Request For Vietnam Startups

READ THE COMPANION PIECE: “FROM A SUBSIDY TO A STARTUP ECONOMY

AGRICULTURE

Vietnam accounts for more than a fifth of the global total of rice exports, it’s the world’s second largest exporter of coffee, and it’s also the second largest producer of pepper, making it an ideal prototyping arena for new farming techniques and technologies. Thus, AgriTech that is developed in Vietnam has the potential to be exported across other markets. For starters, how can crop yields be efficiently increased without over-farming existing land?

BRAND

Vietnam has a lot of potential to develop its international brand—it already has a strong reputation for IT outsourcing. Furthermore, the Vietnamese conical hat (known as nón là) has near-instant brand recognition. What’s the most effective way of enhancing Vietnam’s perception abroad?

CHALLENGES

Counterfeit goods, collusion (pricing), congestion (traffic and pollution), climate change effects in the Mekong Delta, gender imbalance, lack of transparency, etc. Pick an area; how can it be addressed?

COMMUNITY

Most of Vietnam’s major cities are made up of locals, foreigners, and Viet-Kieu but sometimes there isn’t much overlap among the English-teaching, business, diplomatic, freelancer, arts, and other communities. One idea: how to tap into these diverse groups of people and make it easier for people who want to move and contribute to Vietnam (or any country) to do so?

COLLABORATION

There are almost two million Vietnamese in the U.S. with approximately one million in California alone. Surprisingly, (to some) Vietnamese is the third most spoken language in Texas. Furthermore, there are overseas Vietnamese communities in France, Germany, Poland, Russia, and Australia. Already, many Vietnamese study abroad and second-generation Vietnamese have returned to Vietnam for work, study, or to live. Linking the diaspora back to Vietnam means benefits at home and abroad. How can these links be strengthened and deepened?

CONSTRUCTION

There are a number of high-rises under development in Ho Chi Minh City and buildings are constantly razed to make way for new ones in Hanoi. Vietnam builders have focused on high-end accommodations but the need is for middle to lower income housing. The pace of construction will only accelerate in the future but often construction sites are hazardous with lax safety measures, waste, delays and overages. Not to mention some badly designed features to begin with, which begets the question: can the industry begin to innovate?

COPIES

Vietnamese entrepreneurs, developers, and product managers might consider trying to copy more: copying best practices, successful models, and building up expertise to a point where they have mastered a skill, product, form, etc. Taking  a proven business model in the region and localizing it to Vietnamese tastes and styles isn’t necessarily a bad idea—it lowers risk. What else could or should Vietnam copy?

DATA

Getting accurate data in Vietnam can sometimes be difficult. Collecting data and making decisions with it is a competitive advantage, given the right data. Depending on a particular industry, what kind of data should be collected to make the right decisions?

DEMOGRAPHICS

There are approximately one million babies born each year in Vietnam while people from rural areas continue to move into major cities. Moreover, people are living longer. What kind of services and care will they need that don’t exist yet?

DIGITAL

Paper is inefficient to store, whether it’s triplicate invoices or money. Finding a way of getting medical and other records into digital databases could be the beginning of a digital transformation in Vietnam. As a starting point, what can be stored digitally today?

EDUCATION

Vietnam needs to revamp its higher education system; more banking and finance majors in Vietnamese universities is not viable in the long term. The Vietnamese youth need to develop more critical thinking skills, more creative abilities, and more confidence in asking questions and executing tasks in order compete internationally. How can these skills be developed within and outside of the school system?

ENERGY

Vietnam’s largest source of electricity-generating capacity is from coal and this trend will continue well into this century. When might we see the emergence and mass adoption of renewable energies such as solar and wind as well as the development of smart homes, buildings, and cities?

FINANCE

FinTech is on the rise but credit card adoption rates are still low in Vietnam and access to loans for SMEs can be improved—perhaps via crowdfunding combined with better investment management tools. How can Vietnamese consumers adopt e-payments more quickly?

GOVERNANCE

Vietnam is a top-down country. However, within the country’s political system, it is experimenting with e-governance in places like Da Nang in an effort to improve public services, e.g., legal process standardization and optimization. Along this theme, how can citizens positively engage the government for everyone to benefit?

HEALTH

Digital health, animal health, BioTech. More specifically, cardiology, oncology, women’s health, opthamology, radiology, intervention, supplements, anti-counterfeit, and general awareness, prevention, and treatments that are developed in Vietnam for a (presumably) lower cost than they would be in the developed world have the potential to outcompete similar solutions in other markets. Not to mention growing diabetes, asthma, and chronic illnesses in Vietnam’s youth and elders. Pollution and divorce is on the rise as well. Getting ahead of the curve: what will be the biggest health concern in five years in Vietnam and do solutions exist for it yet?

