The struggles and strategies of innovating in Myanmar

As featured on Frontier Myanmar

From taxi-hailing apps to curated content, tech-savvy local firms are striving to meet consumer needs in a market that’s growing rapidly but still largely bereft of competition.

By TIFFANY TENG | FRONTIER

YANGON’S version of Silicon Valley is a niche community of local entrepreneurs who are passionate about creating products and services specifically for the country. In a country that has just opened to foreign investors, these young startup founders approach a market ripe with potential.

Unfortunately, the developing nature of the market also means technology must be developed from scratch – and the lack of basic infrastructure makes growth much more difficult.

Ko Ye Myat Min’s fascination with computers began at age 12, when he first learned how to code. While attending the Practising High School (formerly known as the Teachers’ Training College), he would read books and write down coding language, but he had nowhere to test it. “We weren’t allowed inside the computer lab at school. It collected a thick layer of dust – this sacred place no one really touches,” he said.

While studying business in Singapore, he began building websites for international firms. This was his springboard for launching Nex Labs. Ye Myat Min then had the good fortune to meet an angel investor. In 2013, the investor gave him the seed capital to found Nex. The same day, he dropped out of Singapore Management University.

Like many Myanmar nationals studying abroad, he heard about the reforms happening at home and wanted to launch something that would cater to the under-served local market. The 24-year-old CEO, who was included on Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 list this year, considers Nex Labs less of an agency and more of a startup whose goal is “inserting innovation and creativity into anything we do”.