are the secrets of its success, and the prerequisite to emulate it and duplicate it in Cambodia”.

The future of Cambodia is R&D and tech development, Moran told Kiripost in a July interview.

Bridging the Startup Gap Between Cambodia and Israel

“The process has started. We are very happy to play a role in helping it improve and how we do it first of all is 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.”

Home to about 10 million people in a country that is about eight times smaller than Cambodia, Israel has risen to become the world renowned ‘Startup Nation’, a global innovation and tech hub, especially in agritech.

The visits included The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israeli Innovation Authority, Elementor, Deloitte Catalyst, N-Soft, Sensi AI, Octopus Systems, Playwork, IBI Tech Fun, 8200 Impact, Start-up nation central, Eco Ocean, Talenya, Technion, Colab square, and Export institute.

The delegates also met with those who build Israeli startups, including AgriFriend, Arcadia Math, Biotic, RedC Biotech, codebar nanotech, EFA Technologies, and SolOr.

Of the delegation, a number of high profile ecosystem builders and tech leaders and entrepreneurs are KE’s Chhieng Vanmunin, Sabay Digital Media’s Chy Sila, Khmer24’s Ty Rady, BLOC Delivery’s Khy Tykea, PillTech’s Chea Vireak, Business Cambodia’s Sam Kosal, and Westline Education Group’s Pech Bolen.

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