Vietnamese Vice PM: Startup ecosystem should not only have ‘potential’ but become full Startup Nation
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Photo Credit: Huong Nguyen / Geektime

Friday was a big day for entrepreneurs in Hanoi at Techfest 2016, Vietnam-style

In a big day for Vietnam’s up and coming technology startup ecosystem, Techfest 2016 brought together on Friday entrepreneurs, government officials, and others to talk about the future of tech in the country.

The event was held in the capital city of Hanoi, and hosted by the Science and Technology Ministry. Minister Chu Ngoc Anh, who spoke at the conference, told the audience that the “entrepreneurship ecosystem in Vietnam is still young with great potential for development.”

The two-day festival is reported to have been attended by some 2,000 people, among which were around 200 startups and investors, hailing from both the local scene and abroad. This year’s theme for the event was the development of investment, resources, and connections between entrepreneurs, the government, and of course, investors. To this end, the event saw the launch of the first ever national startup ecosystem executive board, with members from the government, ministries, and local and international investors.

The festival is a chance for local startups to showcase their innovative products and services. It is also a platform to connect startups with investors and policymakers.

The startup ecosystem has become a significant focus for the government, which sees the growth of a stronger entrepreneurship community as a key driver in reaching their target of reaching 1 million businesses in the country by 2020. By most estimates, the current number stands at about 500,000. As the country begins to lose some of its international funding, perhaps the one downside of becoming wealthier, they will need to generate new jobs and opportunities for the population.

Photo Credit: Huong Nguyen / Geektime

Photo Credit: Huong Nguyen / Geektime

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told the crowd that he hopes to capitalize on the strong entrepreneurship spirit in Vietnam to help it become a “startup nation” in its own right. He recognized that startups face many hurdles in achieving these goals, not the least of which have been put in place by government policies and structures. Beyond the gap in entrepreneurship knowledge, challenges include aspects like complicated procedures in navigating bureaucracy and unclear regulations on venture capital.

In speaking about the challenges, Vice PM Dam called on authorities to help improve the business climate and give support to the community, allowing them to move past being a “potential” up and comer, and reach the status of a real “startup nation.”

In addition to the need for easier access to capital, he said that policymakers must also create a transparent and fair business environment, which can only be developed through administrative reform to cut cumbersome paperwork for businesses.

Vietnam is considered to be one of the most regulated countries in term of internet access after China, which poses a problem for the mostly internet-based startup ecosystem. When Article 292 of the Penal Code was adopted by the National Assembly, deeming any services offered online or via telecommunication networks without prior permission as illegal In June, many startups in the country were baffled. Receiving this permission is complicated and expensive, placing potentially prohibitive roadblocks on the path towards entrepreneurship.

For the time being, it appears that most startups are simply getting down to work and avoiding the long process of getting authorization. So while the law may be on the books, locals are not waiting for the government to play catch up.

Adding to these official troubles, there are cultural considerations as well. Despite what has been described as an entrepreneurial spirit, the older generation has not always welcomed new entrepreneurs, especially those who follow new technology. This situation has made it difficult for young people to have drive and just as important, the financial support from their relatives and investors.

Photo Credit: Huong Nguyen / Geektime

Photo Credit: Huong Nguyen / Geektime

Thankfully there have been some success stories so far this year, with startups like e-wallet Momo picking up a $28 million investment, social shopping app GOTit garnering a $9 million investment, and travel app Vntrip receiving a $3 million Series A led by former Alibaba CTO John Wu’s FengHe Fund Management.

These kinds of wins for the local scene are important for long-term growth, perhaps as much as help from the government. Officials have promised to provide legal and financial support to kick up the number of startups from the 1,800 that are there now, to 2,600 over the next ten years.

Over that time, estimates show that investments should nearly double, jumping from $150 million to the $200-300 million range sometime over the next decade. VCs like IDG Ventures, Mekong Capital, DFJ VinaCapital 500 Startups, and Japan’s CyberAgent Ventures are already active on the ground, but to make this new number a reality, more participants will likely be needed.

So while promises and estimates can be thrown around, what matters is how people vote with their feet. If the attendance at this year’s Techfest show anything — which was reported to be double this year over last, with four times the number of investors present — then the Vietnamese tech community appears determined to make their aspirations of becoming a startup nation a reality.

This article was originally published on Geektime Vietnam (Vietnamese).

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