Assessing the needs of Women-Led Start-ups

We partnered with the Asia Foundation to identify areas where they could provide support for women-led start-ups through their ‘Women in TEK Network’.

We partnered with the Asia Foundation to identify areas where they could provide support for women-led start-ups through their ‘Women in TEK Network’.

The Asia Foundation: Supporting the start-up ecosystem in Cambodia

The Asia Foundation (TAF) is an international development NGO agency that has worked in Asia for over 60 years. Their work in the region ranges from human rights and local governance to education and empowering women. TAF was implementing the Women in TEK Network (WTN), a project funded by USAID, with the aim of improving the women-led technology start-up ecosystem in Cambodia by creating a thriving community. The main project components for these start-ups were member inclusion, networking, mentoring and policy-making influence. We conducted a needs assessment to help TAF identify potential areas where value can be added to the start-ups that are members of the Network.

Methodology: Creating a start-up development phase framework

TAF asked us to develop a framework that would help them to map start-ups to the business development phase they were currently in and identify the resources (training support, mentorship needs) that TAF should provide for them. TAF wanted an existing framework that would suit their network. We found an open standard framework from ‘Start-up Commons’ that focused on the start-up development phases and adapted it for a Cambodian context.

The needs assessment consisted of a pre-assessment (survey) and in-person interviews with 18 start-ups that had been accepted into The Asia Foundation’s WTN program. The start-ups were scored on their pre-assessment, then additional data was gathered through the interview phase, allowing us to place each start-up in 1 of 6 start-up development phases: Ideating, Concepting, Committing, Validating, Scaling, Establishing.

Findings: Mapping start-up journeys and identifying their next steps

We found that, when we compared start-ups’ initial pre-assessment scores to the information communicated to us during in-person interviews, most start-ups changed phases. This was not unexpected. There isn’t a standard checklist for start-ups as they are all so different in terms of technologies and market sectors. By including qualitative research methods such as in-person interviews into our overall assessment, we were able to go deeper, listen to what start-ups were actually saying and interpret their answers to assess where they were in the start-up journey.

Even though we spoke to start-ups from a variety of different industries, it was clear to see some common themes occurring. Many of the start-ups we interviewed were interested in the WTN providing them access to markets. As Cambodia is one of the fastest growing emerging markets in SE Asia, it’s important for start-ups to have access to larger markets which can allow them to grow at scale. However, common challenges facing start-ups that needed more support were understanding and building technology as well as a lack of soft business skills.

We made follow up recommendations and outlined potential next steps for individual start-up founders, based on their perceived needs from the interviews, that could move them along the start-up phases. We also made TAF aware of the challenges that start-ups were experiencing and gave recommendations for how the WTN could provide support and solutions. These areas of support were categorized into mentorship needs, business training modules and larger workshop training sessions.  

Providing support for start-ups can be the difference between success and failure

The Asia Foundation, through the WTN program, is taking effective steps to grow the start-up community in Cambodia. In reality, most start-ups fail within the first few years of operation and so it makes a huge difference for a start-up to be part of an incubator program that provides support to help them reach the next level.

Partnering with The Asia Foundation allowed us to further expand the broad network of people and organisations, from various industries and the marketplace, that we have developed over 10 years of working in SE Asia. By assessing the needs of different start-ups, we were able to help them navigate questions around product development, market validation and what direction they need to go in order to grow.

  • Research
Project Consultant(s)
Jesse Orndorff