The SLUSH Impact Pitching Competition

Recently, the SLUSH Impact Pitching competition was held in Hanoi. Co-sponsored by the IPP and HATCH!, the competition featured eight teams that came from across Vietnam to compete in Hanoi for three potential slots to go to attend this year’s SLUSH competition in Finland.

Below are the startups and a brief summary of each team.

1. Entobel (Ho Chi Minh City)

This startup seeks to provide a sustainable source of protein; according to the team, there is a growing demand of protein globally but the supply cannot keep up. Looking for a cheap source of protein, Alexandre de Caters and the rest of the team identified insects as a potential source. During his pitch, de Caters stated that the price of protein is increasing but the technology isn’t there at a large scale. Entobel was founded in 2014 to help address this problem and it is focused on mass insect rearing, specifically, the tropical fly. So the team hopes to use the protein as an additive in human food, potentially replacing fish meal. Currently, they have a pilot plant in southern Vietnam and hope to establish the first industrial plant in Vietnam by 2016, which is expected to have a capacity of producing 500 tons per year of protein. The team is comprised of scientists in Europe and two Belgians in Vietnam.

2. Tomago Education (Ho Chi Minh City)

Simply, Tomago Education is on a mission to empower. The team has realized that success in both personal and professional lives often does not come easy so Tomago Education co-founders have embarked on a mission to teach a variety of subjects in order to serve the specific needs of Vietnamese students in order to cultivate independent thinkers. Their teaching is based on four philosophies:

1. A free and respectful environment;

2. Transferring lifelong skills to feed themselves and family;

3. Give them things to do and projects to try; and

4. Experience a variety of topics and understand themselves and follow passion.

Thus, Tomago Education is inviting industry professionals (who have open minds) to participate and who want to give back to the next generation. In essence, the Tomago Education team calls themselves instructors and students on the same basis; i.e., they get in touch with children by becoming their mentors.

Currently, the non-profit organization has 35 students with nine instructors and the three co-founders (including Long Le) are full-time. Students are charged a tuition of two million Vietnamese dong (approximately $100) per two month course and the pricing model seems to be popular with more than 100 students currently enrolled. Classes are held on Saturdays and Sunday, with one unit completed every six months.

3. HandyTrail (Hanoi)

According to Mr. Kim, the father of HandyTrail, it’s a “game-changer in the tourism industry” and another co-founder, Nguyen Thi Thu, shares this sentiment in addition to sharing a love for traveling and the betterment of the community. According to the team, there is demand for sustainable development of the local tourism industry, in particular handicraft trade which allows HandyTrail to collaborate with NGOs, local government, and local entrepreneurs as part of their offline component.

HandyTrail expects that its revenue streams will be from three products: an online website handytrail.com; HandyTour, a smartphone travel app with a chat window and games; and HandySales.club, an online advertising service which connects handycraft makers to customers. Already the startup has gained traction in the form of an MOU with the Seoul Metro Station.

4. iNext Technology (Ho Chi Minh City)

The startup seeks to address the issue of overcrowded hospitals in Vietnam and “unbalanced high-quality human resources” by introducing its iTelem System, which is video conference for training, tele-diagnosis, and tele-consultation in medicine, allowing diagnosis by computer instead of traditional film.

It’s already tested the technology in Gia Dinh People’s Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City during an open heart surgery where three windows on a screen showed the patient’s vitals, the operating room, and consultation room.

iNext Technology’s Ngoc Nguyen-Chi claims that their service is 30% the cost of its competitors such as GE, Siemens, and Philips (its system can connect to both GE and Siemens products). The team is currently seeking $300,000 in funding.

5. Livegreen.vn (Ho Chi Minh City)

Livegreen focuses on green development, both professionally and personally. Bui Viet Ha, CEO of Livegreen, has a dream of people living in the world with harmony and children enjoying beautiful lives. In 2001 Mr. Ha studied in Sweden where he began considering green concepts but it wasn’t until 2011 when he launched the first and only social network to promote a sustainable living style; then the cafe came in 2013. Ultimately, Livegreen seeks to train and change the behavior of people to more sustainable methods. By changing lifestyles everyone can make a more positive impact in the environment.

