Taking my first step as a young entrepreneur in Laos

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Manothip met her first customers at an entrepreneurship fair for young people in Laos.

How does one turn a creative idea into a profitable business? In my case, it started with a bag.

In Laos, where I’m from, wearing the “sinh” or traditional Lao skirt is still very common. I found it difficult to find a handbag that would match the sinh so I tried designing something that I could imagine myself using. The bag looked modern but I used traditional Laos silk as the main material for it. I was very pleased with the bag and thought that it would do well commercially. In 2012, the World Bank in Laos held its STEPS Young Entrepreneur Market Place Competition and I didn't hesitate to enter the contest and pitch this as my business idea. That's how I started my NAREE brand.

I was one of the 97 young entrepreneurs who made it to the competition’s short-list. Everyone in this round was trained by seasoned entrepreneurs on how to create marketing and financial plans. One lesson from them which I’ll never forget is the importance of thinking further and thinking outside the box. It gave me a better business perspective for NAREE. More than the lessons, participants also got a chance to bounce off ideas with each other. We became friends and that became my first step in building a business network.

From the short-list, I was among the 30 chosen to compete in the competition’s final round. An exhibition was held in the capital city of Vientiane, where the competition judges and the general public could see, sample, or even buy our products on display. It was very important to me because it was the first time that NAREE bags were seen by so many people. Some became my first customers.

What was my reaction when I won? It felt very good to know that my hard work was recognized. I remembered the people who supported me throughout the competition and was grateful.

My vision is for my bags to become trendy among Lao and international buyers. I'll train more designers and craftsmen because producing a bag using Lao cotton and silk requires skill and attention to detail. I also intend to work on a public relations plan that will introduce NAREE to the domestic and international markets.

I believe everyone has a dream, but opportunity does not often come knocking on your door – so you have to go out and find it!

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