Inveneo Entrepreneurship Archives

The Future of ICTs in Myanmar

  1. Posted by Aaron Mason on March 18, 2013 in the categories: Internal, News

Attendees look on at the opening ceremony for BarCamp Yangon 2013. Photo: Mark Sum
Attendees look on at the opening ceremony for BarCamp Yangon 2013. Photo: Mark Summer

Recently Mark Summer, Inveneo’s co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer, attended Myanmar’s BarCamp Yangon 2013. BarCamps are locally organized, free-form technology “unconferences” where participants are allowed to present with few limitations, and attendees can participate free of charge. There are no restrictions on who is able to speak or present; organizers are only required to take care of promotion, logistics, and infrastructure for the event while attendees proactively present and choose their own content.

This year’s Myanmar event was the fourth in the country’s history, and by far the largest, growing by 60% to 6,400 attendees. This also made it the largest BarCamp in the history of the event itself. Topics are scheduled daily, and amidst the flurry of action patterns of interest appear. Many are exactly what you’d find at a technology conference anywhere in the world – mobile apps, Facebook marketing, etc. – but the substantial presence of ICT policy, international development and a healthy “by Myanmar, for Myanmar” showing made this an especially interesting event from a ICT4D perspective.

BarCamp Yangon 2013’s fluid daily schedule of events. Photo: Mark Summer
BarCamp Yangon 2013’s fluid daily schedule of events. Photo: Mark Summer

Myanmar has a checkered past with technology. The country has been under military control since 1962 and has been cited with numerous human rights violations. Trade and other sanctions have made inclusion in the digital revolution challenging, if not impossible, as many of the technologies and markets supporting digital entrepreneurship are simply not available to the general public. Military and government-controlled mobile networks produce SIM cards recently costing upwards of US$2,000 (this number has recently been falling to $250) and digital marketplaces like the Apple and Android app stores are still unavailable due to trade sanctions. The 24th most populated country in the world lags with just 3% mobile and 2% facebook penetration. Even daily newspapers are off limits to the private sector, run instead by the state.

In the past few years, however, this has been easing. The military has been relinquishing control over the government, international relations are improving and doors are starting to open across every sector of the economy. This could prove extremely important for ICT as sanctions are expected to ease, licenses for cellular network operators are about to be issued, new ICT laws are being drafted and the international community is engaging more and more with the Myanmar government and local businesses.

At Inveneo we specialize in delivering technology solutions in emerging and underserved areas. Haiti, Kenya, Micronesia… These all fit descriptions you’re familiar with: a developing rural market with little access to social or economic resources. We’re very familiar with the deployment of technology and the patterns that follow surrounding adoption, market growth and sustainability. Connectivity starts as a trickle and quickly grows into a stable stream with demand increasing year over year.

Myanmar, on the other hand, is a dam about to burst.

The government has been freed to define ICT policy and an educated IT sector already exists. Local entrepreneurs are eager to catch up with their neighbors so it’s no surprise that this year’s Myanmar’s BarCamp is the largest in the world with everything from Unicode to Ubuntu – from fundamental Burmese language support to the latest in open source – on the table. This rare combination of eager talent, economic potential and budding support at almost every level is unheard of in most underserved areas, boasting huge immediate potential and a long runway for growth.

“The government is drafting ICT policy that will define how cellular networks and ISPs will function,” said Summer. “Everyone is waiting on this because it will decide where the market will go and what opportunities will be available.”

Attendees learn about ICT business models. Photo: Mark Summer
Attendees learn about ICT business models. Photo: Mark Summer

Even without a solid foundation for ICT development, entrepreneurship is rampant. One app developer Summer met built a business around iPhone app deployment without using the Apple App Store or the Internet. The service is USB-based and tracks the number of uploads to the account-holder’s phone, distributes apps at outlets across the country, collects and pays licensing fees – all offline. Examples like this highlight the country’s potential and beg the question: if an App Store business that works without the internet can thrive, what will we see when the floodgates of real connectivity are opened?

“This is probably where you’ll see a lot of other organizations going in,” said Summer. “There’s a large untapped market, really quite like thailand, that’s just now opening up.”

Summer’s goal in attending the BarCamp was primarily to understand the status of the ICT sector and the current environment for ICT4D and development in general. Inveneo’s focus is on bringing technology to underserved populations, and the solutions being developed in Myanmar may provide useful in other areas. It’s also just incredibly interesting to watch a country figure out ICT policy from the ground up.

“It’s important to understand what government and investments will be focused on, so you can look at what the next set of factors in the sector will be. There are even rumors of fibre being brought in,” said Summer. “But the big questions are all around accessibility and the general public.”

Mentoring Small ICT Businesses for Big Impact

  1. Posted by Inveneo on July 11, 2012 in the categories: Economic Development, News

Inveneo launched the Bati Anfòmatik Teknisyen yo ak Inveneo (BATI) Program to train and certify rural Haitian IT entrepreneurs to deploy and support a high speed, broadband wireless network in rural population centers across Haiti. BATI participants are rural youth who have experience in information technology and an interest in becoming entrepreneurs. Through the BATI program, Inveneo trained youth in the technical skills needed to deploy broadband and computers in rural areas, and how to run their own ICT businesses, graduating 64 new Haitian ICT entrepreneurs.

