YANGON, Myanmar — Honey Mya Win didn't have to look far to discover the tech potential for Myanmar. A 26-year-old former telecom engineer at Huawei, she was directly involved in configuring mobile phone towers and base station controllers that expanded 3G access to the once reclusive nation.
"My team was actually the one connecting the country," she said. "That made me think: Maybe I should get in on this internet business."
That was a few years ago — when mobile penetration was still hovering at single digits in Myanmar.
Today, more than 80 percent of the population is digitally connected through smartphones, according to Hootsuite. For her part, Win has traded in the engineering job to start an online freelancing platform, Chate Sat.
"In two or three years, I've seen a huge improvement," Win said. "Before, it was one mobile operator. Now, we have like three or four. That's led to a huge boom in tech-related opportunities for us."
Investors are taking note. At the country's first Demo Day, hosted by accelerator Phandeeyar in Yangon earlier this month, more than 200 people including foreign VCs showed up to hear Win and three other start-ups give their pitches. The presentations, the culmination of a rigorous six-month training program aimed at helping young entrepreneurs materialize their ideas.
Phandeeyar Director Jes Kaliebe Petersen said 80 startups applied for the program last fall.
"There is definitely a sense of hunger to get access to data and technology, and data and information — maybe precisely because the country was so closed off before," Petersen said.