Country Guide

Myanmar

Myanmar
Ye Myat Min

Guest Editor

Ye Myat Min

CEO and Founder of nexlabs

Ye Myat Min, CEO and Founder of nexlabs, is a creative thinker, a visionary and an entrepreneur. Since 17, he's been building digital products for organizations across SEA. In 2013, Ye Myat started nexlabs with a mission to build digital solutions for Myanmar organizations and to create economic opportunities for the people of Myanmar using technology. Ye Myat was also recognized as one of Forbes' 30 Under 30 Asia in 2016. He also founded Better HR in 2019, empowering Myanmar organizations to manage their workforce better.


Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.

Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.

Startup ecosystem summary

Key Startup Cities

Yangon, Mandalay (extremely limited)

Connected Country Ecosystems

Singapore, Japan

Differentiators

  • The last frontier in Asia with opportunities everywhere
  • High smartphone adoption (80%) and SIM penetration (105%)
  • Very young population: 55% of 53 million population is under the age of 30

Challenges

  • Lack of experienced founders and talent
  • Limited interest from local investors due to lack of proven investor returns
  • Salary inflation

Editor's Guide

Introduction

Myanmar’s startup ecosystem has been slowly, but steadily, growing since the country opened its doors back in 2013. Investors started looking at Myanmar due to it being “the last frontier” of the world. However, this has not made a breakout impact for the success of local startup system. For any startup ecosystem to succeed, you need entrepreneurs, talent, investment, and regulatory support.

There have been a number of high-profile investments made such as the US$30m investment into local ISP startup Frontiir by CDC UK. Ant Financial has also recently made its way into Myanmar by purchasing a stake in local fintech startup Wave Money for more than US$70m. However, appetite from local investors is still lacking. Many local investors are still focusing on brick-and-mortar businesses such as jewelry, food and beverage, retail, etc.

Notably, ecosystem builders are also playing a big part in building up Myanmar’s startup ecosystem. Phandeeyar’s Tech Accelerator was founded in 2016. Two years later, in 2018, we saw Seedstars making its first move in Myanmar. Phandeeyar is running 100+ events on an annual basis to promote and foster the local startup ecosystem. Due to such events, many young professionals are not only joining startups but also founding companies.

Whilst consumers and businesses were initially not receptive towards using technology solutions, COVID-19 had changed all of that in 3 months for good. Myanmar has one of the fastest internets in SEA with one of the highest smartphone adoption rates. Due to the longstanding closure of the country, technology and disruption are needed in all sectors.

Outlook

Myanmar will most likely see its first truly regional startup in the next 3 years as local companies are developing the necessary infrastructure to scale across Southeast Asia. It is also likely that we will see Myanmar’s first unicorn – Wave Money.

Myanmar’s growth story has been about leapfrogging. It went from 2G to 4G overnight. Entrepreneurs can rethink traditional business challenges into leapfrogged solutions. Myanmar’s biggest challenges are in 3 sectors: Healthcare, Education, and Financial Services.

All 3 sectors are extremely underserved by both private and public enterprises. Anybody who can crack these 3 challenges shall have the opportunity to become a unicorn while contributing significantly to the livelihood of the people of Myanmar.

On the flip side, entrepreneurs must be willing to work against Myanmar’s challenges too. Finding skilled talent is difficult. It is rare to find talent who has “done it before” as part of scale-up teams.

Featured Tech Startups

Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.

Startup Showcase

Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.

Wave Money started in 2016 through a joint venture between Telenor, a Norwegian telco, and Yoma Bank, one of the leading banks in Myanmar. Wave Money established its reach and penetration through its stronghold of 50,000+ agents throughout Myanmar. While Wave initially solved the problem of domestic remittance, it has the opportunity to contribute significantly to the larger financial inclusion problem of Myanmar. Through its WavePay app, Wave has started providing bill services, air-time top-ups, p2p transfers, and more. In 2020, a global Fintech powerhouse, Ant Financial Group, became the second largest shareholder in Wave Money. Through Ant’s technology and global expertise, Wave could start offering formal financial services such as consumer credit and more through its mobile app - Wave Pay. Wave Money truly has the potential to be Myanmar’s first tech unicorn. It has all the right pieces in place.

Focus Industries

Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.

EdtechWhen the civilian government took over in the early 2010s, education was set as one of the key pillars ripe for reform. Myanmar does not have the right teacher resource pool to solve the education gap. Secondly, the education gap exists across all layers of the system: highschool education, tertiary education, skill-based learning, and more. Education can contribute significantly in solving the poverty issue in Myanmar, particularly in enabling workers to be retrained to get higher-income jobs.
Fintech70% of Myanmar’s population is unbanked and does not have any formal access to financial services. Yet, there is 80% smartphone adoption and more than 50% of the population has access to mobile data and SIM cards. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Fintech companies to use technology to reach the unbanked that big traditional financial services may not have access to. Interestingly, due to the regulatory requirements and legal frameworks, there are only a limited number of fintechs available in Myanmar even though the market is big enough for more players. There has also been interest from international players such as Ant Financial Group and True Group as they have each invested heavily in the financial services sector of Myanmar.
HealthtechMyanmar has a young healthcare ecosystem. Less than 1% of Myanmar’s population has proper healthcare coverage. The government has committed itself to achieve universal healthcare coverage by 2030. However, the public sector cannot do this alone without collaboration and consolidated effort from the private sector. Technology plays a big role. The country lacks the infrastructure (transportation, electricity, etc.) to provide quality healthcare and affordable prices. Technology could disrupt that by providing proactive care through smartphones. The potential is tremendous.

