“It’s always been my ultimate goal to have a company of my own,” says Htun Khaing Lynn, or Zack, as he prefers to be called.
Last September the 22-year-old engineering graduate from Myanmar’s eastern Shan state co-founded online truck-pooling service Kargo, which connects individuals and businesses who need to move goods around congested Yangon.
Cars have flooded Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial centre, since restrictions on imports were lifted in 2010, causing mayhem in a city with almost no public transport. Kargo, which now employs seven people, aims to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, making life easier for both commuters and businesses.
Zack belongs to Myanmar’s growing cohort of young entrepreneurs embracing smartphones to provide a range of services. In 2015 the country was named (pdf) by telecoms giant Ericsson as the fourth fastest-growing mobile market in the world. Reliable estimates of mobile ownership in Myanmar are hard to pin down, particularly as many people have more than one SIM card, but it is thought to have leapt dramatically since foreign network operators entered the market in 2014, breaking the state monopoly.
Yangon was a thriving cosmopolitan city with one of the world’s busiest ports at its zenith in the 1920s but stagnated under decades of military dictatorship. However, since Myanmar’s civilian-led government took power in 2011 the city has been opening up to the outside world at a dramatic pace, creating opportunities for tech entrepreneurs to play a new development role.
Many of them are based at Phandeeyar, a tech and innovation hub on top of a Yangon highrise which provides seed funding and business advice to Burmese startups in an open-plan office complete with ping-pong table and 3D printer.
Jes Kaliebe Petersen, director of Phandeeyar’s startup accelerator, says these businesses not only create jobs and economic growth but are also helping to spur more profound social change.