Vietnam is not known as a country of innovative risk-takers, but across its big cities, young entrepreneurs have been breaking out of the conservative mould and taking a shot at starting their own businesses.
One homegrown company that has been lending support to young entrepreneurs is Hatch!. The firm is one of the several incubators nesting Vietnamese start-ups which offer a wide range of products and services, from hotel booking systems and tailor-made clothing, to online surveys and fish food.
“Back in 2013 when we were talking about Hatch! and started to do something about the start-up community, there was literally no activity relating to entrepreneurs, or start-ups,” said Mr Pham Quoc Dat, director of the Hanoi-based start-up incubator. It is a different sight now, as events and activities now dot the incubator’s calendar.
Not all entrepreneurs are driven by profit. Mr Nguyen Tai Tue, for instance, is developing an app for the people to report public health or environmental issues to the authorities.
“Most of my friends work in the private sector. They’re not working with government. They understand how the system works and how our system is broken, so they’ll try their best to join the most suitable company or build their own business to create the best things for the society,” said the 27-year-old, who is a project manager at NOTA.
Young people like Mr Tue is one reason why Vietnam’s start-up boom is coming. In fact, according to Mr Csaba Bundik, vice-chairman of Central & Eastern European Chamber of Commerce Vietnam, the boom may have already begun.
START-UPS FACE DIFFICULTIES
Government statistics have showed that the number of new business registrations have been going up and down in recent years with no visible trend, but still, 87,000 companies started in the first 11 months of 2015. Authorities are expecting a record high for the whole of 2015.
However, on average, about 77,000 firms have suspended operations each year since 2011. For those that survive, funding is a challenge.
“We don’t have well-established venture networks, we have very few business angels. We just started to see the first angel networks this year,” said Mr Bundik, a long-time watcher of Vietnam’s start-up scene. “(Not just) start-ups, the venture funds (also) need support. They need legislation, they need clear regulatory framework, and they need basically an easy life in terms of administration.”
Even as a slew of legal changes took effect in July to ease red tape, Vietnam remains a complex start-up environment. The World Bank ranked it 90th in the world for ease of doing business, behind Malaysia, Thailand, and Brunei.
However, entrepreneurs like Mr Pham are unfazed.
“Even with my parents who know nothing about technology, I can see the changes, new ways of thinking, ability to accept new ideas. I think that’s an advantage for us because we’re not there yet, but we will get there and we’ll be there faster than other countries,” he said.
While Vietnam may be rigid in its laws and administration, Mr Pham said that there there is adaptability, forward thinking and plenty of optimism there to change the status quo.