According to Mr. Ha, we need more people to lead better lifestyles but green things are not fun since people do not see the results and it can be time consuming. So the there is a lack of “continuance and connection” which is not sustainable in the long term. Enter Livegreen. Currently, training for a new and greener lifestyle through Livegreen lasts six weeks and it is sponsored by NGOs. The platform is actually three things: a games center, a social network, and marketing for businesses. Livegreen customizes a game for each customer and keeps track of individual users. So Livegreen helps users change behavior via the game, which allows users to practice a new method and apply it in daily life.

6. Sac Ky Hai Dang (Ho Chi Minh City)

Also known as “Trace Verified,” this startup is a social enterprise serving the Food Transparency Alliance (FTA) to address “pervasive problems in Vietnam’s food market.” According to Nguyen Thi Hong Minh, there is a significant disconnection between responsible food producers and consumers. So Trace Verified seeks to promote a culture of transparent and traceable information in food safety in Vietnam in part via the startup but also through the FTA.

The FTA is a voluntary community of responsible SME food producers. The startup portion is a social enterprise company under Vietnam’s 2014 Enterprise Law. In effect, the startup is a service provider for the FTA. Members of the FTA pay a yearly subscription for electronic components as well as QR codes.

The social impact of these two organizations would be on SME producers, farmers, and, of course, consumers. Essentially, food producers can increase revenue by guaranteeing high-quality food and consumers can get high-quality food products.

Currently, the product is live with exporters and the team is now focusing on the domestic Vietnamese market. Retailer Big C uses the methodology for ensuring high-quality pork meat in the supply chain; some corporate sponsors include Deloitte Vietnam, The Saigon Times Group, and Vinh Hoa Corporation. The startup is also supported by the Danish government and the FTA has support from Vietnam’s Ministry of Health. In terms of market potential, 16 farmers are immediately targeted with a total market of about $29.5 billion dollars, according to the team.

7. Long Phuong Thinh (Thanh Hoa)

Also known as Vietnam Biocoal, Long Phuong Thinh has focused on developing biomass renewable energy in the form of pellets from recycled agriculture. According to the team, the pellet market expected to grow by 2020. Vietnam Bifocal currently has four years experience in machine produced products and just switched to pellets this year.

There is some competition in the EU but those products have a higher price than Vietnamese biocoal so the startup is hoping to target Russian customers, even if the biomass market pricing has gone down recently.

8. BioSpring (Hanoi)

This startup wants to bring heat-resistant probiotics to farmers in Vietnam and around the world. It has developed beneficial bacteria that can withstand 100C, thereby increasing faming productivity. According to CEO Huynh Minh Viet, clean food suppliers are increasing and aquaculture production is under pressure from diseases so antibiotics are being used (and the unclear origin of beneficial probiotics is an issue as well).

With its pilot plant in Thanh Hoa province, BioSpring is able to produce 250 tons of its probiotics per year and can supply about 10 feed mills. The product has been in the market for several months already and BioSpring is currently looking for partners and investors with a 30 billion VND (~$1.5 million) valuation. As part of its pilot program, it has figured out how to produce the probiotic due to angel/self-funding from five people and will looks to optimize its mixes for pigs, chicken, shrimp, and fish.

Right now, the plan is to sell to feed mill and farmers who can test it and evaluate the quality in order to quantify the impact. The startup claims to improve the growth of a pig by 5%-10%. For example, a farmer pays 60,000-90,000 VND for the product and can obtain an additional 100,000-200,000 VND premium for the pig based on additional weight after three-to-four months. Mr. Viet even gave a demonstration by consuming the probiotic himself, showing that the product was safe for human consumption. The next step is for the startup to obtain the appropriate certificate to scale up production.