INFRASTRUCTURE

With metro projects coming online in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, we may see an alleviation of traffic congestion in both cities. On the other hand, obtaining a car is the new Vietnamese dream and rush hour is already near-gridlock in major Vietnamese cities. How can Vietnam design and execute smart urban planning?

LOGISTICS

Last-mile distribution is still a huge challenge with distribution channels and supply chains that have not yet been streamlined, affecting almost every sector. In its current state, what is the best way to aggregate demand, capture data, and process payments within the logistics and shipping infrastructure?

REAL ESTATE

Renting in Vietnam can be a mixed experience but it is sometimes not economical to buy a home. More and more inventory is coming online—is there a way to optimize under-utilized real estate units until they are sold?

SDGS

See UN Sustainable Development Goals.

SMES

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises are the backbone of the economy and will continue to be as SOE reforms and equitization are accelerated in order to give space to SME growth. New digital tools are a start but how can SMEs compete better, go abroad more easily, and reduce the risk of doing so?

TECHNOLOGY

This is essentially doing more or the same with less, i.e., finding international products and producing them for 30% of the retail cost and 65% of the feature set so that technology sharing across Vietnam and around the (developing) world can flourish. Which product to start with?

TOURISM

Approximately eight million people visit Vietnam every year; this industry has been in decline for months and it’s partly related to customer service—it can be improved, especially in northern Vietnam. Training, language skills, and anticipating customers’ needs are all in short supply. How can three-star hotels deliver three star (international) experiences?

TRADE

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), EU-Vietnam, Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and approximately 10 other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)—how can Vietnam maximize these opportunities and move up the value chain?

WILD CARDS

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Neural Networks, Quantum and Cognitive Computing, Robotics, Moonshots, etc. What is Vietnam in a position to develop via the sheer will of researchers?

YC

See the original Request For Startups.

YOUR IDEAS

No one has a monopoly on good ideas—what are yours?

YOUTH

The future of Vietnam can sometimes be in flux between traditional parenting forces and the desire for modernity. Developing content that the youth can relate to on the topic of careers, life lessons, relationships, and etiquette advice across social media and applications could help to ease the transition to adulthood. More importantly, what are their hopes and dreams for Vietnam in this century?

Keeping Informed About Vietnam

Back in June 2014, this blog was created with the goal to publish a post per week on a topic of interest relating to Vietnam and/or Southeast Asia.

Since then, the blog has largely focused on information, trends, and events relating to technology, business, and culture in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

It’s been a great and challenging experience to write this blog—and it would not have been possible without countless feedback, people who were willing to sit down and explain what they saw as the potential for opportunity in the region, and finding exciting and interesting topics to cover. That meant finding people who are doing exciting things in the community—whether it is creating or building or shaping a project, company, or building.

52 posts was the original target—and this goal was reached in 13 months; this post is currently number 55. Ultimately, this blog serves as a resource: 50,000-70,000 words that have attempted to capture Vietnam (from a Hanoian perspective and with the contrast of having lived in Ho Chi Minh City) in the past year.

So what’s next?

At this point, we are looking for someone with the following profile:

-A foreigner who has been in Vietnam for 10+ years;

-Who has operated as an entrepreneur, country manager, or director of an organization that is interested in technology, startups, or trade (or complementary fields);

-Who is interested in contributing 20%-30% more content to the current selection of 54 posts (each post is 1,000+ words);

-And is open to publishing the entire body of work as a book (an editor in Boston has agreed to review the project).

Please contact info@gktagroup.com for more details.

A New Direction

Vietnam is rapidly changing; moving forward, the format of this blog is going to change as well.

Articles from other publications will be shared on the blog instead of publishing original content every week. Depending on the frequency, content will be updated every month or two.

In the meantime, it can be difficult to understand what goes on in Vietnam from a foreign perspective so below are some other resources to keep current and understand better Vietnam’s emerging role in the world in the 21st century (if even a little bit more).

General News

Vietnam News

Tuoi Tre News

Thanh Nien News

Vietnam +

Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaper

Voice of Vietnam

Twitter

Business News

Saigon Times Weekly

Vietnam Investment Review

Vietnam Economic News

CNBC

Tech/Startup News

e27

Tech In Asia

CNET

From a Regional and International Perspective

The Diplomat

The Economist

NY Times

Additional Resources

Of course, this lit is non-exhaustive. There are many more resources to tap into. Books, blogs, podcasts, etc. (And we are also available for a quick chat or email: admin@gktagroup.com.)

