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Biz / TechTuesday, June 27

Myanmar's Startup Revolution

Myanmar's rapid development since the end of military rule is nurturing a new wave of young entrepreneurs. Launching a new business was nearly unthinkable just a few years ago. But now, with the soaring popularity of smartphones, startups are poised to revolutionize the market with innovative business concepts.

On the very first “Demo Day” for tech startups in Myanmar, 4 young entrepreneurs are pitching their ideas. They were selected from among 80 applicants.

“We created mobile comic application for all the comic readers in Myanmar.”

Venture capitalists and angel investors were invited to listen and consider injecting funds.

"We’ve got very rich home-grown talents here and I think I‘ve been surprised by the entrepreneurial mindset of people here," says one of them.

First prize goes to Honey Mya Win. She founded her startup with her programmer sister less than a year ago after quitting her job with a Chinese telecom firm.

“Myanmar is open up and these investors are coming in, so that will be wise to start it right now," she says.

Her startup, “Chate Sat,” -- meaning “connect” in Burmese -- is a platform linking freelancers with work opportunities.

The 4,000 or so registered freelancers have skills from writing content to developing websites. They can apply for projects directly, without having to pay large sums to a middleman.

"Our dream is to let people know that Chate Sat is here to help people out," she says.

Myanmar is in an era of rapid digital transformation. More people are using the internet, thanks to cheap smart phones and competition among telecom firms.

Myanmar's dramatic opening-up and the rapid spread of smart phones has created a healthy breeding ground for startups, according to the pitch contest's organizer.

"Three years ago, their businesses would not just have been viable. So, this technology leapfrog is essential in enabling the kind of activities," says Jes Kaliebe Petersen, Director of Phandeeyar Accelerator.

Koe Koe Tech's app is called “Maymay,” meaning “mother.” It's a health support service for pregnant women and mothers.

The app has Q-and-As about pregnancy and childcare, and chat rooms where users can discuss health issues. Users can quickly find a doctor, or even shop for baby goods.

New mother Thandar Aung has been using it since she was pregnant. Even living in a suburb of Yangon, she says, reliable medical advice is hard to find.

"I can use the app to check what kind of food to give my children. I can get useful information direct from my smartphone, so it’s very convenient," she says.

"With access to high-quality health information, high quality health provider, high quality health products, will improve health outcome of Myanmar. We definitely want to reduce… kind of the simplest things, maternal and children-under-5 mortality rates in the country," says Koe Koe Tech Co-founder Michael Lwin.

Most Myanmar startups are still struggling to get funding and make money. But after decades of isolation, these entrepreneurs are making a valuable contribution to the country's development.