Verdict

The winning teams were iNext Technology, Trace Verified, and BioSpring. One of the teams might actually get the chance to participate in SLUSH Impact 2015 in Finland since they will be presented to the SLUSH selection committee via a fast track. Overall, the teams were varied in their origins as well as geography but it was clear that pitching skills needed to be improved in order to distill relevant information during the five minute time-limit. Still, many of the startups outlined relevant challenges and presented feasible solutions; one surprise was that there was so much focus on agriculture, in particular animal feed. Perhaps we will witness the convergence or cooperations of a few of these ideas/startups since they are operating in similar spaces. Stay tuned!

To find out more information about the event see here.

Google I/O Extended Hanoi

For some time, Google Developer Group Hanoi (GDG Hanoi) has been helping to build the developer community here, which is remarkable considering that they are all volunteers. This month, the first Google I/O Extended event was held in Hanoi for the local community to get a first-hand look at upcoming Google products and services.

Google I/O Extended (with the “I/O” portion meaning “Innovation in the Open”) is a way for those in Hanoi (and other cities) to deep dive into new technology that was announced during the annual Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco (which was first held in 2008).

At Extended locations, such as the one in Hanoi (and in Ho Chi Minh City the day before where approximately 400 people turned out), participants have the opportunity to code, get their hands dirty, and get to experience some of the latest technology. The conference is geared toward those who want to launch an application, or add new features to existing application.

Participants received updates on a variety of new-and-upcoming consumer-focused Google products including Google Now on Tap, Google Photos (which now has the ability to recognize, categorize, and group everyday objects such as food, landscape, etc.), Project Jacquard (which allows designers and developers to create touch sensitive surfaces in clothing thereby transforming fabric and literally integrating technology into what you wear), Google Cardboard (which your author experienced), Google Spotlight Stories (introducing augmented reality capability to smartphones), and Project Soli (which can detect sub-millimeter motions at high accuracy). However, there was no mention of Project Ara, a smartphone with modular components.

Present at the first Google I/O Extended Hanoi conference were members of Google’s Developer Relations Ecosystem Team, Partner Account Management Team, and of course, the Google Developer Community Management Team. The goal of these conferences is to help developers make successful applications and turn those applications into successful businesses— and the community is the biggest part of that drive toward success. Across the world there are 600+ GDG in 100+ countries and in the last six months 3,000+ local developers have met up at events to collaborate, share knowledge, and build skills.

Google recognizes people outside of the organization who are very knowledgeable about Google products; they call them Developer Experts. These are people who are active in community, localize content, and speak at events. At the conference, Google representatives announced that they were looking for the first Google Developer Expert to emerge from Vietnam since there aren’t any currently (but they hope to change that soon).

To become a Google Developer Expert, it requires someone technical, someone very involved in the program. A competitive candidate will have to sign an NDA in order to gain early-access to pre-release products. Some of the benefits include getting to travel to Google I/O in San Francisco and access to Google developers. Currently, there are only 120 Developer Experts worldwide so the successful Vietnamese candidate will have to be highly technically-oriented.

On the developer side of things at the conference, Google promoted a few products including Google Launchpad (which is geared toward startups), Polymer 1.0 (a web technology toolkit which brings material design to the web and offers new tool bars, menus, and offline caching), Project Brillo (bringing standardization to the Internet of Things), and Firebase (allowing everything on the backend to stay in sync using a JSON database), among others.

Also shared with the crowd of student and professional developers was that the permissions for applications on Google’s Play Store had been updated; now an application asks for permission as needed instead of during installation time which will resulting in easier application updates.

Another promoted topic was app indexing which means that in addition to web results, app results are also shown in search results. However, it requires that developers take the time to index content in their applications. Once that is done then Google can crawl and return content for applicable searches. In essence, it’s another way for users to find developers’ applications and install them–free of charge.

One of Google’s major themes is “building for the next billion users” which Vietnam is definitely part of. This initiative includes building for emerging markets by optimizing products and services for the next billion users in a country where many millions of them live. For example, offline support for YouTube videos in places where connectivity is slow or latency is high; or improving load times for search results in order to maintain a quality user experience.

During one of the workshops, the Google Design Sprint was covered where six fundamentals were shared with the audience.