Stay tuned!

Vietnam and Finland partner to build startups across Vietnam

Finland and Vietnam—what do these two countries have in common? At first glance, perhaps not much. Vietnam has a population of 90+ million and Finland’s population doesn’t even break the six million mark. Finland’s GDP per capita is almost $50,000 while Vietnam’s is approximately $2,000. And Helsinki is considered one of the most future-oriented governments in the world while Hanoi is known for its traditional elements; after all, it’s an over-1000-year-old city. So it might come as a surprise to learn that Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology have joined forces to foster innovation, support initiatives, and develop entrepreneurs via the Innovation Partnership Programme (IPP).

The IPP essentially supports the growth of the Vietnamese ecosystem; its role is to initiate and facilitate new activities, connections, and collaboration that can lead to the creation of sustainable ecosystem structures on the national level with regional integration and strong international linkages. Part of this effort includes a training course, an Innovation Accelerator, and events to bring the community–as well as potential partners and sponsors–into the fold.

Currently, 12 Vietnamese Innovation Champions are in the middle of a two-month “Training of Trainers” (ToT) program where they are learning lean startup methodologies, new ways to minimize risk, and how to develop ideas into products and services (and eventually sustainable businesses). Hailing from a variety of backgrounds in the public and private sectors, and with a median age of 35, these working professionals are led in sessions, workshops, and classwork by top international practitioners from startup hubs in Europe and the United States. Outside of the facilitated HATCH! space in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District, the Innovation Champions have conducted fieldwork where they interview prospective customers, pen blog posts to share their perspectives, and connect with aspiring entrepreneurs in the community. They have already begun advising local startups in order to put what they have learned into practice—something they will continue to do in August once the training is over.

One major portion of fieldwork is the customer conversation, which drives the iterative model for a product or service that is being developed; some of the terms and tools used include “business model canvases” and “value propositions.” Entrepreneurship is a process and mindset—asking the right questions of the right people is key to developing solid products and services. But, sometimes, it needs to be taught and localized in order to become part of a local ecosystem.

Trainer Nick Norena of San Francisco is, by his own account, not only an entrepreneur but also an educator and coach, focusing his life on finding the most effective and engaging ways to teach entrepreneurship and innovation. Currently, he is focusing on Vietnam.

“Being here in Vietnam, I am eager to learn about a country and culture that is quite new to me,” said Norena. “Most importantly, I am incredibly humbled to work with the Trainees enrolled in this ToT program.

“The Trainees we work with are incredibly accomplished academics and professionals, and they bring valuable perspective to the classroom and fieldwork each week. This is crucial because one of their main goals and is to translate and adapt the materials and topics we cover to accurately fit the needs of the local startup ecosystem. I am encouraged every day by the team I’ve become a part of, and excited to see what the future of the Vietnamese startup ecosystem holds,” he said.

Innovation Champion Lan Phan, Deputy Director of NATEC–an organ of Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST)–of Hanoi shares a similar excitement toward the future of the Vietnamese entrepreneurship ecosystem:

“It is great because I can learn the most updated knowledge in the startup world–the Lean startup movement,” said Phan. “And, having it taught by the experts and practitioners coming from Silicon Valley makes it even much better experience. Their sharing of real startup stories and the hands-on exercises that we have to take in class absolutely help us internalize the training principles much faster.

“Being one of the IPP trainees,” she said, “also means that I can develop a close relationship with other like-minded trainees, whose goals are not only to excel in their own careers but to give back and contribute to building this ecosystem a better place for startups to grow. Overall, I have so far been benefited greatly from this training course and would love to share my knowledge with others so that the impact of the course would be multiplied.”

The curriculum that Norena and the other trainers are developing—which is aimed at teaching academics and professionals in Vietnam the skills, techniques, and mindset required to successfully coach and mentor startups—is expected to be used in Vietnamese and perhaps even regional universities as a way to extend the impact of the first cycle of the Training of Trainers program and Innovation Accelerator. The IPP seeks to support and build the capacity of local key players in taking ownership of developing the ecosystem. Thus, this curriculum is a foundational resource for new and aspiring entrepreneurs in Vietnam and beyond.

So, what’s next? The entire program moved to Ho Chi Minh City last week (July 15) and will be based out of Hoa Sen University. Once the Training of Trainers program is completed, a six-month Innovation Accelerator led by the Innovation Champions will begin in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The Innovation Champions will guide approximately 20 high-growth and innovative startups, as well as four system developers, to success.

