Myanmar has been actively working to improve its society, foreign relations and ease economic sanctions. This has allowed more Burmese people to start their own businesses and, as a result, begin developing its startup ecosystem.
Economic reform in Myanmar
Myanmar is still considered a developing nation with a GDP of $US67.43 billion, but with a GDP per capita growth of 7-8%, there is progress being made. The country is abundant in natural resources such as oil, gas and mining, attracting large amounts of foreign direct investment. Additionally, Myanmar is centrally located in Southeast Asia, with connections to China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos giving the country access to a market of approximately 3 billion people.
A report released by the British Chamber of Commerce highlights how Myanmar is a highly cash-based economy. Less than 20% of the population has access to any formalised financial service with many businesses managing their daily finances on a pure cash basis.
With this being said, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the Burmese economy can reach US$200 billion by 2030, creating more than 10 million service-related jobs in the process. Currently, employment is dominated by the agricultural sector and the government is looking to shift away from this. The Institute concludes that the silver lining to this early stage of development is the country’s “greenfield advantage” – the opportunity exists to build a “fit for purpose economy” to suit the modern age.
The “connectivity revolution”
The rate of development of Myanmar’s technology scene goes far beyond the 6 years it has had to achieve it. This would not have been possible without the assistance of external organisations. International telecoms Ooreedo and Telenor entered Myanmar in 2014 and this has remarkably increased accessibility to phones and access plans. It is hard to believe that previously, mobile SIM cards cost US$200 each.
Multinational tech giant Microsoft has also been working alongside the Myanmar Computer Company to up-skill Burmese people with relevant and practical skills outside traditional industries. They are currently working to help 100,000 people to develop IT-related skills.
Myanmar is also gaining traction with investors. One of the first Myanmar companies to trade on the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) was First Myanmar Investment. Shares of the conglomerate leapt by 19% within its first few days of trading.
However, this same speed of progress will soon be cut short unless challenges pertaining to infrastructure and education are addressed. Currently, the internet infrastructure limits data flow within the country. Due to the lack of Internet Exchange Points, the same function is substituted with a government-controlled gateway. In this way, websites from other countries are inaccessible and vice versa.
Phandeeyar - the creation space
The most important figure in the Burmese startup ecosystem is certainly Phandeeyar. The name Phandeeyar translates into “creation space” and it describes itself as an “innovation lab that is spearheading the development of Myanmar’s tech ecosystem”. Their main activities are investing in Burmese startups, training entrepreneurs and providing overall support.
Phandeeyar opened its doors in 2014 following the Code for Change hackathon. In 2015, it organised events such as startup competitions and hackathons, reaching thousands of community members. The following year saw the biggest developments for Phandeeyar; it launched the first tech startup accelerator, a Makerspace specially for the country’s “hardware hackers”, an open data platform and established the Yangon chapter of Founder Institute.