BambooLao from Luang Prabang beat 111 entrants from across Southeast Asia to take top prize in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) Challenge.
The travel startup competition, supported by the Australian government and Asian Development Bank, includes Asia’s most prominent travel-specialised venture capitalists among its advisors.
MIST’s top prize comes with a USD10,000 grant.
BambooLao gets the prize cash to continue developing an alternative to the common plastic straw as part of a campaign to eliminate straws from hotels and resorts across Asia.
So far, the small village enterprise has produced 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo materials and a proprietary natural treatment process.
Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as EXO Travel have purchased bamboo straws.
BambooLao estimates their environmentally friendly products have been able to eliminate 5 million single-use plastic straws so far.
“The MIST innovation grant will help us scale-up production from one to three villages. We must invest in capacity to meet growing demand,” said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune.
Startup Ecohost from Vietnam took MIST’s second prize and received a USD5,000 grant.
Ecohost facilitates quality tourism experiences in the Vietnamese countryside, working with rural communities to develop tours and activities, while improving the capacity of local homestays to serve international guests.MIST supports high-growth-potential emerging market startups in travel and hospitality — especially startups that generate positive impacts for communities, culture, and the environment.
The programme’s five 2018 finalists refined their business acumen and pitching skills during MIST’s events including a weeklong business fundamentals bootcamp, and five months of customized coaching by industry experts.
In addition, MIST hosted pitch competitions in Ho Chi Minh City, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, during the Mekong Tourism Forum, and at the Mekong Travel Startup Forum in Singapore during ITB Asia.
“BambooLao, Ecohost, and other MIST finalists demonstrate how the Mekong region’s bright, innovative entrepreneurs are finding practical solutions to solve industry problems, while striving to make tourism more inclusive and sustainable,” said Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director Jens Thraenhart.
MTCO was the co-organiser of MIST initiatives.