Meet Cheam Panharath, a young social entrepreneur

When speaking of starting a business in Cambodia, you might have heard things like “Business needs lots of capital”, “You cannot be successful in business if you don’t have parents or relatives doing it too” or “Young people cannot start business on their own.” It can be true, but to 20-year-old Panharath Cheam, in this digital age, young people can also own a sustainable and promising enterprise even with little investment.

Rath is now a senior student at the Royal University of Law and Economics majoring in Economics and Management. Recently, she and her teammates have won the $300 Social Business Competition featuring business concepts that require little startup and promote social causes. And today, Rath is excited to share her experiences in business.

Cheam Panharath and her team accepts first prize award.
Cheam Panharath and her team accepts first prize award.

Can you tell us a bit about your team’s business idea?

The idea of the business is to paint and draw on T-shirts and it is purely hand drawing. We named it Art or T-shirt.

Why do you think your business idea was successful?

This business idea was successful firstly because we can solve customers’ problems. Customers who love unique and original designs on the T-shirt can now have their own unique T-shirts with reasonable price. Also, art has no limitation, so this business has long-term perspectives to grow.

Do you think with just $300 capital, there is a chance to have a successful business too?

I can answer that it depends on the nature of the business. If the business need big machines or factory to start, it is obviously impossible. However, when the business requires intellectual skills more, like Art or T-shirt, it is possible to start with just $300. I still stand on the fact that we are selling the concept behind the products, which is why we can be successful.

How does your business idea contribute to society?

This business idea can help society through three means. Firstly, the T-shirts that we sell are tailored made by the women at Homemade Centre, where women who cannot go to work at the factory can also have job. Secondly, through 1-1 campaign, in which customers can get $1 discount for one new T-shirt ordered if they give us their old T-shirt. We donate the old T-shirts that we have collected from our customers to the orphans at Krousar Thmey Organization. Finally yet importantly, once the business grows bigger, we will need to recruit more drawers and we will prioritize the art students from Royal University of Fine Arts, so that they can also earn some money from their artwork.

Why you think young people should be interested in doing business?

Young people should be interested in doing business because they are the ones who are very flexible with not only the current trends of technologies or fashions but also the behaviors of teens these days. Teens are one of the most attractive market segments for business; therefore, I strongly believe that the innovative ideas from young people can solve the new trendy customers’ problems that the older people may not be able to discover.

People say we do not stand a chance to begin a successful business if we do not have parents or relatives who are already successful businesspeople. What do you think?

I disagree with that prejudice. I think that this is an old way of thinking. In my opinion, youths nowadays are full of creative ideas to do business. In the context of globalization, the fact that there is no relative in business does not really prevent us from having a profitable business idea because youths are actually more flexible and have more innovative ideas responding to the changes in trend and fashion than the existing business ideas.

To you, what are the good steps to have a successful business?

Firstly and the most important, we have to find the customers’ problems. What do they need? What do they want? What are they looking for? Once we can plot the missing point of the market that no one is doing it, that is when we can own the market and become a successful business.

Secondly, we have to make sure that our products or services are originals and of high quality. Customers nowadays are very sensitive with quality of the products, therefore we have to make the products or services, which can satisfy the customers. That is when we can find our faithful customers.

What is your plan for your future business?

Our future plan is to continue the business online and we will be attracting more companies to order our T-shirts. I strongly believe that big companies are ready to be our partner and to value art industry in Cambodia. We planned to have a store somewhere so that customers can easily find us, but we got a lot of advices from the judges at the competition concerning the problems of cost of the store and they advised us to continue promoting online to attract customers.

(This interview was originally published on Loy9, a BBC project)

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