Myanmar’s mobile subscriptions remain oversaturated at 105% of the population as of January 2019, a slight increase from 101% last year. The GDP growth is projected to be robust at 7.2% for 2019, the highest among ASEAN member states. With a series of investment fairs and digitization of company registration, the government is eager to attract foreign investors and to enhance public-private partnerships.
At the same time, there are certain inhibitors facing local businesses, especially startups. In mid-2018, the country witnessed rapid depreciation of Kyat against USD, which has not recovered since. The international backlash of the political conflicts continues to stagnate the tourist arrivals which accounted a mere 3.5 million as of December 2018; the industry hit a record high in 2015 with 4.7 million visitors.
Last year, ProspectsASEAN published the list of Five Emerging Myanmar Startups In 2018, and despite the hardships, these startups did remarkably well. Here is a brief recap: 360ED signed MoU with the Ministry of Education and partnerships in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and the US; the co-founders of Chate Sat were featured in Forbes 30 Under 30; Flexible Pass secured a six-digit investment; and GoP is implementing digital transformation for tour operators with real-time seating plan.
Without further ado, here are the top five Myanmar startups we should keep an eye on for 2019:
Expa is a unified solution for sales, marketing and customer support. By boosting customer engagements with promptness, relevancy and personalization, their AI solutions are displacing the manual chores at large enterprises, and they recently initiated freemium versions for SMEs and individuals. The client list boasts Samsung, OPPO, Nivea, Yangon Regional Government and more, and the firm is already profitable without any external investments.
Established in 2017, this machine learning startup proudly presents the first and the only Burmese Natural Language Understanding (NLU) engine that can overcome the painful issue of Burmese font encoding. “We need to solve local problems with local solutions,” said Swan, CEO and Founder. “It is also important for startups in emerging markets to be self-sustainable.”
RecyGlo is a waste management and recycling platform with a mission to process materials in a safe, non-hazardous manner. Their B-to-B model includes pick-up services and awareness trainings for waste segregation, while their C-to-C platform connects domestic sellers to waste scavengers and junk shops. “We are currently processing 100 tons of waste per month, which is projected to grow threefold by the end of the fourth quarter,” said Okka Phyo Maung, Co-founder and CMO.
The startup kicked off as a Winner at Phandeeyar Startup Challenge in 2017 and has since garnered numerous awards and partnerships, including the New Zealand government and Alibaba. RecyGlo recently has been accepted to Katapault Ocean Accelerator in Norway, along with an investment of USD 150,000.
MMTutors is an online platform that bridges students with the tutors for various learning purposes such as K12 academia, languages, vocational skillsets and lifestyle. In addition to endorsements from prolific local teachers, the startup integrates a comprehensive screening for the tutor recruitment and subsequent feedback from the clients in order to promote quality relationships between tutor-student-parent in the intensively demanding high school sector.
In October 2018, this EdTech startup secured five-digit investment from local investment firms. The team graduated from the second cohort of Phandeeyar Accelerator, and was awarded the Fan Favorite Award at Top 100 Qualifiers: Myanmar by e27. Co-founder and Director Wai Phyo Aung said, “We aim to facilitate over 15,000 teaching hours from a pool of 2,000 tutors by the end of the year.”
4. Shwe Bite
Shwe Bite, literally translated as Golden Bite, delivers home-cooked foods to the customers. Their digital marketplace displays an array of dishes and accompanying home cooks, predominantly women, and facilitates the pickup and delivery services. Since the operational launch in 2018, the startup has provided 30,000+ orders, and CEO Moe Htet explains, “We are collaborating with PUM Netherlands to implement Shwe Bite 2.0 with better food display and smooth operations.”
As a graduate from the second cohort of Phandeeyar Accelerator, Shwe Bite is probably the most awarded Myanmar startup of 2018, picking up awards and fellowships as a Myanmar representative in Israel, China, Indonesia, Germany and Singapore.
Klenic is a tech startup specializing in SAAS (Software As A Service) with the aim of digitizing Myanmar clinics. By replacing thousands of inefficient paperwork, their platform reduces medical errors and enhances the privacy and security of patient data. Since the platform launch in September 2018, they have handled over 85,000 patient medical records across 18 clinics in Yangon. “I returned to Myanmar to disrupt the way healthcare is delivered in the country,” said Kieran, CEO of Klenic.
As the Winner of the inaugural Myanmar Youth Technopreneurship, Klenic was among the Myanmar delegation at Seedstars Asia Summit in 2018. The startup targets to expand to 100 clinics in other major cities by 2019 as they propose a partnership with the Ministry of Health and Sports.
Challenges and Opportunities for Myanmar Startups in 2019
Prospects for Myanmar startups seem vibrant and promising, with of course, underlying challenges. The Founders have a consensus that attracting and retaining the talent pool is the most daunting matter, followed by the inadequate infrastructure in transportation and financing. Despite the high penetration of smart phones and the internet, digital literacy is a tricky issue since most people only know Facebook and Messenger. Nevertheless, the startups are optimistic about their trajectory and can always get their way around. The median age stands at 28 years, inflation is forecasted to stabilize at 5% during 2018-2019, and the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2025, over half of the world’s consuming class will live within a five-hour air journey from Myanmar. Once equipped with the right support from public entities and private investors, these startups shall rise to their fullest potential.