The first season of Grab Ventures Ignite have concluded successfully with the triumph of five young startups, including bePOS, Stringee, GoDee, Papaya và Vbee. For Vietnam’s startup community, the significance of the programme has gone beyond a competition as it offered early-stage startups an opportunity to grow and thrive.

Vietnam has advanced rapidly on the global startup map in recent years. The Southeast Asian country moved up an impressive 13 places this year to 59th in ranking of 100 economies with the best startup ecosystems tracked by StartupBlink – a global startup ecosystem map and research centre.

Hanoi also made it into the top 200 cities globally by jumping 33 places to 196.

In the region, it takes Vietnam two years to jump from the second least active startup ecosystem among the six largest ASEAN countries into No. 3, trailing behind only Indonesia and Singapore, according to a reported funded by Singapore-based venture capital firm Cento Ventures.

Vietnam-based startups also raised total investment of US$741 million in 2019, making up 18 per cent of capital invested in the region, a huge jump over 2018 where it only accounted for 4 per cent ($287 million). For the first time, investment into Vietnam startups exceeded Singapore.

Nguyen Thai Hai Van, Managing Director, Grab Vietnam highly appreciates creativity, courage and entrepreneurial spirit of Vietnamese startups.

“They learn quickly and very brave. Vietnamese youngers have the guts to get involved in the areas where global tech giants such as Google and Facebook have done very well, such as livestreaming and artificial intelligence, or follow new trends such as insur-tech, medtech and fintech. They can find the niche markets which suit them well,” Van talked about the programme participants.

Ms. Nguyen Thai Hai Van, Managing Director of Grab Vietnam

Launched in February 2020 as part of the “Grab for Good” development roadmap in Vietnam, Grab Ventures Ignite (GVI) is a six-month scale-up programme dedicated to Vietnamese early-stage startups which is aimed at encouraging technology entrepreneurship and supporting the growth of Vietnam’s startup ecosystem.

With multi-stakeholders including Vietnam National Innovation Centre (under the Ministry of Planning and Investment), Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Gobi Partners, Toong, YKVN and Amazon Web Services, along with companion of many Grab senior managers in 1:1 mentorship, participants learnt how to raise funds and rapidly scale, better market their products and protect their bottom lines as well as to deepen their understanding of Vietnam’s macroeconomic landscape to emerge even stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.

“After 14 weeks, startup founders have changed quickly with a more practical view, knowing about business models, fundraising strategy and understanding about the legal policy which are vital to their businesses,” Van said.

Vietnam is the first country in Southeast Asia that Grab launched GVI, in support of the Government’s national strategy to create 10 technology unicorns by 2030, which is defined a privately-owned startup company worth at least $1 billion.

There are many accelerator programmes for Vietnamese startups funded by the big tech companies but Grab has still found its distinct way to back the growth of Vietnam’s startup ecosystem.

The winners of Grab Ventures Ignite batch 1

According to Van, startups will experience three development stages, from ideation to scale-up and maturity. In Vietnam, the ideation stage is very active with an enormous number of startups – among the top markets for startup ecosystem. However, many startups have to give up halfway due to the lack of product marketing and management skills, failure to raise capital or attract talents.

“Many startups may have been ruled out from early phases because they did not receive adequate mentorship in the first place. That’s why Grab decided to dedicate to the pre-seeding stage as we believe we will add more value in this stage,” she said.

Van also gave an advice to startups, saying “it does not matter if founders head into an easy or difficult areas, if that problem has yet to be solved and you have a better solution, just go for it, but must always make sure you have problem solution fit”.

Startup participants also highly valued benefits of the programme.

“In GVI I don’t think I could meet so many senior leaders of Grab, especially in 1:1 meetings. Grab shared real stories from the early days it started a business. After the programme, my vision is expanded to not being captured in Vietnam alone but to other Southeast Asian countries whose language structure is similar to Vietnamese,” said representative of Vbee, one of the programme’s five winners which provides AI voice solutions.

Stringee’s representative also shared the company adopted some lessons from the programme to its business operation and they work well.

“Thanks to the format of 1:1 mentorship, I met many experienced people. They were very busy but they passed on what they went through to themselves. I feel respected,” he said.

Vietnam’s startup ecosystem is seen to have huge potential for breakthrough, inching slowly towards a status as a Southeast Asian leading hub.

The substantial market size of Vietnam’s economy, dynamic tech startup community and strong support of the government will be the important factors for a thriving startup ecosystem in Vietnam.

Tran Duy Dong, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, said Vietnam targets to create 10 technology unicorns by 2030 and over the years, the Government has been introducing a lot of initiatives to help promising Vietnamese start-ups flourish.

“But there is an increasing need for better, stronger participation of private companies like Grab to help start-ups develop business opportunities and grow the tech ecosystem in the country.

“When we are entering the new normal and international economies are shifting in a way that benefits Vietnam, the opportunity is ripe for us to become a tech start-up hub in the Southeast Asia region where we can drastically promote innovation and digitalisation and our star-tups can internationalise their fast-growing business to succeed in the long term,” Dong said.

The COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation in Vietnam. This has opened up new opportunities for many business ideas, especially in technology and smart solutions that need startups to catch up on time.

Although the Grab Ventures Ignite has ended, Grab is committed to continuing to support the startup ecosystem in Vietnam through its technology platforms, user bases and partnership network.

Grab Vietnam is discussing opportunities to collaborate with GVI’s winners, giving them access to and capitalising on Grab's market, technology and expertise in Vietnam to develop its products and services.

This is envisioned a long-term strategy, so the capital investment is not the only value that GVI brings. The background knowledge, experience and expertise that the programme brings to startups during and after the programme will help them develop faster and operate more efficiently.

Grab is committed to being a reliable partner of the government and businesses on their journey to promote the startup ecosystem in Vietnam.