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DealStreetAsia

Cambodian VC firm scouts for late-stage deals to grow profitability

Investors expected to shift their capital to the nation following coup in Myanmar

The venture capital landscape of Cambodia is still at a nascent stage, with just a handful of VCs operating in the market.   © Reuters

HANOI -- Ooctane, a Cambodian venture capital firm backed by local logistics company Worldbridge Group, is scouting for "late-stage investment opportunities" in the country due to a paucity of quality deals in the early stages.

The $55 million VC fund is also looking to provide advisory services to companies as it looks to tap the private equity space. Its targets are "good revenue-generating businesses" that have strong unit economics, with "clear traction, growth strategy and road to profitability," its general partner Tapas Kuila told DealStreetAsia.

Ooctane closed its debut fund in late 2018 with a mandate to invest in Cambodia-connected technology-enabled businesses.

The firm focuses on sectors such as logistics, e-commerce, real estate and financial services within the technology umbrella. However, it is also open to investing in traditional brick-and-mortar companies that are using technology as an enabler for digital transformation.

An associate with WorldBridge Group, one of Cambodia's largest logistics companies, Ooctane also advises on M&A deals for the group.

According to the report "Startup Kingdom: Cambodia's Vibrant Tech Startup Ecosystem in 2018," challenges in the country's nascent startup ecosystem revolve around "investment readiness" issues.

To date, there are only 30 publicly disclosed tech startups with institutional capital investment. Many early stage firms still lack understanding of what "investment readiness" means or what conditions are required to close institutional, corporate or even significant angel investment.

The investment firm assesses startups in terms of markets they cater to, their teams and their growth prospects.

In January last year, Ooctane made its first and only investment in the local food delivery service startup Muuve.

While the value of the deal was not disclosed, it was a strategic investment to help Muuve expand to new cities in Cambodia and strengthen its current operations.

While there has been a lull in terms of investment activity due to the COVID-19 crisis, Ooctane claims to have spent a considerable amount of time last year advising and assisting its portfolio companies on how to survive the onslaught of the pandemic.

"In general, we add value by adopting a hands-on approach with our portfolio companies by playing a very operational and advisory role for them as per their needs," Kuila added.

The venture capital landscape of Cambodia is still at a nascent stage, with just a handful of VCs operating in the market.

Among those active in the VC space in Cambodia are Smart Axiata Digital Innovation Fund, 500 Startups and Phnom Penh-based Obor Capital.

In terms of private equity, sector-agnostic firms such as Emerging Markets Investment Advisers and Belt Road Capital have made headlines -- they have made investments in relatively established technology-enabled businesses.

There are currently over 300 active technology startups operating at various stages of development, according to the "Startup Kingdom" report.

The country's investment landscape is improving, driven by increased interest in the technology sector. This is also fueled by positive market conditions, such as relative currency stability with a primarily dollarized economy, less capital flow restrictions compared to neighboring ASEAN markets, and openness to foreign direct investment (permitting 100% foreign ownership of companies, with limited exceptions).

Given the coup in Myanmar, Cambodia is expected to become a destination for investors to shift their capital to. Andrew Durke, COO of Obor Capital, believes that many Myanmar-focused investors might now cast wider nets. "I expect a lot of investors that leave Myanmar to shift from a Myanmar-only strategy to a regional strategy," he said.

Obor Capital, which has invested in five Cambodian businesses and one Vietnamese company, is betting big on Cambodia as a preferred investment destination.

Durke expects Cambodia to write a story similar to that of Vietnam. Cambodia can absorb more capital, especially for deals in the range of $500,000 to $3 million, he said. "Examining the characteristics that make Myanmar attractive to investors, I think Cambodia is the most similar [to Myanmar]."

For the original story from DealStreetAsia, click here.

DealStreetAsia is a financial news site based in Singapore that focuses on corporate investment activity in Southeast Asia and India. Nikkei recently announced the acquisition of a majority stake in the company.

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