Name : Jes Kaliebe Petersen
Position : Director for Accelerator Program at Phandeeyar
Jes Kaliebe Petersen is the director of the Accelerator programme at Phandeeyar, a new technology hub based in Yangon. Petersen has years of experience as a business developer with a focus on mobile technology. Before coming to Myanmar in 2016, Petersen co-founded Paywast, Afghanistan’s largest social network and provider of mobile outreach services.[paypal]
What is Phandeeyar and how did it get started in Myanmar?
Phandeeyar is basically a technology innovation hub that started in 2014. Our founder and CEO is David Madden. In 2014, David was living in Myanmar and noticed that there was not a lot of places to go to participate in the technology community. David, who is a tech guy, decided to start organising hackathons. And after doing that a few times, and having a lot of people participate in these hackathons, David went out and raised funding to get this space. And this is how we started. Last year, in 2015, we had 36 different meetups, 20 seminars, 42 workshops and 10 multi-day events such as hackathons, startup events, entrepreneurship events.
What are your other programmes?
How are developing the media and civil society? Phandeeyar has three pillars that we stand on; one is entrepreneurship, that’s the Accelerator programme. Then we have a technology pillar where we have developed cohorts, technology meetups, workshops, and hackathons. And then we have a social impact pillar. This pillar consists of civil technology and civil society programmes where we reach out to NGOs and civil society organisations to help them use technology to improve their work.
One of the good examples of our social impact pillar is the hack challenge for elections last year where we invited software developers to use their skills to build applications and websites for the elections. We had more than 130 developers in 30 different teams working for two weeks on building this. The winning app was ‘I’m a Voter’ which provides information about parties and candidates for the elections. Afterlaunching that, in just over a month, more than 200,000 people installed this app. That goes to show that there is a high demand for high quality services and applications in the civil society and social impact fields.
Tell us about the new Accelerator programme. What is its mission in Myanmar?
Our mission is to create role models in the Myanmar technology community. Right now, there are a few tech startups that have become somewhat successful in Myanmar. But there is a lot of potential that’s still to be unleashed. What we are trying to do is identify those tech startups which have the most potential, invest in them and then help them grow. So hopefully in a few years from now, we can look to some of these startups and see that they have become really big successful companies. It’s our hope that this success will help other motivate other entrepreneurs to start a business. They’ll look at the sesuccesses and think ‘I could actually do the same thing.’ And then they can apply for the Accelerator or get funding elsewhere.
We started Accelerator in June of this year by creating awareness among the entrepreneur community as to what Accelerator can help them do. Then we asked companies to apply to the program. The application deadline was July 31, and we got around 80 applications. From those 80, we selected around 25 to come and pitch their ideas to us. From those 25, we are going to select four to eight startups that we’ll invite to join the Accelerator.
We’ll invite them to join on September 1. And when they join, they will move in here and have their office at Phandeeyar for the first six months. We’ll provide them with seed funding of $25,000, access to our team for mentorship, and free services. Facebook is providing free advertising services, Microsoft is providing free hosting, and Wave Money is providing payment services. We have all these partners that are providing free services for the startups in the first year of their company.
How do you determine who gets accepted into the Accelerator programme?
The main criteria is that when you apply for the Accelerator, you need to be a technology company, you need to be early staged, and a need to have a business model that has scalability built in – meaning, you need to be providing a product that can be delivered to a very large amount of customers. If you meet this criteria and you come in to pitch to us, then we look at your team. Is able to promote this product in the market? That’s number one. We look at the quality of your product. We look at your market research and we look at your skills in developing the product.
Who are some of the Accelerator mentors that entrepreneurs will have access to?
It’s a mixed group of people who are experienced entrepreneurs, investors, or experts in specific fields. Some good examples are Tun Thura Thet who is the founder of MIT, one of the largest technology companies in Myanmar. And we have Justin Sway, who is the founder of JobNet which is a really successful startup. Then we have Nay Min Thu, the founder of iMyanmarHouse. com and Nay Aung, the founder of O Wai. These are just a few examples of the really successful and well respected Myanmar entrepreneurs we have working with us.
