Friday, August 31, 2012

GlobalPittsburgh Connects Local Entrepreneur with Visiting Cambodian Officials to Discuss Program to Provide Assistance to Asian Startups

Can a small-business accelerator program similar to those assisting business startups in this country help entrepreneurs in Cambodia?

That was the question debated over breakfast recently in a meeting between a visiting delegation of Cambodian leaders and Pittsburgh entrepreneur David Palmer, who is developing a program to provide guidance and startup funding to entrepreneurs in Cambodia with the backing of American investors interested supporting economic development in the growing Southeast Asian country.

Pittsburgh entrepreneur David Palmer
meets with officials from Cambodia. 
“I believe that economic growth is largely driven by entrepreneurs, and that by identifying people with good ideas we can surround them with the expertise and the guidance to help them develop those ideas and bring them to market,” Palmer told the visitors.

The delegation of representatives from the government, education and banking sectors was brought to the region by GlobalPittsburgh through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). They also met local officials in government, economic development, finance and business.

Palmer is co-founder and former CEO of Bossa Nova Robotics, a firm founded on the vision of creating dynamic and engaging experiences with innovative robots. The global commercialization of that vision resulted in his being named a 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Palmer has started a new non-profit organization called Bam Bam International to provide guidance and information about access to capital and new market to entrepreneurs in Cambodia, where he started working on community assistance projects through his church three years ago.

“We were working on leadership development, English language teaching programs, education and economic development,” he said. “And I looked around and saw that there were lots of opportunities for business there, and great opportunities for the Cambodian people.”

While the level of technology innovation has not advanced to high levels in Cambodia, opportunities exist for business development in the processing of the country’s abundant natural resources such as bamboo, rubber and even hot chilis, all of which are mostly shipped to neighboring countries of Vietnam and Thailand, members of the group said.

Growing industries to provide value to those natural resources could provide a boost to the Cambodian economy that would help the nation’s people while also providing opportunities for socially-responsible investors from the United States and other countries, Palmer said. 

Members of the delegation agreed. Ms. Serey Chea, Deputy Director General, Banking Supervision Department of the National Bank of Cambodia, said such a business accelerator program would be welcome in her country, where her institution is already trying to familiarize citizens about business financing opportunities. 

“That’s what is missing right now,” she said. “I think the Cambodian people are very entrepreneurial but they are not well connected. People are not used to working with banks. Money comes from family or from personal connections. We are working to help people understand how financial institutions work. If they received proper training for organizations like yours [Bam Bam] there is no reason they could not get bank financing.” 

In addition to Chea, other visitors included Mr. Sovannara Em, researcher at the International Relations Institute of Cambodia at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, and Ms. Somethea Pen, Deputy Director General, Research and Judicial Development, in the Ministry of Justice. 

Palmer recently traveled to Cambodia to develop support, to learn more about permitting, supplier contracts, business start-up costs, and to identify prospective office space. He said he welcomed the opportunity to meet with the delegation through GlobalPittsburgh and looked forward to communicating with them and possibly meeting with them again during future visits to their country as he starts identifying industries and entrepreneurs to work with. 

“We want to capture that and retain that economic gain in Cambodia,” he said. “This is a model that works in the United States. I have been through it myself. It’s a very effective concept and we think it can work in Cambodia.” 

The national itinerary for the group was arranged by Graduate School – International Institute in Washington, D.C.

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