When Thul Rithy first moved to Phnom Penh as a young man he lived in a simple pagoda with monks and exercised his keen thirst for knowledge.
“I read a lot of books. I went to a university and in a year I read nearly every book in the library,” he said.
This was back in 2004, a time before smartphones and easy internet access in Cambodia. But Rithy was already starting to understand the depths and possibilities of learning on the Internet.
“I would download books and print them. But I could never read all of Wikipedia.”
His eager adoption of technology opened up a career revolving around start-up ecosystems, tinkering with software coding and, more recently, experiments with blockchain technology.
He started SmallWorld, a co-working space and tech incubator for young entrepreneurs in the Cambodian capital in 2011. And now SmallWorld is taking big steps towards a new technological frontier – building its own computers to encourage the next wave of learners, coders and engineers.
The concept is to provide a low-cost, high-performance laptop equipped with ready-to-run open source software. Rithy will initially target “students that have maybe never touched a computer before,” but is open to selling to the wider public under his new Koompi brand, which means book of knowledge in Khmer.
The product – to be available for purchase in August – is an aesthetic, compact computer that closely resembles an Apple Macbook Air. Its desktop is a hybrid of Window and Apple software and is designed to be clean and easily accessible for new users.