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?”

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