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Laos: Ten young entrepreneurs win business competition

March 14, 2013


2012-2013 STEPS Young Entrepreneur Market Place Competition winners

From left to right: Ms Alee Senethichack, Ms Palamy Phounsavath, Ms Manothip Siripaphanh, Ms Chanthalith Khamvongsa, Dr. Sonthanou Thammavong (Deputy Secretary General of Lao People's Revolutionary Youth Union), Mr Oudtakhone Singthong, Ms Noimaniohone Lorbiayao, Ms Keophouthong Boubphanvan, Ms Malavong Maniseng, Ms Vanhde Phengsathip, Ms Kesone Norsouvanh

Vientiane, March 14, 2013 --- Ten young entrepreneurs received seed grants of up to $5,000 and business mentorship support in a competition co-organized by the World Bank.

“We believe that investing in young people’s entrepreneurial skills and potential is smart economics,” said Keiko Miwa, Country Manager of the World Bank’s Vientiane Office.

“Half of the population is under 20-years-old. One of the World Bank’s goals is to support the government in building the youth’s capacities. We’d like to encourage young people, particularly young women, to harness their entrepreneurial ideas and engage successfully in small business activities that can provide income for their families, employment for their communities, and the economic growth of the country,” she said.

Meet the 10 winners of this year’s competition, 90% of whom are women. They come from Vientiane Capital, Vientiane Province, Luang Prabang, Champasak and Savannakhet:

Manufacturing sesame oil
Ms Kaesone Norsouvanh

Sesame oil can be used for many things, from cooking food to massage therapy. Kaesone was inspired to make sesame oil after it healed her mother’s paralysis. She now wants to expand this homegrown business idea through the entire country. “Family and friends have enjoyed our sesame oil in the past. By widening distribution, this business will generate more income for our family,” says Kaesone.

Traditional thatch roofs
Ms Alee Senethichack

Traditional Lao houses have thatch roofs. While there aren’t many producers of thatch roof tiles left, Alee noticed a growing demand. “My family was building our house and we made our own thatch roof tiles. We use a special technique to make it more environmental friendly and durable. Many people were interested and asked us to make their roofs,” says Alee. She aims to produce 1,000 pieces of thatch roof tiles per day with the seed money that she won and will expand her business in the future.

Making organic strawberries more available
Ms Vanhde Phengsathip and partner

Food can be more nutritious when it is organic. Vanhde plans to grow strawberries using herbal feticides instead of chemical pesticides. Her business will be located in Huay Thong located near Luang Prabang, a northern town with a cooler climate that’s ideal for farming strawberries.  Her farm is not far from the local market and is near the area where vegetables and fruits are traded.

Selling recycled art
Ms Malavong Maniseng

Recycled Art is a year-old experiment which transforms office paper waste into three dimensional craft work that look like wood. Malavaong says that waste is one of the biggest problems in Laos’ growing economy and she wanted to do something about it. She hopes that her enterprise will inspire Lao families to generate income from making handicrafts out of recyclable materials and selling these as souvenir items.

Designing handbags
Ms Manothip Siripaphanh

Handbags produced under Manothip’s NAREE brand are made from local textiles and have a modern, chic design. She says that her vision is to see her customers using more products that are made in Laos. “I want NAREE to add value to the textile industry and also promote Lao culture,” Manothip says. 10% of her revenues will go to a social fund to help disadvantaged women.

" We’d like to encourage young people, particularly young women, to harness their entrepreneurial ideas and engage successfully in small business activities that can provide income for their families, employment for their communities, and the economic growth of the country. "

Keiko Miwa

World Bank Country Manager for Lao PDR

Growing organic vegetables
Ms Keophouthong Bouphavanh

Harmful chemicals are usually used when farmers want to produce a bigger harvest faster. Unfortunately, these chemicals are the cause of several health issues in Laos. Keophouthong wants an agro-business that will grow organic vegetables in small scales and put these in easier reach of consumers. Her business will focus on crops that can be grown no matter what the season may be--- onion, mint, Chinese cabbage, pumpkin, and more.

Featuring Hmong handicrafts
Ms Noimaniphone Lorbiayao

The Women Partnership Development Project aims to widen opportunities for the Hmong, an ethnic group in Laos. Noimaniphone wants to provide a platform where Hmong women can share their traditional skills in pattern-making, crafting, and weaving materials as well as introducing them to modern handicraft styles and business skills. She also aims to make these products available to local and foreign markets.

Goats for sale
Ms Chanthalith Khamvongsa

Laos has many festivities and celebrations where goats are popular for meat consumption. Chanthalith wants to respond to this demand by raising goats locally, within a small-business environment, and service the entire country. She plans to target goat grill shops, goat traders, event organizing groups and goat raising groups.

Running a housekeeping training center
Ms Palamy Phounsavath and partner

Palamy wants to start a training center for the service industry. Skills taught will include house cleaning, cooking, and caring for children and the elderly. People who complete the training will be employed in homes or in offices. She adds: “The people we train will be skilled at many things, including being well-versed in local customs, such as Lao cooking and manners,”

Raising organic pigs
Oudtakhone Singthong and partners

Pigs are an important food source for Lao people and are also used by ethnic groups for their traditional ceremonies. However, current pig-raising practices are not environmentally friendly and often result in becoming a burden to local communities, because of their waste. “We want to have an organic pig farm which has little environmental impact (caused by traditional farming techniques) and that will also provide high quality pork,” says Oudtakhone. He plans to do this through practices such as monitoring feeding to reduce problems caused by excessive excrement.

Former participants now full-fledged entrepreneurs

60% of the short-listed participants from the 2011 competition have started or expanded a business within a year. What’s more, 140 new jobs were created and almost three quarters of these businesses reported profitability.

The World Bank, AusAid and the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Laos (YEAL) organized the second annual Young Entrepreneur Marketplace Competition.