Vietnam’s ecosystem has been growing especially fast in the last two years. But for outsiders, despite an increased amount of tech articles about Vietnam in English, it still remains an unknown entity. In Silicon Valley, big companies like Google and Facebook and accelerators like Y Combinator and 500 Startups bring in startup people from across the globe to visit the Valley. The gravitational pull of these big names makes the Valley that much more accessible. For Vietnam, finding the right people and organizations to check out can be quite a task.
Where the ecosystem is today
Unlike some of its neighbors, Vietnam benefits from a first wave of startups that started almost ten years ago. This phase, which contains large tech companies like VNG, VC Corp, and Vat Gia (yes, they all start with “V”), is inextricably connected to IDG Ventures Vietnam, which funded a host of other startups between 2004 to 2006 with an early fund of $100 million. Of course, some of the startups from this generation have failed, and some have become huge like the trio above. In the late 2000’s, a new generation of startups rose, along with the entrance in 2008 of CyberAgent Ventures, which was also willing to invest in smaller and larger startups. During this second wave, startups like Nhac Cua Tui, Tiki.vn, and others started to see a rise. Now, we stand in between this second and a third wave, marked dramatically by the rise and fall of Nhom Mua. In the end of 2012, this daily deals site, valued at over $60 million at the time, was seeing over $2 million in revenue per month.
All of these events have transpired and been discussed on Launch, a Facebook group that now numbers over 13,000 people. It is the heart of the Vietnam startup ecosystem online. During 2013, this group reached over 10,000 members, and the hype was growing in Vietnam’s two major cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. And the news around the startup ecosystem has exploded with the worldwide virality of Flappy Bird and the massive investment of over $30 million from Vingroup into e-commerce. Amid this hype, there has been a growing concern among old and new startup leaders that there weren’t any incubators and accelerators in Vietnam producing investable startups. In fact, in 2012, a group of angel investors, which will remain undisclosed, who used to meet monthly to invest in startups, stopped meeting. There weren’t any startups to invest in.
This year, these groups have risen to meet the demand.
Investors in Vietnam who actively look for startups
Before we get into the incubators and accelerators, let’s first look at the investors who are currently looking for tech startups to invest in. It’s these investors that the incubators and accelerators are working to impress for series A rounds and onward.
- DFJ VinaCapital – This firm, which first entered Vietnam in 2007 with an investment in Vietnam Online Network. It generally invests in later stage startups. For example, it invested $2 million into TS24, a company that builds software for the Vietnamese tax system. The firm is still actively looking for investments of this size and quality.
- Sumitomo – Recently, investing a rumored $2 million in Tiki.vn for its series B round, Sumitomo is still actively looking at investing in Vietnamese startups, especially in the e-commerce category. We may see bigger announcements coming from them soon.
- CyberAgent Ventures – CyberAgent remains one of the most active investors in Vietnam, still looking into e-commerce startups and feeling out startups like VeXeRe which currently sits in its offices as an investment prospect. And although CyberAgent Ventures is actively expanding to Thailand, it just finished another round of investment with DKT, an e-commerce solutions company. The head of CyberAgent Vietnam, Dzung Nguyen, has also confirmed that there are a few more investments coming soon.
- OneCapitalWay – Another new player in the startup scene is OneCapitalWay, which partnered recently with 5Desire to fund an e-commerce company called Ahometo, which specializes in home decor. This angel investment firm, which includes several Googlers, is also actively looking at promoting young startups for pre-Series A funding. This firm may signal a new wave of Vietnamese American and Silicon Valley interest in Vietnam.
- BTIC – This investment firm and coworking space far north of Ho Chi Minh city has already invested in two main companies: IG9, Vietnam’s Kickstarter, and Kleii, Vietnam’s Dropbox. Both services are currently on hold as the founders seek new contracts and/or business models that can scale. Nevertheless, BTIC is still actively looking for startups to invest in.
- PVNI – This investment firm seeks seed stage investments for young startups in categories including education, food and beverage, and cloud computing.
In addition to these, there are still other, more quiet investment firms such as Lotus Impact, Mekong Capital, Kusto Tiger, and others from Japan and Russia. Nguyen Hoa Cuong, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, has also indicated that there will be an influx of South Korean investors coming in 2014. This paints a promising landscape for the world of investment for young Vietnamese startups.
Incubators and Accelerators
Now onto the real meat of 2014, the organizations that will pave the way for new startups to grow.
Silicon Valley Project (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city) – One of the most surprising entrances into the incubator world is the Ministry of Science and Technology with its Silicon Valley Project. This program, which will last four months for participating startups, will be based in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, and will bring in mentors from across the ecosystem and abroad.
FIRST (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city) – In addition to the Silicon Valley project, there is also the partnership between the Ministry of Science and Technology and the World Bank, thus forming the FIRST project. This project, with a whopping $110 million, will support four main areas including, biotechnology, materials science, robotics, and IT. FIRST will start to launch incubation programs within this year.
Vuon Uom Vat Gia (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city)- This program, which we covered on our Vietnamese site, is financed by one of Vietnam’s biggest e-commerce companies. According to the program details, Vat Gia is willing to finance up to $1 million in promising startups. The program has been around since 2011, and has accepted five startups so far. It doesn’t have a specified time span. Gaming startups, for example, may get five months in the program, whereas others may be evaluated over six months depending on each business model. Each startup gets access to Vat Gia’s massive e-commerce and platform resources.
