2017 has been the most exciting year yet in Vietnam, for the startup community that is growing in not just quantity but especially in the quality of knowledge, impact and speed relative to the global community. Hundreds of millions dollars were pumped into Vietnamese startups.

Tiki, a long-time big player, founded in 2010, received US$54.5 million from China’s JD.com and Korea’s STIC Investment. KyberNetwork, co-founded by a Vietnamese, launched their ICO on September 15th, taking in 200,000 Ethereum, which was valued US$56 million at the time. The network is now valued over US$333 million, with Vitalik Buterin—who co-founded Ethereum—on the board of advisors, proving Vietnam’s competitive capability in even the most demanding markets.

The community is also maturing rapidly, evidently shown by TechFest—an annual event endorsed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and co-organized with many other ministries, agencies and startup ecosystem builders in Vietnam; TechFest 2017, instead of introducing new startups, revolves around attracting investment for existing ones.

Notably, Vietnamese startups got to meet with global partners from Israel, Singapore, Finland, the US and other countries in the region, to exchange knowledge on AgriTech, MedTech, EdTech, TravelTech, F&B, AI, IoT, FinTech, and E-commerce.

The government has also recognized this trend and is doing its best to nurture the blooming ecosystem and attract more investment internationally. In June 2017, the Law on Technology Transfer was revised to promote technological advances and the commercialization of said technologies.

Contemporaneously, the local governments have also delivered noteworthy initiatives of their own. SpeedUP 2017 is an 11.75 billion VND fund (est. US$520,525) started by Ho Chi Minh City Department of Science and Technology, that invests in 14 startups all over Vietnam at a minimum of 350 million VND (US$15,505) to a maximum of 1,282 billion VND (US$56,792). The Hanoi People’s Committee launched Startupcity.vn, an online portal that stores startup and investor profiles similar to Crunchbase. The portal also publishes news to connect startups with investors, big players and the government.

VIISA came into the picture

In this climate of opportunities exists VIISA (Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator) — a partnership between FPT corporation, Dragon Capital and Hanwha Investment — which has invested up to US$30,000 in 18 startups (US$15,000 in cash and US$15,000 in-kind), creating over 170 jobs, not including VIISA staff.

VIISA’s launch party

The beginning of 2017 marked VIISA’s highly anticipated first batch, the first ever acceleration program of this scale to ever exist in Vietnam. After 3 rounds of shortlisting, 7 teams out of over 150 were selected. They strive to disrupt simple daily struggles such as selling second hand goods, to allowing freedom of accessing any close-by gyms, or even a lifestyle subscription for daily liquor, restaurant meals, that you didn’t know you need. Batch 1’s startups are:

  • Fixir: A mobile app that helps motorists discover and book repairs and service from reliable workshops through their mobile app.
  • LeXis: A legal platform that helps companies and individuals get legal advice and help through a prepaid package and a toll-free number.
  • FastSell: A mobile app that allows you to list, discover and buy things from people around you quickly, reliably and securely.
  • UseData: SAAS that helps online sellers optimize visual merchandising through their product analysis platform.
  • Butterfly Hub: Transforming beauty through data science, computer vision and AI. Users find fashion and get the latest haircut for that best matches their looks.
  • WisePass: A mobile app with a subscription plan. For 6 million VND per month, members get to enjoy a bottle of spirits or wine, every single night, at quality bars and restaurants.
  • WeFit: A mobile app that provides you access to more than 300+gyms and fitness classes in Vietnam with their monthly subscription plan.

Also read: Watch the 7 graduates from the first VIISA accelerator batch pitch in Vietnam

The first VIISA Investment day in April 2017

VIISA’s 1st Investment Day on 11 April 2017 saw all 7 teams graduate from the program, with US$515,000 successfully raised.

“It’s still unreal how far VIISA has come, our name is known throughout the region at this point, all thanks to the hard work of the team, founders, government officials, our partners and mentors. It goes without saying this is just the beginning, we are so excited to play our role in making Vietnam an innovation hub.” – Dr. Le Hoang Anh, Chairman of VIISA & Managing Partner of Dragon Capital

VIISA marched forward

To capitalise on the success and valuable lessons from Batch 1, VIISA went ahead to screen another batch of approximately 160 applications, with 12 teams given the green light. Interestingly enough, 4 teams are incorporated outside of Vietnam, and 11 founders of multiple nationalities: Indonesia, France, US, Spain, South Korea, Colombia, Japan and Ukraine.

