Socially Conscious Startups Closer to Launch

After four months of developing business plans, five teams of startups focused on addressing social problems were selected as the winners of funds, workspaces and mentorship to turn their ideas into real-world products and services.

With the aim of tackling major issues like food safety, economic stability and access to education through entrepreneurship, the chosen groups will each receive financial and technical help valued at $20,000, according to Impact Hub Phnom Penh, which sponsored the business incubator program with USAID’s Development Innovations.

A member of a social business startup team sets up her product display at Raintree office building in Phnom Penh on Saturday, in a photograph posted to EPIC Cambodia’s Facebook page. (Leiper Thida)

Social enterprises seek to “resolve social challenges, and the revenues made are reinvested to develop the company to continue to serve society,” said Ukthaun Pagna, chief operating officer at social enterprise WaterSHED Ventures Cambodia and one of the program’s judges.

Their growth could transform the business landscape by encouraging goals beyond financial performance, Mr. Pagna said.

The incubator program, which started in October with 11 finalists, aims to help the five winners take their ideas to the next level by developing sustainable business models and, in some cases, working product prototypes.

“The next phase of the program is 100% individually tailored to each team to really accelerate their progress with a dedicated business consultant who they’ll meet regularly with and who will help them to create clear objectives for the next 9 months,” Laura Smitheman, a co-founder of Impact Hub, said in an email.

Other support will include providing access to potential investors and donors, and training sessions that will cover communication and leadership skills, she said.

One team hopes to promote food processing businesses by developing an “incubator center” to promote best practices, team member Hasika Mith said.

“Food safety in Cambodia is a major problem,” Mr. Mith said, explaining that his group planned “to create a center to provide training and services.”

So far, his team, which includes four professors from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia’s department of chemical engineering and food technology and one former student, has developed three products made from soybeans, including soymilk, soy yogurt (“Sogurt”) and soy cookies (“Sokara”).

Moung Vandy, a member of a team developing a reusable storage box to keep produce fresh, said his group had work to do.

“We would hope to have a space [to work], consulting, resources that can link us to interested investors, and more ideas to help our product be produced,” Mr. Vandy said. “What we need the most is further research to improve the box.”

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