Female Entrepreneur Builds Engineering Services Firm in Laos.
Founded in 2009 by entrepreneur Siriphone Phanthavong, Electrical Civil Mechanical Engineering (ECME) specializes in providing engineering services in Lao PDR.
Prior to founding ECME, Siriphone worked on infrastructure projects in the mining industry – primarily electrical installations. As Laos saw a boom in mining and hydropower, Siriphone identified a market niche for international standard engineering services.
In 2013, ECME founder Siriphone was a winner of the Mekong Women’s Entrepreneur Challenge (MWEC) – a competition for highly motivated women who own small to medium sized businesses. The prize was a grant for the expansion of ECME, along with professional coaching.
MWEC was sponsored by the World Bank, and implemented by EMC – who provided a range of support in financial planning, strategy development, and business proposal training. Working closely with the Department of SME
promotion in Lao PDR (DoSMEP), the idea of MWEC was to test a new methodology for accelerating growth of women-led SMEs. The result of MWEC were impressive; over 90% of MWEC participants considered launching new products, 82% significantly changed their business plans and 97% rated their confidence levels higher or significantly higher following the program. Furthermore, 96% of Lao participants felt that their networks with fellow entrepreneurs were stronger post-program.
“I am very impressed with the experience I gained through MWEC, including but not limited to, developing and managing ECMEs staff development program, organizational improvement, networking, and last but not least advice on business expansion, which surely add to my professional and personal experiences.” Siriphone Phanthavong
Following her success at MWEC, Siriphone’s next step was to increase investment in ECME staff, staff training and marketing activities. Targeting opportunities in construction, Hydropower, Petroleum, FMCG and in particular, Lao PDRs Special Economic zones (SEZs), ECME has since enjoyed notable success.
Now officially a ‘medium sized enterprise’, the company employs 68 Staff, has 23 long term clients, and revenues of approximately $1.2million USD per year (expected to increase by 19% in 2016). Further contributing to ECME’s development, the company has recently opened a branch in the Savan-Park Special Economic Zone.
ECME now offer a range of services; from the design of engineering systems to the procurement, installation and maintenance of technical instruments – and works with some of the largest companies in Lao PDR (including ANZ Bank, Phu Bia Mining and Beer Lao Group).
ECME prides itself on offering development opportunities to its staff members, and many have achieved notable success. In 2014, employee Soukkaserm Xayphonesy was the runner up in the 10th ASEAN Skills Competition, held in Hanoi – specialising in “Electrical Installations”. On top of this, ECME staff are nominated to attend local and international training centres in order to develop business and technical skills. Siriphone herself is now studying for an MBA, and is expected to graduate in 2017.
Siriphone’s aim is for ECME to become the leading engineering services firm in Lao PDR. Key strategic objectives include developing robust internal systems, and capitalising on ECME’s long term clients.
Though Sirphone and ECME represent a true Mekong-success story, there are still barriers to female entrepreneurs in the Mekong region. There are three notable obstacles for women entrepreneurs: 1. Lack of access to networks 2. Absence of exposure to experienced business support mechanisms 3. A dearth of relevant business information and knowledge.
The MWEC program was targeted at these three obstacles. In the future, EMC looks forward to continuing its work to remove these barriers, partnering with DoSMEP, IFC and others to make stories such as ECME more common throughout the Mekong region.
 World Bank Group (2013) Growing Women-led Enterprises in the Mekong: Testing a Methodology for Accelerating Growth