SINGAPORE (October 19, 2018) â€“ BambooLao from Luang Prabang, Lao PDR beat 111 entrants from across Southeast Asia to take top prize in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) challenge. The elite travel startup competition, supported by the Australian Government and Asian Development Bank, includes Asiaâ€™s most prominent travel-specialized venture capitalists among its advisors. MISTâ€™s top prize comes with a $10,000 USD innovation grant.
BambooLao is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia. They have produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo varieties and a proprietary natural treatment process. Their straws are used by Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as EXO Travel tours. BambooLao estimates their environmentally-friendly products have displaced the use of 5 million single-use plastic straws.
â€œThe MIST innovation grant will help us scale-up production from one to three villages. We must invest in capacity to meet growing international demand,â€ said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune.
Vietnamese startup Ecohost took MISTâ€™s second prize and received a $5,000 USD 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 â€“ especially startups that generate positive impacts for communities, culture, and the environment. The programâ€™s five 2018 finalists refined their business acumen and pitching skills during MISTâ€™s weeklong business fundamentals bootcamp, five months of customized coaching by industry experts, and MIST pitch competitions in Ho Chi Minh City, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, and ITB-Asiaâ€™s Mekong Travel Startup Forum in Singapore.
â€œBambooLao, Ecohost, and other MIST finalists demonstrate how the Mekong regionâ€™s bright, innovative entrepreneurs are finding practical solutions to solve industry problems, while striving to make tourism more inclusive and sustainable,” said Jens Thraenhart, co-organizer of MIST and executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.