Finding entrepreneurial DNA in Cambodia

Some say that entrepreneurs are born not made. At Synergy, we are often asked to help organizations become “more entrepreneurial”, but it’s not that simple.

You can't just teach someone to be an entrepreneur.

I don’t know where they come from and can’t quite describe them
in words, but I know them when I see them.

On a recent field visit to Cambodia, I met two individuals who despite growing up in an environment that has generally not been conducive to producing entrepreneurs, have that “something” we have come to call“entrepreneurial DNA”.

I met Ruthy, a young, serious looking guy the day after he had completed a run across Cambodia to raise money and awareness for Small World, a co-working space he founded where Cambodia youth can explore entrepreneurship and creativity. Despite the fact he must have been exhausted after 10 days of running, Ruthy spent over 2 hours energetically answering our countless questions. I was so impressed hearing about why he wants to foster entrepreneurship in Cambodian youth to the different activities through
which he inspires other young people to explore creativity and innovation. From the poster paper on the wall listing question Small World’s members wanted to explore, to product samples and prototypes, to a mini ping pong table (to encourage thinking differently), evidence of budding ideas were everywhere.

Later that week I met Kim, the local project manager for Brooklyn Bridge to Cambodia. BB2C imports treadle pumps that enable small-scale farmers to efficiently water their fields and grow high cash crops during the dry season. On the way to visit farmers using these pumps, Kim chatted in great English and gave us insights into Cambodia. She also told us about her work with BB2C, laughing as she explained that often, when she first comes to a village, they call her “the cheating NGO”. This is because she comes to explain the value of buying a product to them, not to bring free snacks and give things away. Kim explained how her family’s farming background helped her understand the value of the pumps, and why she felt selling rather then giving them away would ensure the pumps got to the farmers that would value them most. When we arrived at the farm, I watched her chatting with the farmers, checking on the pumps, jumping in to remove a mouse stuck in a pump and wading knee deep into a swamp to clean a hose. The great “salesperson” she is, she already had other farmers waiting to find out how to get a pump.

 It is this kind of enthusiasm, resourcefulness, critical thinking, passion and ability to overcome countless obstacles that we look for in entrepreneurs.

More than good ideas, good entrepreneurs are what is hard to find. When investing in early stage ventures, we are really betting on the entrepreneur.

I’d say these two young people are a pretty good bet.