The startups have an initial Demo Day on October 31 and a final Demo Day in January before the call for new startups is opened up again. Before the first Demo Day, the IPP is looking for mentors (e.g., guest speakers) to support the IPP Innovation Accelerator as well as future partners to help pilot and scale the curriculum (open source, practical, and comprehensive innovation and entrepreneurship-pioneered—which does not yet exist in Vietnam) to universities and other training organizations customized to fit the needs of their respective stakeholders.

By design, the Innovation Champions will be the foundation of the future, driving the ecosystem forward even beyond the Innovation Accelerator. Hopefully, by the time Tet (Lunar New Year) rolls around in February 2016, we will start to see some of these selected projects emerge from the Innovation Accelerator ready to expand in Vietnam, into the region, or elsewhere. Also, we can expect that next year’s ToT Part 2 will feature even closer collaboration with university and training organizational staff.

Even farther down the road, Trainer Dan Toma of Germany projects even more success as a result of the program.

“Looking at the speed of their progress [Innovation Champions], I am highly confident that they will have a huge impact in the Vietnamese ecosystem once the training [is] over,” said Toma. “I’m looking forward to having a coffee in a nice restaurant somewhere in Europe in about three or five years from now, reading about the first Vietnamese company being successful on the international market, hoping that one of the Innovation Champions helped build that story directly.”

Three to five years out is a long time but, perhaps, Dan will be proven right. After all, the best way to predict the future is by helping to create it.

A version of this article first appeared in Tech In Asia.

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.

First Mekong Entrepreneurship EcoSystem Summit

From June 11-13, entrepreneurs, ecosystem builders, and explorers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam came to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to connect, build bridges, and compete for $20,000 to fund their initiatives during the first Mekong Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Summit, organized by the Centre of Business Studies and Assistance (BSA) and DHVP research as part of the TIGERS@Mekong public-private alliance.

TIGERS@Mekong (Technology Innovation Generation and Entrepreneurship Resources) is a consortium of country and region-specific partners. As found on the TIGERS@Mekong site:

“The U.S. Department of State launched the Mekong Technology Innovation Generation and Entrepreneurship Resources (TIGERS@Mekong) as a flagship project under the Connect Mekong framework at the East Asia Summit in 2012.”

Of the participant countries from the Lower Mekong, they are at different stages of market development and interest despite encompassing more than 230 million people in the region. The two shining stars, Thailand and Vietnam, currently have a lot of interest from venture capitalists and have almost 160 million people between them. Vietnam also has a lot of interest from foreign investors as the TPP is expected to pass soon. Laos and Cambodia are still largely developing and share approximately 22 million people between them; Cambodia, and especially Laos, have a lot of room to grow. And Myanmar (population north of 50 million), although “open for business” since 2011, has largely elicited a “wait-and-see” approach from foreign investors and their representative offices. There are elections later this year, so perhaps things will be different after. Already in the region, there is the Mekong Business Challenge, which has entered its 10th year so there is already some sort of dialogue in place and deepening it will only positively impact the region and its inhabitant.

So while it was good to bring the countries together, it’s also necessary to recognize that each country has its own strengths and weaknesses, and market opportunities. Thus, a tour through each country (perhaps a two-week Bootcamp to cover a topic) in a graduated fashion would allow participants to learn new skills, but also learn more about the countries in the region, and also establish a wider network. Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand could be a suitable 10-week path in the form of topics such as Ideation, Market Research, Concept Refinement, Prototyping, and Pivoting (if/when necessary).

The Pitches

Below, are some of the top 10 pitches for new initiatives which were presented at the summit (in their entirety, as described by those who pitched).

LAUNCH PAD

The main reason of failure of tech startups in the region is the serious lack of VISION and KNOWLEDGE about the market, players and customers. And the 2nd main reason is, once they have built first versions of products or services, they don’t have a proper way to LAUNCH and TEST their business.

With these 2 reasons, I believe that we must build a LAUNCH Platform for all tech startups in the region to:

  1. join, see and learn what other tech startups are doing in the region (Eye-Open). This helps them a better VISION what should do.
  2. Test their products before launching, get feedbacks from peers. And
  3. Find partners from other countries for EXPANSION when they grow

 

CROWD FACTORY

CrowdFactory consists of three main parts: CrowdPitch, CrowdCoach and CrowdData.

