Project Hub Yangon, Myanmar’s first start-up incubator

Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar

In 2012 the first incubator and co-working space in Myanmar, initiated by a former World Bank employee with expertise on economic development and innovation for developing countries, opened their doors to a new generation of young, creative and motivated people.

In a country like Myanmar, marked by decades of dictatorship and economic isolation and continued challenges in starting businesses, the creation of innovative and open incubation spaces is very challenging. Project Hub was not only the first business incubator but also the first co-working space in the country. Since Project Hub Yangon started its activities a growing start-up ecosystem can be seen. It has also developed start-up programs together with the Yangon University to foster an entrepreneurial culture in Myanmar’s academic world.

In March 2016, Project Hub Yangon launched the Entrepreneurship Incubation Internship program, supporting three young Myanmar entrepreneurs to develop businesses and bring new products to market.

Originally published by the International Community of Practice for Sustainable Urban Development CONNECTIVE CITIES: http://www.connective-cities.net/en/connect/good-practices/project-hub-yangon/


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City information
City
Yangon (Rangoon)

Main functions
Country's largest city; former capital of Myanmar. The city is the country's center for trade, industry, real estate, media, entertainment and tourism.

Main industries / business
The service sector is the main driver of Yangon's growth, especially the telecommunication and transportation sectors.

Political structure
The Yangon City Development Committee is the administrative body of Yangon; the committee's chairman is the mayor of Yangon.

Administrative structure
Four districts divided into 33 townships. Each township is administered by its own committee.

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Background and objectives

In 2010, after decades of military dictatorship in Myanmar, a new President was elected and a process of opening up the country towards foreign interactions and investments was spurred. For entrepreneurs the start-up environment was heavily restrictive, and the policy framework presented extreme challenges. 

When the Project Hub Yangon was founded its goal was to create an incubation program to help Myanmar’s innovative entrepreneurs to launch their businesses or projects in a quick, cheap, and successful way by providing facilities, workshops, mentorship, coaching and access to finance. Furthermore the program seeks to raise the visibility of Myanmar’s entrepreneurs, and particularly women, in other parts of the world. 

Implementation

When Project Hub Yangon was still in the planning phase, six-month research was done to accurately analyze the national conditions and define challenges and fields of action. Based on the results of the research an incubator and co-working program offered a range of services like a creative working space, mentorship and coaching, customized training, introductions to investors, publicity and not-evident basic infrastructural services like electricity and fast internet connection.

The hubs unique selling proposition is:

  • its excellent mentorship and training quality, 
  • a community-building and technology transfer focus 
  • an international network accessibility. 

In addition, women roles in entrepreneurial environments were fostered through events and women-only incubation programs.

Furthermore, Project Hub Yangon is creating start-up programs together with the Yangon University as part of the USAID-funded ADEPT program in partnership with the Kelly School of Business at the University of Indiana to foster an entrepreneurial culture in Myanmar’s academic world. 

Results and impacts

Myanmar’s entrepreneurial capacity was demonstrated through the first foreign investment in Myanmar’s startups. Two out of five start-ups from the incubation program got investments afterwards and one of these companies is now valued at 2m US Dollars. Extensive media coverage increased international awareness and attracted many new actors.

Project Hub was not only the first business incubator but also the first co-working space in the country. As commercial rents in Yangon are enormously high, this shared workspace allows freelancers, entrepreneurs and young start-ups to work in a more professional way without having to pay exorbitant rents. PHY was also linked to an MBA program at Yangon’s University where the founders teach entrepreneurship skills and encourage young professionals to start their own businesses. 

Barriers and challenges

The Project Hub Yangon (PHY) had to struggle especially with a non-existant support system, very few potential investors or business angels, complex regulations and constantly changing policies. Legal security is hardly guaranteed which leads to a lot of uncertainty and enormous difficulties of making binding agreements. Ongoing political changes related to Myanmar’s opening process bring some foreign support into the country, but the priorities are more located in political fields of actions like anti-corruption strategies and the organization of elections.

Lessons learned and transferability

To enhance education for entrepreneurship, more region-specific research on the question how entrepreneurship can be stimulated should be done. Nonetheless, political, economic and societal transformation is in progress and the entrepreneurial energy is a promising factor for the countries development. In addition to political constraints, cultural and linguistic impediments are presenting most obstacles. Traditional skepticism towards lending funds from outside of family structures as well as insufficient English language skills are other unfavorable factors that have to be tackled in the future.

It is crucial to develop a site-specific strategy because the success of programs in other regions cannot guarantee its transferability, especially in complex and very different environments like Myanmar.

References

- Project Hub Yangon, Myanmar’s first start-up incubator, http://www.connective-cities.net/en/connect/good-practices/project-hub-yangon/ (accessed 27 March 2016)


External links / documents