And then we have people who are experts in specific fields like Jasmine Thazin Aung is from PricewaterhouseCoopers Myanmar; she is an expert in tax advisory and financial management. Christopher Chit Tun is the head of Deloitte Myanmar who is an expert company strategy. We also have Brad Jones who is the head of Wave Money, he is an expert in payment services. Basically we have people who are well-experienced in specific fields that we can provide coaching to our entrepreneurs in these areas.
And then we have some investors. They are not from Myanmar but are investing in companies all over Asia. They are extremely experienced in identifying high quality start-ups. So it’s a really good group of mentors and we’re going to match up each of the startups in the Accelerator with one or more of these mentors.
How do you seek funding from supporting partners/potential investors?
Our investment comes from a small group of investors. With that money we spend on the operations here. But we also spend on providing seed funding to the startups who we accept into the Accelerator. We’ll invest $25,000 each in fifteen to twenty tech startups over the next three years. Each year we are going to invest in four to eight startups.
How do you see the current technology potential here in Myanmar?
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Before 2014, most people didn’t have a smartphone, most people didn’t access to the Internet. Now you can buy SIM cards for 1,500 Kyats, you can buy a smartphone for $45. So a lot of people have access now. And a lot of people are using data.
That’s, I think, a really interesting opportunity for someone who is looking to do a digital service. There’s still not a lot of locally-grown services. Of course there are the big international brands like Facebook and Viber that are all over the world. But there is not lot of services specifically for Myanmar users. So what we are seeing right now is that there is a lot of people who are learning how to develop software applications, they are learning how to promote these applications – and these guys have potential to start a company and turn them into something big. We are trying to do whatever we can to help these companies grow.
How do you think technology helps bring about social change in Myanmar?
I see a tremendous opportunity here. The best example I think is how after the teleco industry opened up in 2014 everyone went out and got a smartphone. Mobile technology has become more affordable for more people and they are gaining access to information and services that they have not had in the past.
But there are still a lot of challenges ahead, of course. There’s still parts of the infrastructure that’s missing. So a really big problem right now for people who are providing digital services is how to collect payments. So if they are providing a mobile app and want to charge people for using this app, how are they going to collect payment? And there are a lot of people who are trying to solve this problem. I think eventually people will be very familiar with how to pay for services through the phone instead of paying in cash. You know, of course, a lot of people in Myanmar don’t have a bank account. They just keep cash, they get paid in cash and they pay for their products and services in cash. Therefore lot of people may not be interested in getting a bank account, but if they can pay for services and products through either Wave Money or another mobile service then that that might make it a lot easier for them.
What has been your most successful project in Myanmar so far?
Building out this community that’s committed to the work we do, and who keeps supporting us loyally for all the activities we host. Without that communing, we really wouldn’t have been able to launch the Accelerator. So I think growing our community has been the biggest success.
From a business standpoint, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you and your team in next 3 years?
The biggest challenges we will have is to help the businesses in the Accelerator programme grow and become really big. There’s still a number of things that need to be in place for this kind of growth to happen. One of them is payments and financial services. Anotherone is logistics. For example, if you are selling products online, how are you able to deliver your products across the country? That is a big challenge right now. There are companies who are working to solve these challenges, but this is not easy. It’s a big opportunity, but it’s not easy. So that’s definitely the biggest challenge for the next two or three years.
How do you expect to grow and expand Phandeeyar in the future?
Our plan for the next three years is to take at least 20 or 25 startups through the Accelerator programme and then expand from there. So hopefully we will be able to do two programmes every year and increase the number of startups that we put through the programme. And increase the number of start-ups that leave the programme and become very successful. That’s definitely our goal for the Accelerator.
Can you say Phandeeyar is the first and foremost of its kind in Myanmar?
I don’t think there is anybody else right now doing what we are doing. There are obviously other people who are investing in companies and doing entrepreneurship training. But for us, our goal is to provide a very comprehensive package for these startups in order to help them in their first six months to one or two year period.
How you would like to advise budding entrepreneurs?
There are a lot of people who have an idea. But the next step after you have an idea is to find out if there is a market for the idea. So probably my number one tip is before you start building a product, spend time and effort doing solid market research so that you know if there is a market for your product. And if you find out that there’s not a market for the product, don’t be discouraged. Keep changing your idea until you find out where the market is. And once you have an idea that is marketable, then come over to Phandeeyar and talk to us. We’ll help you to the next step. [/paypal]