At the forefront

From co-working spaces to startups, young Vietnamese are just as much involved in the technology age as their contemporaries around the world.

By Minh Yen. Photos: Dreamplex & Toong on January 16,2016 08:19 AM

At the forefront

Dreamplex

Last November the Miss Ao Dai building in the heart of HCMC was the focal point of the city’s startup community, with Dreamplex, the latest co-working space for startup entrepreneurs, creatives, consultants, and investors opening its doors. Housed on a total area of 1,500 square metres over three storeys, the beautifully designed space can accommodate at least 30 startups and 100 freelancers. Members at Dreamplex include design studios, booking solutions, educational platforms, and cutting edge apps. Two noteworthy inclusions are Umbala, founded by Thao Nguyen, a bold initiative that lets people capture and broadcast 12-second-long videos, and ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant), a mobile app for pronunciation training and accent reduction using speech recognition.

Meanwhile, in the north, Toong is another inspirational player in providing co-working space, offering numerous packages ranging from dedicated and flexible desks to a virtual office. Located just two minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake, Toong aims to become a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and mobile professionals in the capital. Hanoi also has two other well-known co-working spaces and incubators, including HATCH! NEST and Hub.IT, along with several smaller places like HanoiHub, ClickSpace, Coffice, and iHouse Cafe.

At the forefront

Toong co-working space

 

The people behind these initiatives are often representatives of Vietnam’s youngest and brightest. Toong’s co-founder Do Son Duong, for instance, is in his early 30s, while Dreamplex’s investor, Nguyen Trung Tin, is only 28. As the young CEO of the Trung Thuy Group, he has been listed on Forbes Vietnam’s 30 most influential young people under 30. Tin and Duong, like many of their peers of this internet-savvy generation, are excited by the opportunities economic integration and new technology bring.

Around the country young Vietnamese are embracing the digital future with open arms. Theirs is a world of mobile phones, apps, wi-fi cafés, online shopping, and co-working spaces. They come up with new ideas, start new companies, and have ambitions of making it to the top.

A recent survey revealed explosive growth in social media and internet use in Vietnam. As at January 2015 an estimated 40 million of Vietnam’s population of more than 90 million have access to the internet, accounting for 44%, of which 28 million are active social media users. High internet penetration and a golden-age population structure are welcome signs for Vietnam’s digital market. While dominant figures over the last ten years include entities valued in the millions of dollars, like VNG, Tiki.vn, Appota, mWork, Topica, and Hotdeal, the majority of startups in Vietnam are of very small-scale. The monumental and magical success of the game ‘Flappy Bird’ in 2014, which at its peak brought in about $50,000 a day in advertising to its creator Nguyen Ha Dong, created a viral effect and inspired a new wave of digital startups and entrepreneurs to emerge in the country. Anh Minh Do from Tech-in-Asia assessed Vietnam’s start up scene as being the most aggressive in Southeast Asia.

At the forefront

Dreamplex

 

The government, meanwhile, has pledged to provide greater support to startups in the country. ‘Startups are small businesses but they play an undeniable role in our economy,’ Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said at a meeting with Vietnam’s startup community last August.

It’s not all plain sailing, however, in the startup community. Although there are no official figures, it is widely agreed that the country’s startup landscape is largely dominated by men. The attitude that technology is the sole domain of men, the misunderstanding that IT jobs are all about developing and coding, and the traditional role of women in the family and society have all contributed to this gender imbalance.

Last September Microsoft organised Tech Femme in HCMC for the first time, an initiative to encourage women to become IT professionals and promote diversity in the industry. Notable women in the field, however, are many, including ELSA’s co-founder Truong Thanh Thuy, who has been dubbed ‘Vietnam’s startup Queen’. At 29 she has set up three businesses in different industries. Her social messaging app Tappy was recently acquired by Weeby, a mobile gaming technology company based in Silicon Valley, for ‘an undisclosed seven-figure sum’. Pham Lan Khanh, meanwhile, co-founded Freelancerviet.vn, a community and platform that connects freelancers to freelance jobs, while Lam Ha started tripp.me, a travel platform that enables travellers to enjoy private tours crafted by a local tour guide, which is currently valued at $1 million.

From co-working spaces to fast growing startups, young Vietnamese are expressing their entrepreneurial spirit and determination after years of poverty and hardship. Opportunities in the digital technology industry have never been so plenty, but competition has never been hotter than over the last few years. Some co-working spaces have opened then closed. Many startups have been founded then floundered. But the desire to enter this intense market remains. One thing is guaranteed: young Vietnamese share the same spirit as previous generations. Patience, resilience, and hard work count among the qualities needed - not just foreign ­­­money - to take the country into the future.

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