Mekong Ecosystem Summit 2.0
Opening remarks by John Williams, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR
H.E. Mr Somchit Inthamith, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce;
H.E. Ms Rena Bitter, Ambassador of the United States to the Lao PDR;
Than Oudet Souvannavong, President of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and your many colleagues here from LNCCI;
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It’s good for my heart that Vientiane is hosting this year’s Mekong Ecosystem Summit.
The Australian Government is a proud partner in supporting the start-up ecosystem in the Lao PDR, through our regional program, the Mekong Business Initiative (or MBI).
Last year, Australia worked with our friends from Toh Lao, Tigers@Mekong and LNCCI to map the state of play for start-ups and entrepreneurs in Laos.
There were some important findings:
For example, start-up activities were almost exclusively based in Vientiane;
Limited support exists for building and growing local entrepreneurship; and
There are varying degrees of awareness on start-ups – including on the differences between start-ups and SMEs.
Since this landmark survey, we have observed greater interest in Laos’ entrepreneurship potential. Interest which, I’m happy to say, has turned into action.
Today’s venue, the SME Service Centre, has just been opened as a base for local start-ups to collaborate, and build their business.
Lao PDR’s first angel investor network is up and running, and more co-working spaces supporting collaboration are coming online.
And I understand the Lao Government is considering more targeted policies to support local start-ups, which I know will be well received by the start-up community.
At a regional level, we’re seeing great energy in entrepreneurship in both the tech and non-tech sectors.
Through Australia’s MBI program we’ve:
Taken a look at the state of readiness in Cambodia on e-commerce;
In Vietnam, we’ve brokered partnerships with the private sector to build more services to accelerate entrepreneurs; and
We’ve brought together regulators from the Mekong to introduce them to best practice in the region, to help support start-ups in the financial technology sector.
MBI, together with Mekong and private sector partners, have also launched an accelerator – the Mekong Innovative Start-up Tourism competition, or “MIST”.
This accelerator will help start-ups to take advantage of the region’s fast-growing tourism market.
The competition will give successful start-ups the opportunity to showcase their businesses at the Mekong Tourism Summit in Luang Prabang this June.
But these initiatives can only take us so far. To realise a more conducive ecosystem for start-ups, more systemic partnerships between entrepreneurs and the public sector will be vital.
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Australian Government, I welcome the efforts of the Lao Government, the private sector, and all our partners and friends here today, to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in this country.
Australia stands ready to assist both Laos’ emerging start-up sector, and the government in creating a conducive business environment for a more dynamic and prosperous private sector.
There is already a lot happening in this region, in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia, that Laos can draw on for inspiration.
With that in mind, we look forward with great anticipation to next week’s Lao Business Forum, for news on how the government plans to respond to the concerns tabled by business about the local operating environment in Laos.
Thanks again for the opportunity to join you this morning.
I wish you an enjoyable and productive couple of days that will help strengthen the platform for more business start ups here in Laos and across the region.