Sahak is a platform that engages local entrepreneurs by developing entrepreneurship for quality businesses. It also collaborates with them to create innovative products and connect directly to the market.
The Sahak platform was established in 2020 under the auspices of three friends: Khut Sokhan, Representative of Bookbridge in Cambodia, Paul Gill, Founder of Sonas World, and Marion Moser, Former Volunteer with Bookbridge in Cambodia. All three are co-investors in the platform.
Co-founder Sokhan told The Post about the purpose of creating Sahak. “We set up Sahak to focus on providing a nursery for entrepreneurship. Many young, talented people wanted to establish businesses, but lacked the opportunities to access training.”
“We wanted to do something to support them, so we opened training courses which would take their business ideas and turn them into business plans based on their resources and their skills,” he added.
Sahak has run their programme twice so far. The first had eight participants, and the second four. Ten of the twelve had become entrepreneurs and launched their own small businesses.
Sokhan said the first course ran for four months and was divided into five modules. The first module identified a personal purpose. The second found a business idea and the third prepared a business model. The fourth focused on learning the required core skills. Finally module five taught participants how to support and run their business.
However, he said that after learning from the previous programme, he realised that there was room to run it leaner. The next time he will include the same five modules, but will tackle them all in just three months.
There are no formal requirements for participation, but he said that they were looking for a certain kind of entrepreneur.
“Before we accept someone into the programme, we ask them how far they are prepared to go. We want to identify people who are prepared to struggle for something they love. If we see that he or she has a sound business idea and the ambition to achieve it, we will welcome them,” he added.
Most of Sahak’s participants hail from Siem Reap or Takeo provinces, or Phnom Penh.
He said that he had limited the numbers to just 10 or 12 participants because he wanted to ensure he had time to be as hands on as possible with all of them.
Sokhan added that he planned to host only one group per year, although Sahak did work with people who could not join the planned programmes.
“Some of them have already begun to operate their businesses, so we work separately alongside them. The full programme was designed for people who wanted to establish a new business, so we run them as one group,” he said.
After the training was complete, he said the participants were almost ready to launch their businesses. Their business plans would be almost fully formed. Naturally Sahak would continue to support them, through general face-to-face meetings or specific help with specific challenges.
Sokhan explained that Sahak did offer capital to the young entrepreneurs because he wanted them to focus on the resources they already had.
“For example, if he or she has $100, we tell them to start thinking of where they could start with that available capital. If they need a larger investment, we will advise them on how to go about raising capital. In the past, traditional entrepreneurs used only the resources they had,” he said.
He added that engaging entrepreneurs directly with the market was also part of their programme. In addition to training, they held showcases once a month to promote new start-up brands. Sahak had also opened a namesake store in Siem Reap which stocked the products produced by the young business owners.
“Entrepreneurs can sell their exciting new products there. We take 20 per cent to cover rent and the salary of the staff. Our goal is to hold larger regular events to expand what these entrepreneurs do,” he said.
“We recently partnered with three other organisations – PEPY Empowering Youth, Support Her Enterprise (SHE) and Enterprise Vision (EV),” he added.
Sahak does not ask payment for its training, but asks that successful entrepreneurs ‘pay it forward’ by paying for other young business people to attend the course in the future.
Sokhan said that if they cannot afford it, it will not be required.
Among the 10 participants who have gone on to operate businesses, he said that several of them worked in the fields of health and well being, predominantly through food.
They produced tea, honey, dried fruit and soy sauce, for example.
The other large group were involved with the fashion industry. Their products included everything from cosmetics to bags, garment design to jewellery made from recycled shell casings.
Others had devised educational toys and mathematical games.
Pich Kanha, the founder of Siem Reap Snacks and Sun Sopheak, the founder of Miss SEW Cambodia, are both members of the Sahak social entrepreneur family. They spoke with The Post about the benefits of teaming up with Sahak.
“We asked Sahak to stock our products in their store. When we met with them, they saw that our products are different and that we had what they were looking for. We became members of the family,” said Kanha.
“Since partnering with Sahak, we have learned so much and been able to share knowledge with other young business people. We are can also team up to showcase our products, rather than having to display them on our own,” added Sopheak.
Sopheak has been in the sewing business since 2014 but only began designing her unique take on outerwear in 2018. She said that her goal was to create a fashion that doesn’t follow short lived fashion trends but is accessible to anyone at anytime, while still being stylish. She also wanted to encourage women to have an independent income so they would have time to look after their children at home.
The 38-year-old said she designed her almost-kimono-like pieces as she loved outerwear and thought that it would be better to make them without having to select size or gender.
She added that they were popular with some foreigners who wore them after exercising.
“I first saw short sleeved top layers in Thailand. The style was still popular a number of years later, so I began to make them in 2018. I wanted something which I loved, was easy for my tailors to sew and would appeal to the market,” added Sopheak.
Kanha, 32, said that her business, which makes roast dry rice and fried dry rice, has been open for more than a year.
She said what was special about her product was that she made them with natural fruits such as oranges or bananas to enhance and create new flavours, and seasoned them with honey and salt.
Kanha makes crispy dry round cakes. They are sometimes different shapes, and she has not yet found a way to give her products a standardised shape.
She said her mother was her inspiration, as she used to make rice cakes for her children.
“My mom roasted dry rice and mixed it with sugar, peanuts and sesame seeds for us to eat. I thought we should try to sell them, because they are all natural and taste great. I also want to capture foreign markets, which is why I added some non-traditional flavours like fruit and honey,” she said.
Both of the businesswomen said that their products were not yet 100 per cent recognised in the marketplace, but they would keep pushing.
“I want to ask everyone to support locally made products, whether mine or someone else’s. Please try them – and offer feedback so we can adjust to compete with imported products,” said Kanha.
After watching entrepreneurs running businesses on their own – and even creating jobs for others – Sokha said he was very happy. This was the goal of Sahak, he said.
“I encourage those who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. If they don’t know where to start, or need support, they should not be afraid to reach out to us. Sahak welcomes everyone,” he added.