In May, Vietnam hosted representatives of the International Development Innovation Alliance, an effort to advance innovation for sustainable development via collaboration with leading international organizations (World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF, etc.), development agencies (USAID, UKAID, Australian AID, etc.), and foundations (Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, etc.).
There were presentations and workshops, plus an open session at which various stakeholders were invited to share observations and ideas about Vietnam’s innovation ecosystem to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other government officials. Eddie was invited to share a few words. Snippets:
“I have long believed that the country’s plentiful low-cost, high-tech talent—many of whom intimately understand the difficulties of poor people in emerging markets—gives Vietnam a chance to be not simply one of many “startup nations”, but a hub of impactful innovation for the entire emerging world.
[…] But there’s a lot of work to be done. 500 Startups will continue to do what we can on the private sector side. That includes, most importantly, investing in & supporting talented Vietnamese entrepreneurs, but also sharing about Vietnam’s problems and its promise with other investors, training & mentoring entrepreneurs, and training investors. Particularly, I want to make clear that, even though there is a lot of money to be made by serving Vietnam’s wealthy class, some of the greatest opportunities in tech are in serving the least fortunate people among us.”
Indeed, investing through an impact lens has yielded some of our most promising portfolio companies, from homegrown startups like Sequoia-backed fintech startup Trusting Social and Google-backed edtech startup ELSA to Vietnam-entrant startups like ApplyBoard, which announced the close of their CA$55M Series B, and PayJoy, which also announced the close of a US$20M Series B led by Greylock Partners.
Until next month,
Team 500 Startups Vietnam
This month we’re thrilled to announce the launch of our Silicon Valley–inspired, Saigon-based accelerator program. It’s like a startup MBA on steroids, condensed into three months. Follow us on Facebook for frequent updates on the program and our Batch 1 companies, plus startup insights from our global experts.
The team has also moved into a new home: Kafnu Ho Chi Minh City will be the basecamp for our Saola Accelerator. A word from Chris Edwards, General Manager at Kafnu:
“Kafnu HCMC is delighted to be the venue sponsor for 500 Startups Saola Accelerator program. At Kafnu our mission is in developing our members through a vibrant community of like-minded individuals and we believe this aligns perfectly with 500 Startups. We look forward to welcoming the program members to Kafnu and being a part of their journey in becoming business successes.”
Stay tuned for more saola (“Asian unicorn”) sighting.
500 Startups Vietnam in the News
Binh shares his thoughts in Nikkei Asian Review’s cover story “Southeast Asian ‘turtles’ return home to hatch tech startups”. “Folks are saying, ‘There’s something happening in Southeast Asia, there’s access to capital, there’s more talent in the region … maybe the timing is right for me to make a move.'” Nikkei Asian Review. 5/22
Eddie shares his observations about the Vietnam ecosystem with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and other government officials (Video, starting at 11:00.) VTV. 5/15
Other TV spotlights: Papaya Insurtech on insurance in the digital age (Vietnamese, VTV); Hiip on their regional expansion (Vietnamese, VTV); Leflair on making premium brands accessible to Vietnamese consumers (English, Vietcetera); and Eddie on his work and passion, with cameo appearances by Binh, Hau, founders, (more!) friends, and family (Vietnamese, VTC10).
ApplyBoard raises C$55M in Series B round. ApplyBoard launched as a result of the challenges the co-founders faced as Iranian students pursuing post-secondary education in North America. The proprietary platform uses AI and machine learning to assist students with program and institution selection, document submission, application, and obtaining a visa. PE Hub. 5/27
PayJoy raises $20M from Greylock, others. PayJoy enables consumers with no bank accounts or formal credit history to purchase smartphones on installment payments and get cash loans. Reuters. 5/23
Eddie talks with The Investor about 500’s mission in Vietnam. “500 Startups Vietnam has actually changed a lot in the ecosystem,” Eddie told The Investor, the business-focused site of The Korea Herald. “Prior to our entry, we saw that people weren’t all convinced by the opportunity and timing regarding Vietnam just yet. We had to spend a lot of time explaining about Vietnam, telling people what was happening, where we saw the market going and why it made us invest.” The Investor. 5/17
Other Vietnam Tech News
Vacation rental startup Luxstay bags $4.5M from South Korean retail firm GS Shop and early-stage venture capital firm Bon Angels. Deal Street Asia. 5/22
Vietnam doesn’t trust Huawei an inch. Viettel, a military-owned mobile network operator with ventures spanning from Myanmar to Haiti, is not only planning to deploy 5G. It is also developing its own core technology, vowing that 80% of the tech will be developed at home. Foreign Policy. 5.9
Vietnam’s tech futurists lay out economic alternatives. In a report by Australia’s national science agency, four scenarios offer a blueprint for policymakers. In the first option, the country reaches its full technological potential in the next two decades, with smart cities, high productivity, and high-skilled talent in an economy geared toward services. Voice of America. 5/18
Online travel startup Vntrip raises undisclosed amount in pre-Series C funding from Jubilee Capital Management. Vntrip also reports raising top-up funding from existing investor Hendale Capital, which initially invested $10M in 2017, following a $3M Series A round. Deal Street Asia. 5/27
Abivin wins $1M Grand Prize at the “Startup World Cup” event organized by Pegasus Tech Ventures. Abivin, a startup that provides AI-powered supply chain optimization, was the only representative from Southeast Asia. KrAsia. 5/20
Vietnam’s social selling platform Ecomobi won second prize at e27’s Echelon Asia Summit 2019. The platform evaluates millions of products to make personalized recommendations to key opinion leaders (KOLs), who in turn advertise the products on their social media channels. e27. 6/3
Vietnam in the News
Thich Nhat Hanh has come home. Long denied the right to return to his native Vietnam, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh lived abroad for more than five decades, campaigning against war and teaching the practice of mindfulness. NYTimes. 5/16
SK Group makes $1B push into Vietnam with Vingroup investment. In addition to considering jointly running M&As, the two companies will work together as the next generation of high-speed 5G networks comes online. Nikkei Asian Review. 5/16
How can Vietnam avoid becoming China’s dirty industrial backyard? Critics argue Chinese projects exploit cheap labor and minerals, while polluting the environment and landing the locals in debt. SCMP. 5/9
Vietnam is among top 5 countries that watch YouTube the most. The other four are India, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. Urbanist. 5/13
The rise of Vietnam’s second-tier cities. Receiving even more foreign investment than Da Nang in 2018 was Hai Phong. The city’s airport links international travelers to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Ha Long Bay. But beyond that it has been a key shipping hub, even more so as investors move out of China and seek alternative trading partners like Vietnam. Voice of America. 5/27
Vietnam Venture Summit, HCMC 6/12
Eddie will be speaking at the event by Golden Gate Ventures, alongside international investors, top-tier founders and other key ecosystem stakeholders. Event
AI & Scaling Up, HCMC, 6/6
Lace will be speaking on a panel about AI alongside representatives from WeWork, Haravan, Viet AI, and portfolio company ELSA. Event
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