Emerging Economies: Burma Opening for Business

Hot Air Balloons over Bagan, Burma. Photo by Paul Arps (via Flickr Creative Commons).

After being listed as the riskiest nation for companies to do business in 2012, Burma is now believed by many to be the most improved business environment in the world. While still having a great deal more to achieve in continuing to develop this industry, several companies such as Hub Myanmar and the very forward-thinking startup incubator, Project Hub Yangon are contributing in the efforts to put Burma back on the map in the business world.

Dr. Htet Zan Linn, FoundersCard Member & CEO of Hub Myanmar Company Limited.

Dr. Htet Zan Linn, FoundersCard Member & CEO of Hub Myanmar Company Limited

“The country was sleeping for decades, and is now a unique treasure as the golden land in South East Asia,” said Dr. Htet Zan Linn, CEO of Hub Myanmar Company Limited and a FoundersCard Member. Hub Myanmar is heavily integrated in the local business environment as a leading organizer of seminars and events, while also publishing two business magazines (Myanmar B2B Management Magazine and ACUMEN business magazine – Eng).

“We partner with professional organizations in the country, such as Myanmar Business Executives, which provide mentors to our entrepreneurs; speakers to deliver some of the workshops; and also recognition for our program,” explained Josep M. Saura, Program Manager for Project W at Project Hub Yangon. “During the program, we try to be as close as possible to the entrepreneurs so that we know them on a personal level and understand their real needs and motivations.”

A nation of mystery for many years, Burma was considered a pariah state, and raised many human rights concerns for decades. Ruled by a military junta from 1962 until 2011, Burma was in world all their own. Since then, things continue to improve politically and economically. Beyond being a leading exporter of teak, jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires, much of the world also accuses the nation for being a leading exporter of heroin. Today, regardless of being called Myanmar or Burma, this nation continues to make headlines.

Tea Production near Hsipaw, Burma. Photo by Scott Poniewaz.

Tea Production near Hsipaw, Burma. Photo by Scott Poniewaz.

With this mysterious past and questionable ethics, a number of companies are waiting to begin doing work with this developing economy. The United States of America Embassy for Rangoon and Burma is looking to further support this transition by stating, “The United States supports the Burmese Government’s ongoing reform efforts, and believes that the participation of U.S. businesses in Burma’s economy can be a model for responsible investment and business operations, encouraging further change, promoting inclusive economic development, and contributing to the welfare of the Burmese people. Increasing U.S. trade and investment in Burma – a key priority for the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon – brings substantial benefits to both countries.”

With the United States, and other nations, looking for ways to continue improving the business environment in Burma, companies searching for a long-term risk/reward scenario with a potentially positive outcome are beginning to further explore the benefits that come with doing business in Burma. Project Hub Yangon is making great strides by providing this “incubator” for locals getting started with their own business that brings together impressive partners, mentors and entrepreneurs. Project W is their program specifically designed for women, and proves that this evolving nation continues to progress towards equality.

“At Project Hub Yangon, we are especially interested in assessing their (local entrepreneurs) willingness to take risks, and to mitigate that,” added Saura. “In our workshops we use Myanmar companies as examples to explain business theory, so that the entrepreneurs can easily relate with the concepts.”

City center near Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon, Burma. Photo by Francisco Anzola (via Flickr Creative Commons).

City center near Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon, Burma. Photo by Francisco Anzola (via Flickr Creative Commons).

As Dr. Htet Zan Linn noted, there will be risks anytime entrepreneurs are concerned, regardless of the location. “However, as a new market in global economy, cultural adaptation and technological feasibility are some risks but the most important issue to watch for business in Myanmar is political and economic trend,” added Dr. Htet Zan. “Moreover, still presence of sanctions by US is also quite importance for convenience in modern marketing and start up business barrier.”

Clearly, it’s a time of change in Burma in many ways. Not only among the businesses, but the citizens are approaching the 2015 elections, which signify a huge change for this country. An estimated 70 political parties could be involved in this upcoming election, demonstrating the first time in decades when citizens will be involved in the process. With a population of strong-willed citizens eager to change Burma, and be an international business community, it’s certainly an exciting time in this country.