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Unearthing the next stars of Vietnamese startups: Early Stage

The Vietnamese tech startup ecosystem gathered this past week at the World Heritage site Ha Long Bay.

Photo by Ammie Ngo on Unsplash

Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage site Ha Long Bay was the heart of the startup ecosystem last week during the annual state-sponsored TechFest, an event that aimed to showcase the country’s ingredients and competitive advantages to become the region’s startup hub.

This year was particularly noteworthy for Vietnam, a country that is becoming one of the hottest destinations for tech startups in Southeast Asia. The Ministry of Science of Technology estimates that startups in the country raised over USD 750 million in the first 10 months of the year, and according to a report by Singapore-based Cento Ventures and ESP Capital, Vietnam is now considered the third most active ecosystem in ASEAN, ranking only after Singapore and Indonesia.

So far in the year, two of the mega deals in the region have come from Vietnam. Vietnam’s logistics services provider Scommerce collected its largest funding round, reportedly over USD 100 million, led by Singapore’s state-owned investment company Temasek. SoftBank and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC also made a big bet on Vietnamese e-payment solutions provider VNPAY with a record amount of USD 300 million.

However, there’s still a huge funding gap for startups to overcome, especially in the pre-A to growth stage, alongside challenges related to business registration, regulations, and others. Currently, the country only has one unicorn, gaming-focused firm VNG, which took 12 years to achieve that status.

The Vietnamese government is aiming to speed up the development process with the support of regional investors and partners who are interested in grasping the vast opportunities that Vietnam present in all sectors.

The annual TechFest crowns a startup champion and two other leading contenders. Last year’s winner, Abivin, a startup that provides AI-powered supply chain optimization, also ended up winning the Startup World Cup competition last May taking home a USD 1 million prize.

KrASIA took note of the winning startups presented at this year’s competition:

The top prize went to MultiGlass, a project by Le Hoang Anh, former graduate of Da Nang University of Education and Technology in central Vietnam. Only established earlier this year, the startup produces a glass device that allows people with disabilities to control the computer with their eyes and head gestures. There’s also another version focusing on drivers, which analyses the driver’s eyes, and automatically sends an alert 15 minutes in advance in case of drowsiness.

MultiGlass previously raised a seed round and also swooped a number of startup prizes in other competitions. The startup will represent Vietnam at the Startup World Cup 2020 tournament to be held in San Francisco next May.

English learning platform eJOY, which received the third prize in the competition, is also a promising ed-tech startup. The platform says that it wants to make the learning process more joyful for students of all kinds. The app provides over 60,000 captioned English native music videos, popular movies, and TV shows for learners to practice their speaking and pronunciation. The platform also got mentioned by The Guardian for how it uses the famous American TV show Friends and its relatable characters to teach learners.

The second prize in the competition went to Journey of the sensesa group of restaurants and other services. The startup employs a team formed by people with disabilities, and provide customers with the experience of using alternative forms of communication such as sign language.

“Early Stage” is a series where KrASIA writers highlight startups that caught our eyes for the week.