Is Cambodia a good place for tech startup?

An open, participatory tech conference held in Phnom Penh late last month provided Cambodian Internet users and tech lovers a chance to interact with those from outside Cambodia. I talked to regular participants to the annual conference of BarCamp Phnom Penh 2010, tech educator Preetam Rai and tech consultant Thomas Wanhoff (whose current base is in Vientiane, Laos).

Updated: October 4, 2010

Eduardo Jezierski, Chief Technology Office at InSTEDD

The BarCamp concept has matured and set its own footprint in Cambodia, it would be strange to imagine a year without it now.

I liked that there were many sessions in Khmer, and that the balance of male/female improved over last year’s (estimating). Also that there were many topics of technology discussed relevant to Cambodia, like modern models of starting your own business, Khmer text to speech, and technologies that are appropriate for local connectivity outside of Phnom Penh.

I see a positive development ; more local ownership and maybe a more visible intent to explore unknown areas and share personal experiences. For example; in other BarCamps I felt people thought they had to be an expert to share their knowledge; but now I saw more sessions where people admitted they were new to topics and presented what they knew so far and more importantly how they learned.
I thought a too much of the organization revolved around sponsors (disclaimer: my organization, InSTEDD, was one of the sponsors); we should remember BarCamp is an open event with supporters and not a private event that happens to also have open sessions. For example, even if a sponsor has a demo on a stage; the agenda should make other rooms available for others to freely meet.

Preetam Rai, Apple Distinguished Educator

The interest  in mobile technology proved to me yet again that IT professionals in Cambodia are well connected with the latest development trends and keen on exploiting them. While in the previous years we saw a lot of sessions where people talked about the possibility of technologies, this time round it was good to see sessions on actual application of these technologies.

The discussion on online payment technologies demonstrated the desire among the local entrepreneurs to run online businesses and tap on e-commerce. The discussion on content management systems also showed that people are interested in developing content sites.

The number of Job available ads at the venue was also an optimistic trend for people looking at IT as a career in Cambodia.

With more younger volunteers taking over from the previous years teams in running the event, I am confident that the BarCamp phenomenon as well as the IT revolution in Cambodia will continue to grow.  I am looking forward to come back next year and I hope that smaller BarCamps can be held in the provinces.

Thomas Wanhoff, tech consultant and podcaster

Barcamp Phnom Penh is setting a standard for Barcamps in Southeast Asia. Comparing a smaller, less developed nation like Cambodia to Thailand, Malaysia or even Singapore, it is astonishing to see how active and professional the IT-Community in Phnom Penh is.

Barcamp Phnom Penh still maintains the spirit of Barcamps as it should be (although the pressure from sponsors was a bit much this year), it is all about learning from each others, sharing information and – important as well, having fun.

With two days of many sessions, it’s quite exhausting. But you will rarely see no smile in the faces of the participants. Also, there are always suprises, like the “How to build a Cambodian Spaceship” session, or “Developing for iPhone.” I learned a lot from Chris Brown this year, who pointed out why Cambodia is a good place for start-ups: “You can dvelop and create the product for the whole world while having low-cost office rent, lower salaries and highly motivated young developers.” I totally aggree with that.

There were many job offers I saw at the Barcamp. It reflects that there is already a small community of start-ups, and my wish is that Phnom Penh develops itself as a kind of a Silicon Valley of the region, where young creative people are working on the future of the Internet generation.

My advice for the next Barcamp is: Do it as before, maybe step back from to many sponsors, keep the spirit and have fun.

If you attended this year’s BarCamp Phnom Penh, please tell us what you think; what don’t like most and what you like less.

Photo courtesy of BarCamp Phnom Penh 2010