Myanmar's democratic transition has made chasing down dreams a bit easier for entrepreneurs, according to the president of the Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs’ Association (MYEA).
The key difference since Myanmar began to open up is that now, with a good idea and enough capital, “you can do it”, said U Wai Phyo at a media roundtable for Myanmar’s fourth annual Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) yesterday. “Before, if you had a good idea but [no] connections, forget it.”
This year, MYEA and private equity firm Anthem Asia are teaming up with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), German Development Group (GIZ) and non-profit Building Markets to support the weeklong event encouraging entrepreneurship in Myanmar.
Global Entrepreneurship Week, celebrated worldwide in 150 countries, will take place in Yangon, Mandalay, Mawlamyine, Maubin, Mudon, Taunggyi, Bago, Hpa-an and Thandwe this year from November 16 to 22.
Despite its proximity to Myanmar’s historic upcoming elections, the week will not feature events around the country’s electoral race, according to Emmanuel Maillard of Building Markets.
The agenda already features 32 events spanning entrepreneurship in art, speed mentoring, and prepping for growth and investment, according to a press release.
“In a frontier market like Myanmar, entrepreneurs are hungry for resources like mentors who will help them grow. GEW is crucial in creating this ecosystem where connections can be developed and tapped into long after the event is over,” said Building Markets CEO Jennifer Holt in a statement.
Myanmar opened up in 2011, with liberalisation bringing a wealth of opportunities and interest from foreign investors. Reforms have begun to overhaul whole sectors, including telecoms and banking. Meanwhile, the democratic transition has also affected how enterprises conduct themselves.
“What we see in that big change is businesses have to completely re-orient themselves in how they do business,” said Building Markets CEO Jennifer Holt. “Multi-national corporations, development contractors or NGOs have certain expectations and standards in place that these businesses must meet.”
“It’s all that legwork, behavioural changes, ways of doing business that have to change quite dramatically in order [for small local businesses] to become competitive,” she added.
Though small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) employ more than 9 out of every 10 Myanmar workers and make up 90pc of the country’s companies, they continue to come up against problems around finance, training, technology and talent, a press release said. Meanwhile, dusty regulations remain on the books and the environment around getting a business going is still relatively hostile. A 2015 report by the World Bank Group ranked Myanmar dead last out of 189 economies for starting a business.
“What we need is development. Entrepreneurship needs to be promoted,” U Wai Phyo said.
With entrepreneurship a hot topic from Silicon Valley to Golden Valley, Myanmar is gearing up for another round of knowledge-sharing in November. The ecosystem has a long way to go, as enterprises will have to step up their game to compete globally and move toward improving in areas such as corporate governance and business development.
“You have enormous resourcefulness, drive, and innovation on the part of entrepreneurs in a market where there are a lot of limitations and constraints to growth,” Ms Holt said. “Businesses are starting and growing.”
“When you think about the opportunity to nurture and accelerate the emergence of those kinds of entrepreneurs, the potential is just tremendous.”