CrowdPitch is an event that helps startups have a chance to practice their pitching to a live audience. There are multiple events every year (depending on each local landscape) and each event has 4 startups that pitch. Audience pays for a ticket to attend and 75% of their ticket money goes straight to their favorite startup. That means it’s an offline crowdfunding event. CrowdCoach is CrowdPitch’s sister event. The number one winner of CrowdPitch gets to attend CrowdCoach, where for two hours, the startup gets to interact directly with four mentors, who give private and in-depth feedback to the startup. All of this is supported by CrowdData, as the local organizers collect new startups and mentors, they slowly collect data on the ecosystem, supporting the cycle of events under CrowdFactory.

 

Mekong Startup Training for Trainer

The program trains startups on necessary skills needed such as sales and marketing skills, users experience, digital marketing, tech skills and so on. In order to complete the program, the group of trainees need to train other startups. For those outstanding ones, will be going to train startups in other countries.

By doing this, startups in each country will meet and they will then share the business and investment information of their own country and build there networks.

This program will help ensure the wellbeing and to strengthen the networks of our Mekong region startups ecosystems.

 

Mekong Startup Weekcamp

The IDEA behind his concept is about

–        – engagement between potential Tech-Startups and Business Start-ups to share of their skills and expertise each other.

–        – networking among key players in local and regional

al The event will take 4 day long at National Event and basically the following activities will include and can adapt as per local needs.

–        Selection Process to Potential Entrepreneurs (Potential Tech and Business Start-ups) to enter Training Session

Activities are:

–        National Start-up Weekcamp Training (2 days)

–        Industry Experts /Founders’ Talk – Experiential Sharing  (1 day) “Regional Founders or Experts will be invited” (1 day)

–        IDEA Showcase and Feedback from Regional Founders/ Experts and award ceremony at Networking Night (1 day)

Along with IDEA Showcase, local Business and Start-ups booths will be exhibited by regional Start-ups  (to meet with the regional accelerators/investors from the country and from the region)

We can adapt the activities as per local needs and can leverage this concept to local and regional areas.

 

Coenlight 

Coenlight is an innovative educational platform for effective skills-based learning and with the mission to create an edu-lab that incubates intellectual potential. This platform is a grassroots initiative tailored to the Cambodian and ASEAN context. We are driven by a strong social mission to revolutionize Cambodia’s and ASEAN’s education ecosystem based on our unique strengths. At Coenlight, we believe that any passionate skilled individual can develop into an extraordinary instructor. We seek to challenge the existing paradigm that becoming a teacher is a static threshold to pass over and uphold that learning is a life-long process.

Our Model:

1) Train individuals to translate their skills into innovative courses.

2) Match passionate instructors with motivated students.

3) Build an ecosystem that fosters critical thinking, skill building, and mentorship.

4) Empower the most talented students to “pay their learning forward” by becoming Coenlight instructors.

 

Wicked Problems Worth Working On…

Many times we get stuck into thinking about market size and we filter out everything except our customers (whoever we think they might be).  However, Southeast Asia has a number of major challenges common to almost everyone in the region: disparity between rich and poor, gaps in the education system, rural poor, corruption, energy, water issues…  These are major challenges which are bigger than any single country, and they represent big opportunities for impact entrepreneurs and impact investors who can craft the right solutions.

If we could only put together a list of the Wicked Problems, clearly defined, focused, and yet still significant, we could encourage players in the ecosystem to galvanize around one or more of them, to run themed boot camps, provide seed grants, compete in themed business plan competitions, and encourage funding from industry players.

This project asks for initial funding to help find a methodology to develop this list of Wicked Problems.  Tapping into the expertise and connections of government agencies like USAid and other aid organizations there must be people (academics? NGOs? or…?) who have developed a suitable methodology that could be used to seek out, define, and get support for a good list of Wicked Problems for Southeast Asia.  How do we find out what has already been done, what can be borrowed or co-opted for our purposes, and how could we implement it?

 

CrowdHelping

We want to build an online platform that transforms the way small scale local social entrepreneurs get access to funds, by crowdsourcing bureaucratic grant proposal writing to volunteers.

Picture a small scale social entrepreneur operating in rural Myanmar. She has intimate local knowledge, she know what kinds of ventures will have the most positive impact on her community, she is already bootstrapping her idea to build a social enterprise. All she needs is access to a small grant to push her idea to the next level.

Now picture a charitable organisation, an impact investor, or an aid agency sitting in an office in Yangon. They have money that they want to give away to people exactly like our social entrepreneur.

What stands between them? Bureaucracy.

Our social entrepreneur only speaks her regional language, she cannot write a 4 page proposal, she doesn’t understand the forms she has to fill out to qualify for grants. However, she does have a smartphone.

