Vietnam Tech Startups Seek Next Step Forward
Vietnam's technology startups face a complex question: Now what?
The country did not ignore the startup trend of the 21st century. But in the trend's early days, Vietnam was spending more time and energy talking about technology and its promise.
Now, Vietnam hopes to move to the next step – getting entrepreneurs to meet their economic goals. Startup leaders hope to make a profit, expand internationally or combine their companies with other businesses.
Vietnam has a high literacy rate. Its people, generally, have strong math ability. Both are critical tools for building a technology economy. The country also has a large consumer market, similar to Thailand and the Philippines. And, Vietnam has the potential for high growth rates, similar to Laos and Cambodia.
Low wages and the low cost of internet service help make Vietnam a good place to build a small business. It might be the perfect environment for technology startups.
But, Vietnam needs to act.
"Vietnam usually does copy-paste," said Lam Tran, leader of the startup WisePass. He says the Vietnamese need to move beyond copying a foreign business and recreating it in the Vietnamese market. Now, he says, it needs to create inside Vietnam and spread the businesses internationally.
WisePass is an app that connects monthly subscribers to restaurant and bar deals. It began in Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Tran plans to expand to seven other countries.
Using good relationships with border countries is a smart plan, say technology business experts. Vietnamese make up large communities in other countries. These communities can help connect the Southeast Asian country to investors, advisers and developers in those countries.
Also, technology in Vietnam is increasingly sophisticated.
The Vietnamese Innovative Startup Accelerator, or VIISA, is one example. For a second year, it has invested in 11 startups.These new businesses have partners operating in countries such as Ukraine, South Korea and France.
Sangyeop Kang is an investment officer at VIISA partner Hanwha Investment. He said he is pleased with the international reach of this year's group.
"The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam, while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights," Kang said. He added this was a strong move forward for tech startups in Vietnam.
The government of Vietnam is supporting such growth. On January 1, a new law for startups, called Law on Supporting Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, will begin. The law offers new companies financial assistance for office space, equipment and training. It also provides low interest rate loans.
To do more than copy and paste, new businesses must consider how to appeal to Vietnamese people. For example, the startup But Chi Mau makes games that are directed toward Vietnam's endless drive for education. Another, Market Oi uses motorbike drivers to deliver customized food orders.
MarketOi founder Germain Blanchet said the question is how to be different from others. The answer, he believes, is to be flexible.
I'm Susan Shand.