Talent

Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.

  • Technical TalentModerate
  • Marketing TalentModerate
  • Experienced TalentUndeveloped
  • International TalentModerate

Culture and History

Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.

Myanmar’s overall business and corporate culture is a young one given that until the early 2010s, Myanmar did not have a lot of structured businesses. Most were family-run businesses. In addition, due to the fact that Myanmar was closed down for more than 60 years, the bold risk-taking mindset is typically not encouraged from a young age. Generally, people are more reserved and conservative.

Thus, many of the workforce in Myanmar today do not want to take any risks even though they may have the right skillset to start a company. Many skilled laborers that are trained outside of the country are returning back to run family businesses, however, they also run into challenges where the old ways of doing things and the new ways of doing things often collide.

But, not all hope is lost as the next generation of students in Myanmar are being shaped by new ways of thinking and are more globalized due to having access to the internet and information from a young age. They are increasingly challenging the status quo and getting more involved in the local startup ecosystem.

Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.

Community

Active Investors

Cocoon Capital Myanmar (Singapore): An active, early-stage investor based in Singapore that does 6 new deals each year throughout Southeast Asia. (Source: Cocoon Capital)

Daiwa PI Partners (Yangon / Tokyo)

EME (Yangon): Focuses on early-stage post-revenue startups in Myanmar and makes investments ranging from US$50-250k. (Source: EME)

Nest Tech (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam): Nest Tech is a venture capital firm that invests in and nurtures technology entrepreneurs at the seed and early growth stages, focusing on the fast growing markets of South East Asia. (Source: Nest Tech)

Seed Myanmar (Yangon): Seed Myanmar is a venture capital firm focused on early stage investments of technology start-ups in Myanmar. With two of its three investment committee members being founders of Myanmar technology companies themselves, Seed Myanmar brings together a team of experienced professionals with intimate knowledge of the Myanmar market and its unique challenges. (Source: Seed Myanmar)

incubators

Founder Institute Yangon (Yangon): Phandeeyar partners with Silicon Valley's Founder Institute to run a pre-accelerator program helping aspiring entrepreneurs make the leap from employee to startup founder. (Source: Phandeeyar)

accelerators

One to Watch Myanmar (Yangon): One to Watch is an investment management and business support provider. OTW invests and provides business development support to SMEs focused mainly in agriculture and renewable energy sector, that are creating impact as well as profits. (Source: One to Watch)

Phandeeyar (Yangon): Offers an intensive 6-month program based at the Phandeeyar Accelerator offices in downtown Yangon. Provides startups with training, mentorship, introductions to investors and loads of free services. (Source: Phandeeyar)

Startups Raising Capital
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Startups Hiring
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Coworking Spaces/Hubs

Impact Hub Yangon (Yangon): Impact Hub Yangon is an innovation lab, a business Incubator, a social enterprise community center. (Source: Impact Hub Yangon)

Phandeeyar Coworking Space & Makerspace (Yangon): Phandeeyar offers coworking space as well as a dedicated makerspace with 3D printers, a CNC router, electronics equipment and lots of other hardware hacking tools. It also runs regular workshops, seminars and meetups to help Myanmar’s makers develop their design, prototyping and user testing skills. (Source: Phandeeyar)

conferences
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meetups
Government Programs
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Non-Government Organizations
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Universities
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Reports & Infographics
Startup Frontiers: Myanmar (Video Series from 2020): Includes 3 video episodes produced by Tech in Asia. (Source: Tech in Asia)

Country Snapshot

Economy

Startup funding
Startup funding
US$5 million (2019)
Standard of living
Standard of living
Global rank: 133
Innovation
Innovation
Global rank: 129 (2020)
Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship
Global rank: 127 (2018)
Annual GDP growth
Annual GDP growth
2.9% (2019)
(Global avg. 3.0%)
Ease of doing business
Ease of doing business
Global rank: 165 (2019)
Ease of starting a business
Ease of starting a business
Global rank: 70
Research and development
Research and development
0.0% of GDP
(Global avg. 2.3%)
Contract enforcement
Contract enforcement
Global rank: 187

Sources

Startup Funding: Guest Editor
STANDARD OF LIVING: International Monetary Fund - GDP per capita (PPP)
INNOVATION: Global Innovation Index
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Global Entrepreneurship Index
ANNUAL GDP GROWTH: World Bank
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS: World Bank
EASE OF STARTING A BUSINESS: World Bank
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: World Bank
CONTRACT ENFORCEMENT: World Bank

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

Society

Population
Population
54.4 million (2020)
Government
Government
Parliamentary Republic
Stability
Stability
Global rank: 127 (2020)
Internet usage
Internet usage
30.7% (2019)
Smartphone usage
Smartphone usage
21.8% (2018)
Literacy
Literacy
75% (2016)
Population under 15
Population under 15
25% (2019)
Median age
Median age
28.2

Sources

POPULATION: Worldometer
GOVERNMENT: The World Factbook
STABILITY: Global Innovation Index
INTERNET USAGE: International Telecommunications Union
SMARTPHONE USAGE: Newzoo
LITERACY: World Bank
POPULATION UNDER 15: World Bank
MEDIAN AGE: The World Factbook

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

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