Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Yangon’s startups open their doors to the city

The first ever ‘Walkabout YGN’, a city-wide open house organized to bring exposure to the Yangon startup community, proved a roaring success with about 750 participants taking part in the event on Friday August 12.

A visitor makes a rubber stamp at The Workshop as part of Walkabout YGN. Thiri Lu/The Myanmar TimesA visitor makes a rubber stamp at The Workshop as part of Walkabout YGN. Thiri Lu/The Myanmar Times

Walkabout YGN saw almost 80 Yangon companies, including startups, co-working spaces and tech and design development houses, open their doors to anyone curious as to what goes on inside.

“We’ve all heard about these companies from friends, Facebook or maybe in the newspapers but we never feel like we have the opportunity to go and see the companies or to meet the people who work there”, said Loring Harkness, the organizer of the event and country director of NGO Global Entrepreneurship Network Myanmar.

Staff members of The Workshop showing visitors how it’s done as part of Walkabout YGN. Thiri Lu/The Myanmar TimesStaff members of The Workshop showing visitors how it’s done as part of Walkabout YGN. Thiri Lu/The Myanmar Times

He added, “We don’t have a good excuse and it feels awkward just showing up at their offices and saying ‘hi, can you give me a tour…?’.”

But that’s exactly what Walkabout YGN was about:  the perfect excuse to go and meet new people and learn more about interesting companies.”

Loring got the idea for Walkabout YGN in Singapore and started planning for the Yangon incarnation three months ago.

Thiri Lu/The Myanmar TimesThiri Lu/The Myanmar Times

“I used to live in Singapore and every year Walkabout SG is the highlight of the year for the startup community.”

The biggest difficulty, he explained, is ‘publicity’ – generating awareness of the event and helping people understanding that it’s very decentralised  - participants must organise their own transport to get around the city for the day.

Pulse visited a studio space called The Workshop, a startup which offers monthly workshops on how to make handmade arts and crafts.

Thiri Lu/The Myanmar TimesThiri Lu/The Myanmar Times

“Myanmar people don’t know the value of their country’s handicrafts. They don’t buy them but foreigners do,” said May Mon Thu, co-founder of The Workshop.

“In Thailand, people sell their creative products in Bangkok’s night markets, but I’ve found that Myanmar people import Thai products and sell them at night markets here,” she said.

Pulse joined a course on rubber stamp making, one of four free workshops on offer at The Workshop on the day. The course taught participants to make their own designs and impress them onto rubber stamps.

Normally The Workshop offers 10 different courses including paper quilling, pottery and sand art. There are also plans to run a traditional handicraft workshop in the near future.

“There are plenty of vocational training centres in Myanmar but they don’t cover creative courses, and all the creative courses are located in different locations”, said May Mon Thu.

One might query why, in the age of 3D laser printers, there is still a need to learn how to make crafts by hand.

“Creation, to think outside of the box, can be needed in any situation,” explained May Mon Thu.

After positive feedback from both participants and startups, plans are already under way for next year’s Walkabout YGN.  

“We can get more awareness and build networks. So, it would be good if there were many more events like this,” said Nobel Aung, co-founder and art director of Pencell Animation Studio who participated in this year’s event.

With the local startup scene going from strength to strength, it’s not hard to envisage Walkabout YGN one day being a major fixture on the city’s calendar.