Since opening the telecoms market in 2013, Myanmar has been experiencing leapfrogging digital advancements that are shaping the country’s social and economic landscapes. As of October 2017, the internet penetration accounts to 47% of the population, a dramatic improvement from over 1% at the beginning of the decade. Smartphone penetration is also remarkably high at 70%, topping both the Asia-Pacific average (53%), and even the European average (68%).
Although the country is still lacking in terms of physical infrastructure and regulations to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship, there is a number of catalysts for young Myanmar innovators to tap into the startup industry. One such catalyst would be Phandeeyar: often described as the heart of Myanmar’s startup and entrepreneur community. Phandeeyar is basically an innovation lab that is spearheading the development of the country’s tech ecosystem through various initiatives such as hackathons, accelerators, makerspaces and the Yangon chapter of Founder Institute, just to name a handful.
To date, 9 successful entrepreneurs in Myanmar have been featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia, with a number of them being women entrepreneurs. With the ongoing expansion of digital facilities and the increasing familiarity of the consumers, Myanmar has yet to produce more tech startups that will find their success in both local and regional markets.
Here’s our list of 5 emerging Myanmar startups that we should keep an eye on in the next few years. ProspectsASEAN talked to the corresponding Co-Founders to get the latest updates on their startups and their opinion on the outlook of the Myanmar startup landscape in 2018.
360°ed uses Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and other innovative technologies to transport Myanmar teachers to world-class learning environments, and to expose the students onto interactive and dynamic learning atmospheres. Aiming to transform Myanmar’s education as a whole, this ambitious EduTech social enterprise originates from Singularity University at the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley, and effectively started operating in Myanmar in December 2016. Thousands of students, parents and teachers, primarily from rural areas, have experienced its immersive VR footage, and participated in a series of hackathon events.
This startup also incorporates 360 Maker School that facilitates hands-on innovation in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). Currently under development and testing, 360°ed AR learning tools will soon be integrated into primary school curricula on a nation-wide scale. Hla Hla Win, Co-Founder and CEO, mentioned that 360°ed will also be launching its products and services in the ASEAN market, starting with Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
2) Chate Sat
Chate Sat, which can literally be translated into connect, is an online pool of Myanmar freelancers working on part-time projects with employers seeking for such services. It currently has over 7,500 freelancers and 1,000 employers working on more than 500 projects. Locally, this is a one-of-a-kind platform for both parties, ensuring secure payments and project quality, and replacing the previously established informal Facebook groups, its only competitors in the country so far.
1 of the 4 alumni from the Phandeeyar Accelerator 2016, Chate Sat has since then received a 6-figure funding from 3 local and international venture capital firms: Singapore-based Vulpes Investment Management Ltd., Theta Capital, and a Myanmar-based angel investor. Co-Founder and CEO Honey Mya Win said, “We expect to get 10,000 freelancers and 1,500 clients by the end of 2018, and the focus is on getting more compact and qualified active users on Chate Sat.”
3) White Merak
White Merak is a studio that creates its own Myanmar comics as well as provides a commercial platform for cartoonists and comic artists from all corners of the country. Comics enjoyed immense popularity on printed media for nearly a century, but rapid digitization seems to have wiped out the audience of senior cartoonists. White Merak will not only revitalize the golden days for those artists, but also enable career opportunities for young talents. It has also developed a comic reader application with a unique function called Magicomix – the display of animations of the characters, such as superheroes flying, fire, smoke, and more.
The startup has a simple, effective, and affordable subscription model, giving the first issue of each title for free. Each subsequent download would then cost 500 Kyats (~ US$0.35). This is yet another successful cohort of the Phandeeyar Accelerator 2016, White Merak stands at a value of US$600,000 as of July 2017, and is expecting to exceed 1 million registered users by the end of 2018.
4) Flexible Pass
Flexible Pass is the first ever fitness pass in Myanmar that allows the users to enjoy fitness facilities at various gyms/fitness centres in Yangon. The available facilities include gym usage, swimming, rock climbing, indoor skydiving and over 80 different types of fitness classes at 29 unique partners spreading 43 locations across the city. It has attracted more than 1,000 registered users since its launch in July 2017. In the coming future, Flexible Pass plans to expand their services to other major cities in Myanmar, and also expand their fitness pass to include other facilities such as spa and facial treatments.
In addition to graduating from the Yangon chapter of Founder Institute, Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneur development program, Flexible Pass was accepted to the Westerwelle Young Founders Program in Berlin, Germany. Recently at the ASEAN Rice Bowl Start-up Awards 2017, Flexible Pass won 2 awards – Startup of the Year and Best Healthy Lifestyle Tech Startup – for Myanmar in the national level and earned 3 nominations at the ASEAN level.
GoP (Go-P) is a one-stop platform for local travellers to arrange their transportation, hotels, food, trekking and local experts for short trips within Myanmar. In a country where tourism is booming and foreign tourists are primarily catered, it takes advantage of the growing but often overlooked market of local people with “itchy feet”.
An alumnus of the Phandeeyar Accelerator 2016, GoP now has partnered with 55 tour companies and over 150 local experts for monthly website visitors of 15,000 and 55,000 Facebook outreach. The firm also won US$10,000 at the 2017 Mekong Business Initiative Innovation Grants supported by Asia Development Bank. The CEO Nyunt Win Aung said, “GoP is expecting to hit 3,000 bookings by the end of 2018, and plans to expand its destinations within the neighbouring countries.”
Myanmar Startup Landscape Outlook in 2018
Judging by the numbers, these startups look very promising and highly likely to meet their targets. Nevertheless, as mentioned by the startup Co-Founders, in addition to economic liberalization for telecoms, Myanmar’s e-commerce needs improvement for the online transactions and raised the scarcity of funding opportunities. Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that Myanmar’s economy is on track for a GDP growth of 8.0% in 2018, the highest among ASEAN countries. Provide concrete foundations for the Myanmar startup ecosystem, and the economy can be propelled to even greater heights in the future!
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