Saturday, June 18, 2011

The STEPS finals: A contest for young entrepreneurs

STEP finals

When I first saw the World Banks proposal for a Young Entrepreneurship Contest I was quite excited. This is what a country like Laos needs: Young people, motivated to open their own business. Then I read this:

The proposal encourages small size enterprises from various business communities such as handicraft, process foods, agriculture/farming, tourism and other to participate in this exciting event.

So women are good in farming, handicraft, tourism? WTF? Why not engeneering, computer science, investment?

Anyway, at least two teams made it with computer related ideas to the finals, while the others are all related to farming or handicraft. One exception is a wedding service.

So I went to the Culturall Hall this morning an talked to the contestants. Tehy came from Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Champasak. First of all I was surprised about the level of English: Most of them were able to explain me their concept in English. Thumbs up!

Some observations: One business wants to grow mushrooms on large scale. I like it, since I think Laos needs more businesses who think big rather than family business. The same goes for a salad producer, who goes on step further and showed a concept of plastic tubes where he can grow the salad. 350 Kilo a month is the expected production. Another woman wants to make organic fertilizer: She wants to collect wet garbage from the market, feed this to earth worms and they produce the fertilizer then. She had the best marketing concept in my opinion.

There were more than 20 booths, and I did not count the handicraft ones - they were too many.

STEP finals

What my concern is: although the business ideas wasn't bad for most of them, nearly all of them are entering a existing market with partly strong competition (e.g. silk or handicrafts). And most of them are focussing on the Lao market, what is also wrong, since this market is too small. Laos needs to export goods, and therefore it needs middle size businesses who are able to compete in markets of the neighboring countries. Vietnam is better in silk and Thailand is better in handicraft, while China already imports cheap vegetables.

I will update this blogpost with the winner later, but at least it was a good start for entrepreneurs. I hope this spirit last longer than the competition.

Some more pictures here.


  1. Hello there,

    nice blog entry. One question came to my mind while reading it:

    "So women are good in farming, handicraft, tourism? WTF? Why not engeneering, computer science, investment?"

    Where does it say this is specifically for women?

    I agree with you that it might be helpful to reach out into new fields of business instead of going into ones that already exist, but this seems a little polemic.

  2. It was mentioned in the paragraph before that they want to encourage young women:
    Quote "We believe that investing in young people’s, and in particular young women’s, employment opportunities is smart economics and has a large development impact on their future and the future of their families, not to mention long term benefits for poverty reduction."

    I should have mentioned this, thanks for the clarification...

  3. Free business trade leads for list your handicraft supplies business.