1. Focus on the user—design for them;

2. Do your research—understand the product area;

3. Strive for simplicity—make sure your propsition and benefits are clear;

4. Prioritize speed—make most important actions the easiest to accomplish;

5. Never stop learning—seize every opportunity to learn; and

6. Solve big problems—create lasting value for users.

This entire Design Sprint can be completed in a week so the emphasis was on building something and learning something from it. The advice given was that if the build doesn’t work then don’t get bogged down in it (within reason) and go onto the next one. In other words dig into the problem in order to understand, diverge, decide, prototype, and validate. And then do it all over again.

There was another event that weekend, an AngelHack held in Ho Chi Minh City from July 4-5 which had about 250 registered participants. Interest, demand, and standards for these kinds of events are increasing across the board. Last year’s success with Flappy Bird was a watershed moment for the developer community and it has spurred the growth of numerous independent game developers. GDG (and Google as well) is providing the support for users of its products and services as well as developers of content in Vietnam so it will surely benefit from playing a pivotal role in building Vietnam’s innovation economy.

Jason Tien Le, an Account Partner Manager at Google shared his thoughts with us, echoing this very sentiment:

“We’re delighted to see Google I/O Extended continue to grow and connect local developers with a truly global community. We see tremendous talent in Vietnam, and we’re committed to exploring ways to support the developer community, at home and around the world.”

Right now, the market here is still in the clone stage but it’s only a matter of time before some more hits emerge out of Vietnam and splash into the region and beyond. Vietnamese developers are hungry, they have quick turnaround times, and they are talented–the hard part will be to shift from a short-term orientation to a long-term focus in order to build relationships with other communities and customer bases around the world. Perhaps it will happen even sooner than expected since developers here are quick learners.

The REMON Project

On July 2 and 3, the Final Conference of the Vietnamese-German Research Project Real Time Monitoring of Urban Transport—Solutions for Traffic Management and Urban Development in Hanoi (REMON) was held in Hanoi. During the conference, project representatives outlined their plans for going forward and listened to the concerns of the attendees, which ranged from data privacy to the methodology of the proposed actions.

Traffic in Vietnam can conjure up images of motorbikes, bicycles, buses, and luxury vehicles all vying to occupy the limited space on the road, especially in major cities. Already during rush hour, parts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are near impassable. Few experiences could be worse than being caught at a red light in Ho Chi Minh City during the rainy season, and surrounded by the drone and exhaust of a few hundred motorbikes in front and behind. (Your author has experienced this firsthand.)

And up in Hanoi, the afternoon rush hour can turn into a “Battle Royal” where buses are operated as if they were cars, cars as if they were motorbikes, and motorbikes as if there were regulations for operating a motorbike. The Vietnamese dream is to own a car—to show off success to others, to protect from the elements, and to travel comfortably.

Last year, the first Rolls-Royce Motor Cars showroom in Vietnam opened up in Hanoi. However, as we explained during coverage of the Yamaha Town Hanoi showroom, the car will never fully replace the motorbike in Vietnam, and Hanoi itself is a Motorcycle Dependent City (MDC). Still, Vietnam experiences 10% new vehicles on the road each year and congestion will only increase as more people become successful as a result of the economy. In fact, there are even events called “car washes” where an entire company will go out to celebrate the purchase of a car by one of its employees–arguably, one of the nicer effects of an increasing number of vehicles on the road, but not without short and long-term effects on the city, its people, and the environment.

So in the last three years, a team of Vietnamese and German researches has looked at this increasing traffic issue in Hanoi. The REMON Project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Science and Technology, Vietnam and has been ongoing since May 2012 (and will run until October 2015).

According to a handout at the event, the REMON project has several key objectives:

  1. “reduction of air pollutants and emissions;”
  2. “reduction of energy consumption in the urban transport sector in Hanoi, Vietnam;”
  3. “establish a real-time traffic information system in Hanoi, which helps to increase the efficiency of Hanoi’s transport system;”
  4. reduce environmental impacts of traffic, in particular traffic jams, traffic-induced emissions and energy consumption.”