. How does it work?

  1. Social entrepreneurs simply shoot a short video of themselves pitching their idea in their local language, posts it on their profile on our platform
  2. A network of seasoned mentors who have close connections with local NGOs and social enterprises will vet the ideas that social entrepreneurs post, in order to create trust.
  3. Volunteers who have successfully applied for grants and know how to write proposals to apply for grants will browse the pitches of social entrepreneurs posted on the platform. Through the mentors vetting process, the volunteers will know which of the pitches are made by trustworthy entrepreneurs.
  4. Once the volunteer sees a pitch she likes, she will help fill out forms, write proposals and help submit them to organisations that can give out small grants

We want to replace bureaucracy with a trust network. It’s AirBnB for access to grants.”

Going Forward

The winners were Agri-Tigers, Mekong’s Next Top Mentor, and Crowdpitch but it would be great if the organizers could host all the pitch decks online for interested parties to view and perhaps develop. Across the board, technology and entrepreneurial leaders want to inspire venture building, boost the entrepreneurial capabilities of young people, and garner a stronger entrepreneurial spirit overall. In part, it will require a mindset shift, a way of not only thinking differently, but acting differently as well.

Last weekend’s event in Ho Chi Minh City was an opportunity for those on the frontline of building and shaping ecosystems to share ideas, failures, and successes with each other—and also garner support for new initiatives. In all, it was good step toward connecting key individuals and organizations in the region in a cohesive fashion and will hopefully lay down the groundwork for increased communication and cooperation in the region.

 

Knowmads Hanoi

Knowmads Hanoi began in November, 2013 as Team 1, comprised of 15 students from France, Vietnam, Bolivia, and the Netherlands. Not even two years later, the program is about to start its fourth batch of entrepreneurs on Saturday, June 20 until Sunday, August 2 (every Saturday and Sunday for seven weekends).

The program is the product of collaboration between Center for Sustainable Development Studies Vietnam (CSDS) and Knowmads Business School Amsterdam (which started in February, 2010); it asks $350 for local participants and $550 for international participants to join a team of approximately 15-20 people.

As found on the Knowmads Hanoi website:

“After 3 successful programs, we have created a community of students, staff and trainers. We know that there are many people out there who are entrepreneurial, creative, curious, brave, involved and who want to take action.”

The curriculum has a very emphasized entrepreneurial focus, even while dispelling the notion that money should be the singular focus for success. Yet, it still wants people who can make and impact so the Knowmads Hanoi program specifically seeks individuals who are:

“-Between 20-35 years old

-Curious, creative and entrepreneurial

-Brave, involved and ready to take action

-English speaking”

In some developing parts of the world, the generational gap is widening (traditional vs. modern lifestyles) so programs like Knowmads Hanoi are essential to complementing the conventional education model (not just in Vietnam but worldwide since Knowmads Hanoi has sister organizations in Berlin and Sevilla). Thus, the program helps participants tap into their inner-entrepreneur and provides them the framework to make their ideas become a reality.

Some of the benefits of joining the Knowmads Hanoi program include:

“ • Get real life experience through working on your personal projects and/or partner-project

•Broaden your international network of  trainers and Knowmads alumni

•Have a clear(er) understanding of who you really are and what you are capable of.

•Have a dream or even started working on realizing one, whether it is a business, a job or a long term project.

•Have a clear(er) picture of your interest in this world and how to create your part in it.

•Have had training in and worked with topics like business design, marketing, personal development, sustainability, entrepreneurship, social innovation and creativity.”

Last month, we sat in on a Team 4 Info session where program coordinator Guus Wink, trainer Christian Sextl, and trainer Mercedes Carenzo led prospective Team 4 participants through an exercise to give them a taste of Knowmads Hanoi life.

There was also a mix of Team 3 alumni at the event who helped drive the evening during the group sessions. Speaking to your author, they shared that the Knowmads Hanoi program had been a transformative event in their lives; some had made friendships that were as important as friendships from high school and/or university.

During the exercise, the three groups had their members share with each other what they would do if money were not a consideration at all; the examples ranged from photography to videography. Afterwards, the participants went through a brainstorming session where the other members contributed ideas to help each other reach their respective goals. At the end of the information session, Guus Wink challenged each member to do one action item that same night, or by latest at 9:30 AM the following morning.

As one participant from that night shared:

“I needed to get inspired and motivated to get myself going again and that’s exactly what I got that night! Inspired by the young Vietnamese participants of the event who were really interested in each others story and dreams and were very eager to contribute to that dream in terms of suggestions, ideas and contacts. Inspired by the organisers of the event who came up with a very dynamic, creative and effective programme for Team 4. And inspired by all the opportunities which arose only by attending one information event.”

