How Vietnam’s startup space looks through TechFest’s lens

TechFest, the annual startup and innovation event co-hosted by the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology and other major stakeholders in the ecosystem, have concluded on November 13 in Hanoi.

While we have seen a number of other startup conferences being organized in the country like Echelon, TechinAsia and HATCH! FAIR, TechFest – incepted just last year – is unique because of its government involvement.

Panel discussions were also more oriented towards the main interests compared to last year, so whether you are a startup, an ecosystem developer or an investor, it was easier for you to pick where to join and what to hear.

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Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam addressed the event

While delivering the pain points of the ecosystem or taking a part in solving some real issues is a too heavy expectation, the one that no events have actually tackled, showcases like TechFest do a job of helping with the branding of startup companies, agencies and the nation, which targets itself to soon become a startup nation.

Returning from TechFest, there are voices that such an event does not make any changes, with the same people, same topics and the same startups exhibited every year. But we think it is needed to some extent, because if companies want to thrive, it is better to grow in a place that has some certain level of recognition. Events and exhibitions help Vietnam gain an exposure. Obviously, that’s where investors come to see the vibe, and potential partners come to explore the opportunities.

Of course, the heavy lifting job has to be done by startups themselves. The sharing that experts given at the events is just an advice that startups need to dive deep to execute it.

So, for Vietnamese startups to have more attractive cap tables, they said, there should be a shift from B2C focus to more B2B companies, and from a local play to being more aggressive in a bigger market.

As in the starting point of a trajectory, it is not unusual to see Vietnam work on the consumer market, especially when the population is booming with an increasing middle class and young people. However, Vietnam can produce more B2B startups, considering that areas like med-tech, education, logistics and e-government are not yet disruptive. That is also a more possible answer to exit, because B2B businesses are more easily able to scale regardless of the industry.

Once businesses are scalable and reach higher valuation, buyers will be more interested in the companies. Investors assess valuation based on how far the companies can go.

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Investors discussed investment in Vietnam at TechFest

A lot of Vietnamese startups are still following some trends in the world, reasoning that it is a successful model elsewhere, without noticing that if they focus on creating value to the market, i.e building something people would accept, higher corporate valuation will come.

Vietnamese founders, despite their energy and hunger, are mostly young and inexperienced, while the community haven’t seen the sufficient level of commitment from people with the ability to give mentorship.

Most startups might not survive until the phase of bringing their products to a large pool of customers, but it’s good to see more daring people start to search for wealth, and promisingly, to solve some real problems.

Coming back from TechFest, we feel we really share the same mind with a co-founder of MITFive, a new entrepreneurship program in Vietnam, that looking 10 years back, we could not imagine the noise of the startup community like we have now, how much the government would support, or how much startup activities would be talked about.

Right now, Vietnam is discussing how to build $100 million startups. So, looking several years ahead, there will be a lot to expect.

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A government official tried a VR device at TechFest 2015. Photo courtesy: sdasia.co

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