SuleTech, a new community centre and office space, brings the future downtown

Only a handful of buildings in Yangon are taller than MAC Tower. Its 11-storey stature affords a fresh perspective of the downtown proper, including Sule Pagoda – a landmark that lends its name to a new office and community and co-working space called “SuleTech” coming to MAC Tower’s top floor.

Two tenants are moving in: Ooredoo’s entrepreneurial arm and startup incubator Ideabox, as well as a new non-profit group from Code for Change Myanmar founder David Madden called Phan Dee Yar. Both will make MAC Tower’s 11th floor their home base, but by no means will be the only ones sharing the space. Rather, much of the almost 6000-sq-ft storey will be open to the public.

Its name seems appropriate, as “Sule” sometimes becomes shorthand for the centre of downtown Yangon and SuleTech seeks to serve as a hub for anyone in and around the tech industry in Myanmar. Designed to appeal to more than the usual suspects – techies and their ilk – the space means to become a crossroads where individuals across industries meet, as well as a place “for ideas to collide”, said Julian Gorman, Ideabox co-founder and Ooredoo Myanmar director of digital services.

Lack of community represents a particular pain point in Myanmar. Three-quarters of those surveyed participants in the country’s second-ever hackathon knew less than 20 percent of the people at the event, according to Mr Madden. SuleTech’s logic seems to run that the remedy to a disconnected network is networking, which a physical gathering place can help with.

“A key ambition … is that [SuleTech] becomes a real community place. Instead of all the people going and sitting in the bottom of Trader’s hotel for internet access, they’d actually much rather come here,” Mr Gorman said. “It’s more about when you come here, who else am I going to meet in this space?”

In an ecosystem like Myanmar’s, building a start-up gets complicated when entrepreneurs don’t have different types of industry workers in their rolodex.

“Creating that vibrant rich community is about interaction,” he continues. “Everyone talks about Sergey Brin and those guys building Google in a garage … [They] spent a [load] of time talking to other people.”

Recent initiatives from Ideabox and Code for Change Myanmar such as conferences, hackathons, and networking groups have brought the tech community out of the woodwork and to IRL meetings. Now, events like monthly networking meetup Mobile Monday can be held at SuleTech.

”To get anything good out of a city, like entrepreneurs, it’s like making a good recipe – you need the right ingredients and you also need the cooker,” said Kevin Miller of the Go Project, a startup sponsored by

Ideabox. “Spaces like these create [the] productive collisions where people meet each other and magic happens.”

Ideabox and Phan Dee Yar will set up shop, but won’t be sectioned off, in the wings of the 11th floor. Both will put on events, while the former will run its incubation program and the latter will push “civic tech” endeavors forward – with civic tech a buzz word used abroad to describe tech for the public’s benefit.

“How do we ensure that part of what is happening in the tech ecosystem in Myanmar is energy and efforts towards building the kinds of things that are going to actually improve people’s lives?” Mr Madden said.

Phan Dee Yar, whose name combines Phan dee (to create or make) and Yar (a word for place), evolved from Code for Change Myanmar into a broader effort to put technology in Myanmar to good use. The innovation lab targets getting three specific groups involved in the scene: the tech community (the cornerstone of the whole space, according to Mr Madden), to be connected with civil society and independent media.

“Phan Dee Yar is not just going to create the space, build it and hope they come. We’re going to run programs,” Mr Madden said. At a recent start-up event in Singapore, he said the non-prof’s main objectives were building out Myanmar’s pool of tech talent, helping civil society and independent media utilise technology and bringing people together.

The organisation can help locals forge links among themselves as well as with others across the country’s borders – a development crucial to the nation’s future if its efforts to digitally leapfrog years of technology are to come off well.

“We’re trying to connect up this civic-minded tech community with the broader global community,” Mr Madden said.

“The less time that you can spend going down roads that others have gone down that are dead ends, or accelerating down a road because there’s already a bunch of stops along the way that have been prepared for you, the better,” he continued.

In time, SuleTech hopes to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Mr Madden explains Internews and Omidyar Network – the charitable investment firm from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife – are teaming up to provide backing for Phan Dee Yar.

“We’ll create some really simple, affordable way of people being able to access and use the place and we want it to be open and accessible, so it’ll be quite reasonable,” Mr Madden said. “I think they’ll be opportunity to rent parts of Phan Dee Yar as well as the central, common area.”

Instead of roving to different locations for events, the community can makes it home at a new permanent address: SuleTech. Up 11 storeys, the view from the new space allows for a look at Yangon that makes the city feel slightly smaller and perhaps more navigable.

Though its height can’t offer a 30,000-foot perspective, it can give those that visit a better idea of a whole industry, with insight on who’s accomplishing what, in Myanmar and beyond.


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