So the program builds confidence in its participants, it inspires creative thinking and promotes collaboration—all valuable skills for life in the 21st century. Guus, trainer, facilitator, and founder of Knowmads Hanoi was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the origin of Knowmads Hanoi, and what might be in store for its future.

From the previous three Knowmads Hanoi teams, have any tech-related companies/projects emerged?

Guus Wink (GW): No tech related projects but here’s a look at some of the projects students have started.

Could you tell us more about how you first started?

GW: I tried to start a weekend program in HCM, but to be honest I didn’t have the time nor the network to make it happen. Valuable lessons learned though. After I had moved to China I received a message from a guy who works for CSDS, a local NGO in Hanoi. He had met some people from Knowmads Amsterdam at the Youth Initiative Forum (YIP) in Sweden, and they had told him about my story. So CSDS asked me if I had any plans to come to Hanoi. My girlfriend and I were looking for the next destination after China and we were up for going back to Vietnam, as we had enjoyed the country a lot.

You will be returning to the Netherlands after the conclusion of the Team 4 program, right? What will happen to Knowmads Hanoi after you leave?

GW: Yes, I will travel back to the Netherlands by train from the middle or the end of August, a few weeks after finishing Team 4. I am looking forward to being on the road and in the train for 2 months to reflect upon my time in Asia and to think about my next steps back in Europe. In the Netherlands I might work for Knowmads in Amsterdam and I am curious to see what else will come on my path. It will be related to education and/or social work, in the direction of the transition I feel the world is in.
Christian and Mercedes will be in Hanoi for another few months, and we hope someone from the Knowmads network will come to Hanoi to continue our work. In the ideal scenario, Knowmads Hanoi will continue running independent programs in Hanoi, as well as trainings at universities and organizations. In the case Knowmads Hanoi will stop, we hope our stories will be an inspiration for people in Hanoi to build their own educational programs. We are working on a short film to share our story and to inspire people in Hanoi and the rest of the world.

You’ve worked a lot with young people in Hanoi—what are some trends/themes that you have noticed?

GW: Young people in Hanoi have the keys in their pocket for a bright future. In my opinion it is all about ‘being able to respond’, taking responsibility for yourself.
Young people are challenged because of the fast changing globalizing world they live in, while dealing with expectations from the generation above them. I feel they have to take the time to decide what they think about the world they live in. What are the choices they want to make in their lives. If they are able to take this responsibility, then I think they can build great companies and organizations.

What is your proudest achievement of working with Knowmads Hanoi?

GW: Above all creating the space for almost 60 Changemakers to develop themselves personally as well as professionally. It is fantastic to see all individual learning journeys, and to see the energy and the confidence growing during the process.

Besides this starting up Knowmads Hanoi Team 1 from scratch in only 2 months, designing the program, connecting with many trainers, creating promo material, our website and events, and finally being able to start with a great team of 15 students from 4 different countries.

What will you miss the most about Vietnam?

GW: I will miss the buzzing energy. Since I moved to Vietnam I have been impressed by the energy in this country. The country is so young and everyone seems to be determined to build a better future.

Do you have any advice for people who want to set up a program and make a positive impact like you did? Any advice for locals or foreigners who want to become entrepreneurs in Vietnam? 

GW: Connect and meet with as many interesting people as possible. Share ideas, co-create, and keep developing your story and your dream, and keep shouting out this story online and offline. Don’t wait for miracles to happen, work hard, and learn by doing. Above all, be real and authentic.

Thanks to Guus Wink, Christian Sextl, and Mercedes Carenzo for sharing their time with us.

 

TechFest Vietnam 2015

From May 15-17, history was made when the first TechFest Vietnam was held in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi.

According to TechFest Vietnam 2015 website:

“TECHFEST is an all-encompassing platform for All-Things-Tech.

From being the entrepreneurs building the next big thing, to innovators of cool gadgets looking to launch. From purveyors of cutting edge digital tools to latest digital entertainment platforms, we have it all. It’s a celebration of the 21st century; where technology meets lifestyle.

TECHFEST is a celebration of the Next-Generation innovators and their communities. This is a platform to build and foster great ideas and talents, gather thought leaders, stage for the next trend, better yet, be the trend-setter, where innovation begins.

TECHFEST is the platform where strong network and lasting collaborations begins between ASEAN and the world.

