In recent years, Vietnam has emerged as the hub of startups in the South East Asian region, competing closely with Singapore and Indonesia. Today, the country boasts a vibrant and competitive startup scene with many VCs that have helped fuel the startup ecosystem of Vietnam. However, around five years ago, Vietnam was seen as a premier outsourcing destination and not a startup hub.
Ho Chi Minh City is not only the national capital but also the startup capital of Vietnam. In a bid to become the innovation hub in South East Asia, the city has approved a plan to foster 1000 startups by 2025 and empower 3000 businesses to increase their innovation capacity and assist 100 access venture capital. It is laudable that in a ranking done by a global comprehensive startup ecosystem research and map centre, StartupBlink, the city moved up to 59th place out of 100 economies with the best startup ecosystems in the year 2020.
Numerous factors have led to the emergence of Vietnam as a startup hub, like rising consumer spending, revenue growth in e-commerce and fintech, rise in foreign investment funds, especially Singaporean, South Korean and Japanese VC funds and Govt. support. In this article, we will dive more into these factors and analyse the startup scene of Vietnam.
In 2019, Vietnam surpassed the tech leader Singapore startup funding and earned 17% of South East Asia’s total startup investment.
According to the Vietnam Tech Investment Report 2019 by Do Ventures, startup investment in the region reached a record high of US$ 861 million in 123 venture deals in 2019, twice that of 2018. The amount of invested capital and the number of tech deals grew eight-fold from 2016-2019. In the first two quarters of 2019, Vietnamese startups such as Tiki, VNPay and VNG raised US$ 246 million, capturing 63 percent of total deals.
Foreign investment constitutes the largest share of total investment. In February 2020, Affirma Capital invested US$34 million in Sieu Viet Group, which focuses on online recruitment. Japan’s SoftBank and Singapore’s GIC invested US$ 300 million in VNPay. US-based 500 Startups is planning to invest in 80 Vietnamese startups by 2021.
The Vietnamese Govt. expresses its support for the startup ecosystem through its concerted efforts. The government has established several funds to support startups. It also collaborates with other countries and banks to develop funding, provide access to innovative programs, provide loans, training and business mentoring. Some of the programs are listed below:
- National Innovation Center (NIC): It provides regulatory sandboxes in unregulated industries for startups to experiment with new ideas. US$ 82M was committed to the first NIC at Hoa Lac HiTech Park.
- SpeedUP: It is a US$ 520,520 fund started by Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Science and Technology.
- Vietnam Global Innovation Fund: The fund aims to build future Vietnamese talent pipelines via a scholarship program for Vietnamese talents to study and gain working experiences overseas.
- Startupcity.vn: It is a website launched by Hanoi’s People Committee. It provides details about startups and investors and aims to connect investors with entrepreneurs.
- Saigon Silicon City Centre: It is a 52-hectare complex built to support tech-focused startups and international firms. The govt. believes that the Silicon Centre will attract investments in target industries such as microelectronics, precision engineering, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.
- Mekong Business Initiative: It is a partnership program between the ADB and the Government of Australia. The partnership is focused on alternative financing, including venture capital, angel investments and fintech in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
- National Technology Innovation Fund (NATIF): NATIF is a government agency under Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology. It provides grants and preferential loans for R&D, innovation and technology transfer.
- National Agency for Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Commercialization Development (NATECD): It is a national platform under Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology which provides training, mentorship and grants.
Apart from the above initiatives, the govt. is also mending its laws for attracting investments. A new investment law has been introduced that gives foreign investors the same market access as domestic ones. Investment incentives such as tax exemptions and lessening incorporation procedures are also provided.
Top VC firms in Vietnam
The Venture Capital industry of Vietnam has been developing since 2004, with the establishment of IDG Ventures Vietnam (IDGVV). As sectors with high growth potential are blossoming in the country, such as the fintech and e-commerce sector, VC firms are constantly looking to invest in tech-driven startups. Some of the top VC firms in Vietnam are as follows:
1. IDG Ventures: Founded in 2004, IDG is the first technology venture capital fund in Vietnam. It currently has US$ 100 million under management, with investments in over 40 companies. The firm has offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Singapore.
2. CyberAgent Ventures: A Japanese VC firm that entered Vietnam in 2008, CyberAgent Capital is an investment enterprise leading global innovation with unicorn startups. It invests in internet-related startups with high growth potential.
3. DFJ VinaCapital: DFJ VinaCapital is a part of the VinaCapital family of funds and a member of the Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) network. It helps entrepreneurs to continue to grow their businesses through capital investments as well as operational guidance and access to professional networks.
Startup Accelerators in Vietnam
1. ThinkZone Accelerator: ThinkZone Accelerator focuses on tech startups from Seed to Pre-Series A, in the stage of product-market validation or scale-up. It provides US$ 50K+ support packages from its partners.
2. CSIP: CSIP supports Social Enterprises and contributes to building a team of Social Enterprises in the country through Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering them. It invests in entrepreneurs and social enterprises who are applying solutions and supports them by building national and international networks with stakeholders.
3. VIISA: Powered by FTP Ventures and Dragon Capital, Vietnam Innovative Startups Accelerator (VIISA) is a business acceleration program and a seed-stage investment holding. It aims to invest in building global-ready startups in Vietnam.
Challenges faced by Vietnam’s Startup Space
Some of the significant challenges that plague Vietnam’s startup community are – the lack of a talented workforce, low funding, lack of scale and slow regulatory reforms. Making funds available is not enough if the workforce lacks talent. Therefore, the government needs to increase its investment in providing top-notch training and education to build a skilled workforce.
There is a dearth of foreign startups in Vietnam as compared to other Asian ecosystems. This is due to language barriers, little governmental assistance in grants or programs, fewer expat networks, and difficulty establishing partnership opportunities with Vietnamese companies. The govt. will thus have to take necessary steps to ensure that it rolls out favourable policies that attract FDI and foreign startups to enter the Vietnamese market.
Vietnam is in a crucial period where key components of a robust digital economy are beginning to shape up. Having a favourable demography where 60% of the population is under 35, there is a vast supply of young talent. The young population also allows for ongoing mobile and internet penetration that could bring more than 10M consumers online by 2023.
To ensure continued recovery in the coming years, the Vietnamese startups have to realise that they shall become more consumer responsive and rapidly innovative to thrive in the post-COVID world. Constant support from the Govt., corporates and domestic and foreign investors will determine the steep growth trajectory of the startup ecosystem of Vietnam.
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