YouNet Incubator (Ho Chi Minh city)- This tech company, which was just founded in 2008, has become very successful in the social network consulting and development category, providing services for social networks and social listening useful to brands and companies. It just launched its accelerator program, which will put down $10,000 in cash for a total of 120 days with mentors and resources from YouNet. The total value of the acceleration package amounts to $35,000 and includes market research, office space, mentoring, and server or product costs.
Hub.IT (Hanoi) – One of Hanoi’s first co-working spaces is Hub.IT, and it is launching an incubation program as well. The program does not post any seed funding, but promises to facilitate key skills for startups like public speaking, market penetration, and business modeling. The program also taps startups into a network of mentors, networking events, and workshops. The program will last six months and allows startups in Hanoi to work out of the Hub.IT.
X-Incubator (Hanoi) – Under the direction of the founder of Pandora.vn, one of Vietnam’s local tech blogs, X-Incubator is a small incubator program that has a unique concept. Each startup only gets $15 to use as they please and the folks at Pandora will “promise to help with EVERY resource, connections I have to help them launch their product”. The program lasts for three months, and has incubated three startups, one of which is still surviving.
Saigon Hi-Tech Park (Ho Chi Minh city) – SHTP is situated north of the city, and is a stone’s throw from Intel’s factories. Hidden within these walls is the SHTP Incubation Center, which houses up to four startups. These include startups working on advanced mobile robotics, warehouse robotics technology, and automoted smart home technology. The incubator isn’t currently looking for more startups but is focusing on bringing its current startups to market. The promising thing is, these are all advanced technologies that have potential consumer applications.
Vietnam National University (Ho Chi Minh city) – Just across the highway from SHTP lies Vietnam National University, one of Vietnam’s biggest universities. The Center for Technology of VNU not only does research into advanced drone technologies, but also is starting an incubator program. This program will last six months and includes office space and mentorship on VNU’s campus. If the startup is good, support will continue for another six months.
mLab (Ho Chi Minh city) – An international connecting factor that was a big part of SHTP and VNU’s incubation efforts in 2013 was mLab, which is a worldwide project sponsored by Infodev and the World Bank. It ran several hackathons in 2013, and incubated the top startups that came out of the program in coordination with SHTP and VNU. This included providing the startups with a small amount of funding, office space, and mentorship. Currently, the program is on hold but may come back by the end of the year once Infodev and the World Bank renew the project.
SummerCamp BTIC (Binh Duong province) – BTIC, the investor mentioned above, has slowly proposed a program of matching international founders with Vietnamese founders and developers to build prototypes and products within a two to three month period. The project will be like a summercamp for founders and will include vacation time, mentorship, and office space, but also asks that international founders pay a fee for the camp. The bonus is that the cost to prototype in Vietnam will be considerably cheaper than in the Silicon Valley. But this program also has yet to launch.
As you can see, the incubators and accelerators in Vietnam span across a considerable spectrum. There are also several incubators either inactive or have chosen to remain secretive. This list also does not include all of the coworking spaces, which also practice incubation.
If we are missing any incubators or accelerators, please let us know and we’ll add them right away.
Bonus: supporting and advising organizations for startups
There’s also a new gray area in Vietnam for companies and organizations that are not exactly incubators nor accelerators, but still practice consulting for startups. This is not only due to the lack of funding resources, but also leverages on a separate set of skills that startups and the startup ecosystem may need.
DEMO ASEAN – Set up under the authority of IDG Event (not to be confused with IDG Ventures Vietnam), DEMO ASEAN is the big pitching event that ran in Ho Chi Minh city last year. The IDG Event organizers pointed out startups at DEMO ASEAN were unprepared for pitching and working with investors, and thus set up a series of workshops to prepare startups for just that.
5Desire – One of the most significant incubation and consulting companies for startups in Hanoi is 5Desire. The firm started out in 2010 and has set up incubation programs, office space, and currently works on bringing in major speakers like Palantir’s co-founder, Joe Lonsdale. Currently, 5Desire works with OneCapitalWay and other organizations to run events and hackathons for the community.
Twenty.vn – A new media company is on the block that combines media and consulting into an interesting mix. Unlike its counterparts like Techdaily.vn, Pandora.vn, Gik.vn, and others, it has an added service. It focuses mainly on the media side by blogging about the latest tech news in Vietnamese, but also advises startups in market penetration when need be. Twenty.vn has also partnered with Stardibi.com, similar to Starthub.vn, to provide Vietnam with a database of startups.
Startup.vn – (Full disclosure: I am on the board of this company) – This company focuses on building private and public events for founders, startups, and the larger community in Vietnam. It also focuses on producing useful content for startups like books and partners with other organizations to provide workshops and events.
Seedfund.vn – This consultancy firm, which we wrote about extensively here acts as a bridge between investors and startups. It therefore trains and consults startups on connecting with investors and how to present and understand their product from the point of view of an investor.
Launch – Started more than 5 years ago, this private group started with just a few core members interested in technology and startups and has slowly exploded to over 13,000 members. It’s also the center of all conversation in the Vietnamese tech community online. Although the quality of posts has fluctuated over the years, it remains a core place where industry insiders watch for the latest topics and new promising startups.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)