The REMON project wants to track and detect traffic conditions in real time via two methods; Floating Car Data (FCD) and Floating Phone Data (FPD) which is essentially GPS data from onboard units in vehicles but also the smartphones of the vehicle drivers as well.

The REMON project hopes to use the raw data for several applications ranging from “informing road users of the current traffic situation on each street to controlling and managing traffic as well as long-term transport and urban planning efforts and measure to solve traffic problems.”

Thus, the focus is on short-term traffic information as well as long-term transport management approaches and urban planning solutions. In other words, “the REMON project is a well-adapted, demand-oriented, collaborative research and development project between German and Vietnamese partners. It aims at establishing a traffic information system and using it for achieving an integrated urban and transport development of Hanoi.”

Ridesharing and Electric Vehicles in the Future

Uber arrived in Vietnam in June, 2014 in Ho Chi Minh City and in October in Hanoi. GrabTaxi also arrived last year in Vietnam. These services help optimize the flow of people across cities but they also have the potential to reduce future vehicles on the road considering the tough parking situation in Hanoi. For sure, once the metro comes online, it will provide a viable alternative for navigating around Hanoi (and Ho Chi Minh City).

On the other hand, electric vehicles such as bicycles, are usually associated with young people or students. At the high-end range, if Tesla Motors were to enter Vietnam it could change the perception of electric vehicles in this market. However, entering an Asian market where consumers want to have instant gratification and want to save “face” and requires developing infrastructure can be quite challenging as seen with Tesla Motors’ progress into China.

There are definitely opportunities to partner with residential and commercial developers in Vietnam to offer Powerwall and other devices in the portfolio that could benefits residents, customers, and others who are interested in living a high-tech, stylish, and green life. For example, establishing VIP charge/parking spots at malls, and premium parking in residential developments are some options for building a suitable brand image for Tesla Motors. Successful Vietnamese want others to acknowledge their success and want to be seen in exclusive situations so it may take some time for a mindset or attitude shift, especially from the nouveau riche, who will only increase in numbers in the future.

One thing is certain: the focus and results of the REMON project will affect all Hanoians as the impact of traffic is demonstrated in more relatable terms such as quantifiable lost productivity due to waiting in traffic (or even access to the real-time data via a mobile application as the project hopes to achieve). Along those lines, solutions for traffic challenges could emerge from a variety of areas–not only the private sector or from researchers, but also from the public via crowdsourcing campaigns. Indeed, there were many vocal and concerned commentators at the event in the audience who did not have a shortage of opinions on what should be done moving forward. In the meantime, the continued promotion of basic standards of courtesy on the roads with an emphasis on safety, utilizing signals, and respecting traffic laws can go a long way toward improving the commuting, driving, and riding experiences in cities such as Hanoi; after all, innovation and technology can help to fill in the gaps.

If you would like to know more information or would like to view the material presented then you can find it here.

The UNICEF Innovation Lab in Vietnam

Recently, we met with Brian Cotter, an Innovation Specialist with UNICEF; he explained the UNICEF Innovation Lab in Vietnam, how the tech scene is changing in Ho Chi Minh City, and how you can get involved with the nearest Innovation Lab.

Can you share a bit about yourself? What’s your background, your role in your organization, and where are you located?

BC: I’ll have lived in Vietnam nine years this June. I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison where I majored in Zoology. During my studies, I worked with the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), which deploys autonomous buoys into lakes for data collection. When I was doing it, the project was just in the US but now it’s global. So I was working with technology even though I had a different major.

Then I had the opportunity to move to Vietnam so I took it. I started off teaching English, like many people and then worked in hospitality and retail. I helped open a restaurant and tried to open a series of convenience stores in Mui Ne, a coastal town. So my experience was working in small businesses before I tried to do a mobile app outsourcing company.

The entrepreneur style really attracted me and I didn’t want to be in the office all the time so I tried to participate in startups as much as I could. I liked building things and doing things. Today, I am based in Ho Chi Minh City as an Innovation Specialist with UNICEF.