Keeping up with its discipline of cultivating solutions across many different verticals, Batch 2’s startups zoom in on Media, Artificial Intelligence, Agritech, Edtech, On-demand platforms and Sharing Economy:

  • Saigoneer (Vietnam) Provide local brands with a rare trustworthy platform to share their narratives and services with unique and highly desirable audience.
  • CricketOne (Vietnam) Feeding the world with sustainable protein using proprietary IoT technology.
  • MarketOi (Vietnam) On-demand concierge delivery service that takes you from order to delivery.
  • Cyfeer (Vietnam) Building e-solutions for apartments and building management.
  • Dental Tap (Ukraine) Cloud-based software-as-a-service for dental practices.
  • Authentic Guards (Indonesia) Protecting brands against counterfeit products using proprietary technology.
  • Mojitok (South Korea) Third-party smart AI that helps reads emotions and converts text to stickers
  • Ella Study (Vietnam) Online platform connecting Vietnamese students with alumni for overseas universities placement consultations.
  • CID Auto (South Korea) Video-first mobile car sales platform.
  • InterviewApp (Vietnam) Online platform to train jobseekers with professional development.
  • WeSport (Vietnam) Connecting sports enthusiasts with sports facilities.
  • Xpath.co  (Vietnam) Tailored local experiences for discerning tourists.

Also read: From Vietnam to Ukraine, these 12 startups are joining the second batch of VIISA

Brainstorming session at VIISA office

Working with people from so many backgrounds is not a walk in the park, however. Navigating not just the program but also new challenges stretched VIISA’s limited human resources thin. As 3 teams are based outside of Vietnam, communication wasn’t easy. What VIISA gained during this batch is invaluable, allowing the team learning opportunities and perspectives on startup worldwide.

“I got a lot from VIISA, from the immensely valuable Amazon credits to intense sessions to perfect DentalTap’s pitch. At the same time, I feel like I could have used some more insights on the legal end. All in all, it was a valuable experience.” – Yaroslav Osetrov, CEO and founder of DentalTap

“I must say that CYFEER is happy within the frame of VIISA program. We gain so much from how to form a firm company, how to speak out the strength of us, how to change our biz model fit with the market, how to deal with problems, new knowledge to many other fields and much other support from legal, advice to on-time finance help. CYFEER has grown big and gone far from our starting point, thanks to VIISA team, Adrian, Leo, Phuoc, Minh, Aiden, and Troy.” – Pham Hung Phong, CEO of CYFEER

All of Batch 2 startups on the 2nd Investment Day

The 2nd Investment Day was held on 25 October 2017 with over 150 invited guests, the majority of which were angel investors or venture capitalists from Mekong Capital, VinaCapital, Dragon Capital, etc.

“I am delighted about the diversity of Batch 2 startups. The foreign teams were able to expand their business in Vietnam while helping Vietnamese companies with global insights. This is a step forward for the ecosystem!” – Mr. Sangyeop Kang, Investment Officer, Hanwha Investment

Some highlights post VIISA adventure:

  • WeFit has established partnerships with most major venues in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. They raised US$155,000 seed funding from VIISA and ESP Capital.
  • WisePass raised US$400,000 in seed funding led by Expara Ventures with VIISA participating, and is expanding both vertically to include Starbucks and AirBnB-like accommodation.
  • Saigoneer tripled their revenue for the 4th quarter, 2017, reaching 150,000,000 VND, the biggest number for them, yet. They have expanded to Hanoi and launched a Korean version. Other languages and locations are in consideration.
  • Cyfeer doubled its customer base from 2 to 20 while another 15 are in trial, attracting around US$350,000 in investment.
  • Ella Study has 15 paid customers composed of universities, vocational training services. Their revenue spiked to $51,000 at the end of the program compared to the $4,000 at the beginning.

The journey ahead

2018 for VIISA is not looking to be any less challenging. The accelerator is concentrating on Fintech, TravelTech, AI/Chatbot, IoT, Healthcare and Big Data, starting with the 3rd batch of innovative startups. But even more exciting is a pre-accelerator program being launched a month prior to the 3rd batch. The program — VIISA X — seeks to not just accelerate our future startups in term of knowledge and best practices, but also possibly helps with the local ecosystem, a long-term mission of VIISA.

VIISA is also actively expanding our network of regional partners, starting off 2018 in style by co-organising Fintech Challenge Vietnam, the nation’s first official fintech competition co-hosted by the State Bank of Vietnam and Mekong Business Initiative. On top of that, the team is also in talks with both local and regional corporations and educational institutions, in order to bring Vietnamese startups beyond the borders, as well as attracting foreign startups to come and set up in Vietnam and explore this hugely potential market.

One cannot sum up the excitement of the VIISA team ahead of 2018 any better than our very own CEO, Mr. Tran Huu Duc:

“After two successful batches, VIISA has definitely left a positive mark on the ecosystem here. For 2018, we are looking at even harder problems to solve, and the impactful startups that come with them. I can’t wait to start!”

Keep an eye out for Vietnam and VIISA in 2018!

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