“The greatest failure is in not trying.”
These wise words aptly describe the original batch of 36 founders/startups of Hanoi’s Topica Founder Institute Class 3 cohort.
The founders iterated, pivoted, validated, and tested their ideas in front of more than 50 mentors and advisors over a period of 16 weeks. At the end, only 12 founders survived the ordeal, and graduated on October 29, 2014, and in the process, earned the right to pitch in front of more than 30 investors from Vietnam and the region. The graduation event was held at Hub.IT.
The 12 startups were:
- UpLevo: A platform that provides effective design application for sole-proprietors to create and design collaterals.
- Antoree: A startup that connects tutors and students on an Airbnb-type platform.
- iMap: A startup that builds digital maps, software and solutions based on geographic information system (GIS) to create platforms, tools to help users see, understand, ask questions and display various types of data on the map.
- TinyGuu: A startup that builds tools for parents to track and manage the online content their kids access.
- Morbling: A mobile gaming studio with titles such as Ninja Escape and soon to be released Hellgate.
- ZinMed: A platform that provides healthcare solutions and connects with doctors across the country through its services and applications.
- hiSella: A SaaS platform designed to help Facebook merchants boost up business performances by providing an e-commerce website and a set of supportive tools.
- 9mix: A social networking platform for all things fashion.
- Beeketing: A marketing platform that helps online sellers create marketing campaigns effectively through automation.
- KlassJoy: A mobile app for collaboration and data visualisation for kindergartens.
- NextTopEvent: An online platform that enables users to book tickets and get information about events.
- vLance: A marketplace for hiring freelancers easily and efficiently, ala freelancer.com, but with a unique services like escrow account, tools for managing projects, and communication tools for collaborating.
The quality of graduates this year was the highest yet, with four of the 12 founders — Antoree, Morbling, vLance, UpLevo — obtaining funding even before graduating.
For the record, TOPICA Founder Institute is Vietnam’s only accelerator whose graduates have raised multi-million dollar funding. Some illustrious alumni include:
- Appota (TFI Batch 1): Appotarecently raised investment rounds of series A and B, becoming the “Most Disruptive” of the 500 graduates of the Founder Institute Global 2012 and currently has more than 100 employees
- HSP Yton (TFI Batch 2): HSP Yton recently called for the largest Series A Vietnam from SMS (Japanese), and currently has more than 100 employees.
Having heard all 12 startups and mentoring them in a couple of sessions, I was very impressed on how far they had come in the final pitch. They were receptive to ideas and suggestions put forth by mentors and advisors, and they came to realise certain key points in their businesses.
The fact that all 12 founders came together and helped each other out despite their own workload impressed me the most. This is perhaps the most gratifying experience I’ve had, seeing camaraderie in action.
While all the 12 ideas had merits in their own spheres, some came about as my favourites:
- hiSella: What stood out for me was the solid team behind this startup and the fact it’s geared towards an ever-increasing marketplace of f-commerce sellers. Its focus on the importance of localisation won’t hurt hiSella’s ambition of scaling either.
- iMap: Another startup that pivots from its original business. While it isn’t highly scalable, this startup will have its hands full just to completely roll out its services in Vietnam. The upside is the mapping technology that can be used in emerging countries neighbouring Vietnam.
- Beeketing: Beyond a Mailchimp type application, it has also other analytics and data mining tools to assist users.
More than 30 venture capitalists and angels were present, and generally were quite impressed with the startups.
Ng Sai Kit of Captii said, “Being my first time in Hanoi and listening to the startups, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of ideas presented. A couple of the startups are definitely investable and we’ll be contacting them shortly.”
On the potential of Vietnam being an important startup ecosystem, Koichi Saito of IMJ Investment Partners said, “There’s no doubt that Vietnam is on the radar of investors from the region. We’re glad to be one of the earlier ones coming here. It is a young market with lots to improve, but all indications are pointing in the right direction.”
Further reinforcing Saito’s opinion, Truong of IDG Ventures Vietnam quipped, “Being an early mover in startups investment, we have been on the forefront of this growth. The initial years were tough but the recent two to three years have been very exciting for us. The future is certainly very bright.”
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