How long has the UNICEF Innovation Lab been present in Vietnam? What’s the role of the UNICEF Innovation Lab here in Vietnam?

BC: We’ve been here for six months; 2015 is foundational year so we are working to determine the best approach. The Innovation Unit for UNICEF global has been around since 2007 with growth accelerating since 2009. We are an interdisciplinary team of individuals around the world tasked with identifying, prototyping, and scaling technologies and practices that strengthen UNICEF’s work. We build and scale innovations that improve children’s lives around the world.

In the UNICEF context, Innovation Labs generally have a dual imperative. Firstly they exist to support the utilization of innovative processes in the development of internal programs and the identification of opportunities for improved results through the use of emerging technologies. Secondly they exist to empower the local communities and stakeholders to develop the capacity approach complex problems and create sustainable solutions.

Our main office is in Hanoi but we have sub office in Ho Chi Minh City so I travel between both cities, depending on work. However, the Innovation Lab is initially focused in Ho Chi Minh City.

The UNICEF Innovation Lab is both a physical space and a “conceptual environment,” correct? How does that work exactly?

BC: The Lab part of the Innovation Lab means a physical space. It is our mission to participate in a community of like-minded individuals and organizations to create a better future for Vietnam through innovation. The physical space is there to embody the type of community we want to empower: equitable, sustainable, impactful. We want to improve the collaboration across different sectors of the entrepreneurship and startup community, to convene partners around social impact, and to provide opportunity to those who are traditionally left out of the conversation. In order to create this space, we must first exemplify these values by working collaboratively with different stakeholders to identify our best approach for success and continually work to improve the mission and service provided through the space.

There are about a dozen UNICEF Innovation Labs around the world, how much collaboration is there between the labs?

We have monthly calls; I can reach out to them at any time. There’s a growing regional team to support us in bringing global context to our locales. There is another Innovation Lab in Indonesia—we talk almost every day. We share documents, struggles, and bottlenecks to help support each other. The context of every country is very different but we work together to share solutions. I set up a Skype group between ASEAN innovation labs and we have bi-weekly regional calls. In terms of technology, we use the cloud for collaborative documents and we utilize collaborative project management tools such as Trello.

What are some of the challenges that the UNICEF Innovation Lab in Vietnam seeks to address?

BC: We have nine Innovation Principles so one result of a principle is that everything in the lab is open-source. In our space, technology is not the innovation—the use of that technology in a novel way is the innovation for us. We use technology as a tool to deliver results. The tech is a tool, it doesn’t have to be bleeding edge, it has to be relevant. It needs to create a competitive advantage and be scalable. We pose a simple question: “How do you use it to deliver a better result?”

Project Mwana in Zambia is an example of this, which cut down the turnaround time for testing blood for HIV by half. The traditional method involved paper and post: 30 days to send the results, 33 days to get them back. With Project Mwana, the change was in delivering test results via SMS. Thus, critical treatment can get started earlier with better results.

Looking to the horizon, UNICEF will leverage trending technologies. The Innovation Lab looks at the situation and asks, “three-to-five years down, what does the country need? What does UNICEF need?”

So Wearables is a continuing theme now as well as the “Internet of Good Things.” We are addressing emerging tech areas and applying them in the context and using current technology in novel ways. What do we need to develop today that we will need to scale in three-to-five years?

Locally, the global innovation unit has identified Vietnam as a key contributor (key regional leader) that can contribute to the emerging technology community. Vietnamese expertise in ICT can be used to impact other parts of the world, which is why Vietnam was chosen to be one of two initial innovation labs in SE Asia.

We hope to be engaged and implement here, and then export the innovations that emerge.

Is there any recent news or upcoming developments about the UNICEF Innovation Lab that you’d like to share?

