Building Innovation Ecosystems in Frontier Markets

For the last five years I’ve been lucky to have front-row seats to Myanmar’s connectivity revolution. The country went from being almost completely disconnected to having the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world. As the new mobile towers started going up and $23 Android devices began flying off shelves, I founded Phandeeyar, an innovation lab to help support this digital leapfrog.

Myanmar’s Connectivity Revolution

In three years, Phandeeyar has become the heart of a thriving innovation ecosystem. Located in a 12,000 square foot space in the heart of downtown Yangon, Phandeeyar now runs a startup Accelerator, Founder Institute Yangon, a Makerspace, coding classes, and a co-working facility. It also operates an open data platform, trains change agents on using data and maps, supports civic tech entrepreneurs and initiatives, and runs programs to combat online hate speech and advance digital rights and security.

Phandeeyar in action

Last year I handed over the reins of Phandeeyar to our Accelerator Director, Jes Kaliebe Petersen. Now I’m lucky to have the chance to reflect on my experience. I’m going to be spending the next six months as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Omidyar Network. Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment fund established by ebay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, is one of Phandeeyar’s key supporters. Phandeeyar isn’t the first tech hub that Omidyar has backed and it probably won’t be the last.

I’m going to be doing a few things while I’m here:

  • First, I’m going to be taking some time to document and share what we learned, especially with other ecosystem builders and the organizations who support them.
  • Second, I got to meet some amazing entrepreneurs, both in Myanmar and from other developing countries. I’m keen to share their stories, so I’m working on a series of podcasts. Think: How I Built This, but for frontier market entrepreneurs.
  • Third, like many investors, Omidyar likes to have advisors with operating experience to help assess deals and to support portfolio companies.
  • Finally, I’m hoping to spend some time thinking about my next (ad)venture.
Recording an interview with Honey & Shwe Yee, founders of Myanmar’s leading freelance platform, Chate Sat

As always, I’m keen to do all of this in a collaborative and iterative way, so if you’ve got any feedback, ideas, or suggestions: let me know. Is there a particular aspect of Myanmar’s connectivity revolution or tech ecosystem that you’d like to learn more about? Do you know some frontier market entrepreneurs with amazing stories that the world needs to hear? Whatever your thoughts or interests, please comment or get in touch.