Digital contest inspires Myanmar start-ups

Participating start-ups at the Digital Winners Asia (Photo-Myanmar Eleven)

IN a developing country with fewer than 50 start-ups, Telenor group’s recent Digital Winners Asia event has stimulated Myanmar start-ups to get connected to the global economy. 


The first Asia-wide start-up event, held on Tuesday and Wednesday, gathered eight start-ups from five Asian countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia – and also welcomed the presence of some growing Myanmar start-ups. 

A Thai start-up took top honours.

The competing start-ups represented a diversity of industries: marketing services, energy, artificial intelligence, tourism and education. They were MyanZen from Myanmar, Skootar and TakeMe Tour from Thailand, Vase from Malaysia, Buzzally and Socian from Bangladesh, and EcoEnergy and Fori Mazdoori from Pakistan.

Paing Hein Htet, chief operating officer of MyanZen, expressed his delight at participating in the competition, as it meant a lot to the start-up.

“This event brought to us other talented start-ups in the region, and international experts from Google, Golden Gate Ventures and Telenor Group who actively shared their experience and expertise. As it aimed at penetrating not only the Myanmar market but also the regional market, we came up with new ideas and inspirations,” he said.

“As we had a chance to discuss and share knowledge with other start-ups, we came to know more about their markets, and could decide if our products would be suitable for their markets or not, and thereby we got ideas to find ways to expand.”

MyanZen provides automated platform for sellers on social media to sell effectively. It is currently running the Beta version, and is expected to launch at the end of 2016, once it has 100 sellers. It aims to provide sellers with a fast and competitive option for social commerce. 

"Now, we have linked with Facebook. Additionally, we will integrate with Viber, LINE and Instagram in the near future. So a seller can post to multiple social networks with just one tap. It will definitely lead to more convenient order tracking," he said.

Aung Ye Kyaw, managing director of White Merak, a comic-reader app that provides the very first marketplace for Myanmar comic artists, also found the event helpful. He said it shed light on how the start-up ecosystems in other countries function, and provided some facts about other countries. 


“Funding is vital but we need to consider who is about to fund us. In our case, we need investors who understand and have a passion for comics. If not, we will not get far. This event helped us understand what types of investor want what kinds of start-up,” he said. 

Nyunt Win Aung, co-founder of GoP Travels, which provides a one-stop platform for booking tour packages targeting local travellers, shared a similar view.

“This event was cool and had great discussions with other neighbourhood start-up founders. We got some seed funding from Phandeeyar and Telenor Myanmar,” he said.

Kingdom shines

At the event, Thailand’s TakeMe Tour took top honours as “Digital Winners Asia Champion 2016”. After their winning pitch, the team will return to their home market with 100,000 Norwegian kroner (more than Bt427,000) in initial expansion funds, and a wealth of support, networking and knowledge to expand their business into neighbouring markets.

TakeMe Tour was created by two young talents, Jinda-Apiraksa Amornched and Noppon Anukunwithaya. The Bangkok-based firm focuses on providing consumer access to the largest collection of one-day tours in Thailand

According to Jinda-Apiraksa, chief executive and co-founder of TakeMe Tour, the firm focuses on growth in Thailand first, and then will expand into Myanmar starting with the funds from Telenor Group. 

“An event like DWA is a dream come true for start-ups like us. We started with the DTAC Accelerate programme and have advanced to this point to be able look at expansion into other markets. Then to have the calibre of speakers and their personal advice at the event is priceless,” he said.

With an ambitious target of becoming the largest marketplace made by the local experts, the start-up has now partnered with more than 10,000 experts in 45 cities across Thailand. Jinda-Apiraksa believes the company will become successful in a short period of time, as everyone loves to travel. 

Johanna Staaf, Telenor Group’s director of new ventures, said all the teams were strong and dynamic contenders.

“Bringing together some of the brightest start-ups from across Asia in our first Digital Winners Asia event was not only inspiring, but an exciting indication of the extraordinary talent and growth in this region. On a broader scale, having the ability to host such diverse groups under numerous innovative categories in a market with a burgeoning tech future like Myanmar is a true honour,” she said.

Gunnar Sellaeg, Telenor Group’s head of product innovation, said the event was a natural move for the Norwegian telecommunications company as it experienced strong growth in this region.  “We believe there is a great innovative and entrepreneurial spirit growing here. The participating start-ups represent the best of the best from our market-led accelerator programmes and we are excited to build this platform for the next stage of their growth,” he said.