To help jump-start their businesses and provide support to the broadband network, Inveneo brokered meetings between the newly trained ICT entrepreneurs and local ISPs to create partnerships to expand the broadband network and serve rural clients. The match-making was a success – the network, supported and deployed by Inveneo-trained ICT entrepreneurs, now provides access to broadband Internet to over 20% of the Haitian population, ensuring that rural schools, healthcare centers, non-profits, and enterprises can help Haiti build back better after the devastating earthquake.

MicroMentor mentorship

Yet, training and business leads alone do not create sustainable entrepreneurs. Long-term mentorship is crucial for entrepreneurs to survive and expand in the competitive ICT marketplace and in Haiti’s under-developed business climate. To help the entrepreneurs, Inveneo launched a partnership with MicroMentor in May 2011 to build a mentor-support network for the business aspects of the BATI program.

Since the program’s inauguration, 46 Inveneo-trained BATI entrepreneurs, representing 72 percent of the entrepreneurs trained by Inveneo in Haiti, have joined the program as entrepreneurs seeking advice from seasoned businesspeople. Twelve local Haitian business professionals and staff of Inveneo Certified ICT Partners (ICIP) around the world have signed up as mentors to provide advice to the entrepreneurs, resulting in a total of 26 mentoring relationships.

BATI entrepreneurs use the MicroMentor website to find and engage with professional mentors. In addition, the BATI entrepreneurs can pose specific questions related to their businesses and mentors can post responses, starting a dialogue that can be viewed by all entrepreneurs. There are also groups where members are able to participate in discussions and find resources specific to their program, such as Inveneo products and business plan templates.

The program is providing much needed encouragement as well as start-up expertise to the entrepreneurs. The feedback has been very positive. Here are a few examples:

«Il est toujours disponible pour moi quand j’ai des questions”. – It [the website] is always available to me when I have questions.»
«Je profite encore de vous féliciter pour ce programme, il est vraiment utile à tous ceux qui font partie et il porte du succès dans leurs entreprises » – I would like to again take this opportunity to thank the program; it is truly useful for everyone and the help that is needed to create a successful business.
« Nous avons beaucoup parlé de mon business, et elle m’a donné des bons conseils. » – We have spoken a lot about my business, and [my mentor] has given me a lot of great advice.

Overall, the program has been very successful in supporting Inveneo-trained entrepreneurs. The ultimate gauge of its success will be the number of entrepreneurs whose businesses survive the crucial first two years of operations.

Beyond Haiti, one of Inveneo’s aims over time has been to promote and strengthen collaboration among Inveneo Certified ICT Partners in the twenty plus countries in which they work. This initiative is our first opportunity to build collaboration among the francophone countries of Africa and with Haiti. Through MicroMentor, we are beginning to see trans-Atlantic mentoring matches being formed, and are very excited about the potential impact.

Inveneo partners can now support one another and share their expertise. They may be small businesses, but we see big impact in reaching our ultimate goal of improved ICT entrepreneur economic self-sustainability.

Congratulations to BATI Training Graduates – 11 New ICT Technicians for Haiti

  1. Posted by Inveneo on April 13, 2011 in the categories: Economic Development, News

Inveneo recently completed its first BATI training (Bati Anfòmatik Teknisyen yo ak Inveneo) in Mirebalais, Haiti on March 18, 2011. After a week of classroom and hands-on training modules, 11 participants graduated as certified BATI IT technicians.

The Inveneo training is designed to give each BATI a head start in his technology business, and, judging from the feedback of the participants, this first session achieved its goal:

The BATI training had a big impact on the technical interns in helping us get started in the IT markets of Haiti. It helped us perfect our skill by teaching us technology philosophy, its practical usage, and simulations of real-world events. It was also taught in both Creole and French which was greatly appreciated.

One key objective of the BATI program is to address the problem of chronic unemployment among Haiti’s youth through entrepreneurship opportunities. Of the 15 participants who started the BATI training, 11 were unemployed at the time, yet all had graduated high school. Inveneo will continue to train candidates in other provinces of the country, covering 22 communities across six regions.

The BATI program strives to deploy connectivity through an entrepreneurial model that will reach and serve clients (schools, NGOs, enterprises and others) with cost-effective Internet. Each BATI IT technician will work on connectivity and computing support issues with network subscribers, largely nonprofit and community groups throughout Haiti. They will operate as independent consultants, earning revenue from installation and support contracts.

The BATI program is one component of Inveneo’s overall approach in Haiti, which will:

  1. Accelerate deployment of a high speed, broadband wireless network in rural population centers
  2. Train and certify Haitian IT entrepreneurs to deploy, operate and support this network
  3. Develop a sustainable business model of local network ownership and operations for the broadband wireless network,
  4. Deploy new, relevant technology in education to increase ICT knowledge and usage.