We opened our Global Innovation Lab in May in New York City, which focuses on global initiatives. U-Reports is one global initiative. U-Report began as an SMS program in Uganda in 2010 as an opportunity for young people in developing countries to express their views from a basic mobile phone.  Today the program, developed on RapidPro, is in 13 countries and over 650,000 people are sending or receiving SMSs every week.  Over the past four years U-Reporters have:

  • Sent and received over 50 million messages, each one representing a voice, question or opinion.
  • Improved the impact of UNICEF health programmes for mothers and children
  • Identified or verified cholera, Ebola, and typhoid outbreaks
  • Successfully advocated to support the Children Act to outlaw corporal punishment in Ugandan schools
  • Increased the rate U-Reporters knowing their HIV/AIDS status in Zambia by one third.
  • Advocated for girl’s rights to education at Rio+20 conference
  • Fought against the practice of Female Genital Mutilation alongside multiple faiths, legally and culturally.

You’ve been in Vietnam since 2006, right? How has the tech or startup scene changed since when you first arrived here?

BC: It’s accelerating. There is more action, desire, maturity. I’ve been around developers for awhile, they used to develop for their day jobs then go home and relax. Now they are developing at home because they are passionate about their side projects. The acceptance that “it” is possible has increased so there is additional motivation to build. In terms of the official ecosystem, it’s still so early so there are opportunities to influence things at the beginning.

What do you think readers should know about the startup scene in Vietnam?

BC: It’s a bit rough around the edges. There are still significant gaps and opportunities for development. The momentum is accelerating. Before, when Saigon Hub was around, people wouldn’t pay for events. Now I see that many people are willing to pay for events. They recognize that there is better quality content available, so they pay for it. The ecosystem is maturing organically in that regard.
What should we keep an eye out for in terms of startups and innovation coming out of Vietnam?

BC: There’s a lot of really smart people in this country. If they focus energies on a startup they could make some pretty incredible things. We saw VP9 at TechFest Vietnam; that could be incredible. But he [the founder] is not unique, there are a lot of people out there who don’t know the value of their market knowledge. Vietnam is bursting with so much raw talent—and discipline to a specific expertise. But that’s all they have so there needs to be support around it.

There are tech people in hardware and academia who don’t know how to talk about or differentiate their products. If they got the support of the ecosystem—whereby if other skills to run a startup were made accessible to a broader audience, then some magic could happen. It would require other focus put on soft skills; being able to present and express ideas and then we could see some significant tech and intellectual property-based technology break out. There are a lot smart people whose inventions never see the light of day.

Also, uniquely Vietnamese styles are starting to come out. Vietnamese are being inspired by other cultures and are not just copying anymore— they are putting their own twist on things. The maturity is coming. The tech startup scene has some of that; big things are coming, not just copies.

If people want to get involved with the UNICEF Innovation Lab, how can they do that in Vietnam?

The first thing you should know is that if you walk in and say, “I want to make a difference,” then I’m not going to say no. Everyone has a part to play, from CEO on down. We have open global challenges on Wearables and Causetech.net and will be making UNICEF problems within Vietnam more visible to the tech entrepreneur community as well.

One feature would be a weekend workshop so we can recruit mostly marginalized people to train skills and create projects. The sustainable projects will be guided by mentors and eventually those projects will develop into organizations. We are basing this idea off a framework that has been used in Kosovo so it’s a “by youth for youth” component. It’s a model that has been crafted through iteration after two-to-four years of events so it’s not from scratch. This workshop will be coming in late 2015 in HCMC and hopefully we can see it in other cities in Vietnam in 2016.

In effect we are turning innovators toward UNICEF problems and are engaging marginalized youth to enable equitable access to innovation and entrepreneurship resources like accelerators and training. Everyone has the opportunity to participate as mentors, entrepreneurs, providing funding instruments, or just sharing the vision. If you simply want to follow our progress, check us out on Facebook.

Any advice for locals or foreigners who want to become entrepreneurs in Vietnam? 

Just do it. You don’t learn until you launch or until you do it. If your gut tells you that you want to try then do it, listen. Figure out a way to do it without losing your job. Judge for yourself how much risk you are willing to take.

Thanks to Brian Cotter, who shared his time with us.