TECHFEST is the national festival for innovators, entrepreneurs, angel and institutional investors, supporting agencies and communities, technology experts, consumers and the tech media. With the selection and gathering of the most potential entrepreneurs as well as experts and investors with the rich and diverse experiences, NATEC and its partners are confident to bring about an informative, innovative and extremely practical event for the startup ecosystem in Vietnam.

The inaugural TECHFEST will be held this year and will be recognized as an integral activity within the Science and Technology Week, an annual national ceremonial week prior to the Science & Technology Day on May 18th, in celebration of S&T activities in Vietnam.”

Room to Grow

Entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, and tech enthusiasts all gathered at Vietnam National University over three days to hear a variety of keynote speakers and panelists share their thoughts about funding, challenges to starting up, and building the ecosystem in Vietnam.

Three weeks later, we spoke to some startups, investors, and attendees to get their feedback on the inaugural event and see what impressions remained. Taken by itself, the event was a success—simply because it hadn’t been done before. [Note: your author helped to organize the event.] Overall, it was great; exactly what was needed to boost the community, build momentum, and to showcase the talent and innovation in Hanoi and in Vietnam.

There was consistent and positive feedback from investors in the region:

“I want to invest in Vietnam.”

“I don’t know much about Vietnam.”

“I want to learn more about Vietnam.”

“I’m concerned about investing in Vietnam.”

However, in terms of feedback from startups, it was a mixed bag. Many complained that the start up booths were outside in the sweltering heat—under a tent, no less. Then on the second day the entire startup section was moved indoors, which made those who had invested in their booths upset over the last-minute logistical changes.

One startup in particular commented that there was no official delegation to take the VIPs through to meet the startups in the exhibition area. A co-founder from the same team commented that he wished there had been more startups present; by his count there were about 14 startups which were exhibited.

Moreover, some out-of-town guests were surprised that the translation of services during major portions of the event were only from English-to-Vietnamese but not the reverse. Almost all of the investors spoke English but the VIP section in front row (ministers and other honorable guests) spoke Vietnamese so some startups pitched in Vietnamese with an English pitch deck shown behind them. Still, it was unclear if their respective target markets were at the event or if the presenters made lasting impressions on the front row audience.

(It’s important to note that once Vietnamese startups go beyond Vietnam they will have to pitch in English as it is the language of doing business around the world.)

As the event unfolded, certain workshops were entirely in Vietnamese and from the program guide it was not clear if a session or workshop would be in English or Vietnamese. The opening ceremony on the first day was full of young people but it did not seem like the students on campus took advantage of access to the event on other days.

In the future, it would be nice to have the festival portion at night on campus in the form of a concert. Thus, startups could play their promotional videos in between sets of musical acts. Sunday was the definitely the most relaxed day—it seemed like the event sort of tapered off so a closing ceremony would be good to unveil some major news or exploring the option to shorten the event to two days might be best way to start and finish the event strongly. Along those lines, perhaps a change of venue, with more accommodating facilities, would be apt for the next TechFest Vietnam. Foreign Trade University could be a viable option—or any rotational system to showcase the various universities in Vietnam.

Still, the event was a resounding success; ecosystem building, forging regional connections, and talent exposure are all steps along the path to greatness for startups in Vietnam. In some ways, it might surprise some outsiders that the event happened in Hanoi instead of another city in Vietnam. For one, Ho Chi Minh City is the economic capital of Vietnam; there are financial services companies, venture capitalists, marketing agencies, and the city itself has a greater entrepreneurial feel. On the other hand, Hanoi is the political and cultural capital—but it also positioning itself as the startup capital—something that might not surprise those who have spent considerable time in both cities. Even so, startups, as well as institutional and angel investors from Ho Chi Minh City did participate in the first TechFest Vietnam.

What’s next for TechFest Vietnam and the scene?

Overall, it would be great to see more entrepreneurs ad more product developers come to Vietnam and team up with local developers to develop products and services. Then the Vietnamese development team could leverage newfound skills, experience, and network to develop their own products and services.

Lately, things have been picking up here and even more exciting milestones are on the horizon. However, there is a clear need for additional information—the lack of coverage in the Vietnamese tech scene is startling, especially with multi-polar cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang. The under-reporting in Vietnam could be an obstacle to newcomers who wish to join the growing community but with drive, commitment, and investment in the right activities, all of those obstacles can be overcome.

As for TechFest Vietnam, the bottom line is that startups here are getting them ready to scale beyond Vietnam; the startup community in Hanoi sent a clear message to the outside world:

“This is what we have done.

This what we are doing.

This is what we are going to do—do you want to join us?”