On the 7th of September, I was able to join Shuen (Co-Founder of Terraformers) on my first trip to Vietnam. My 18-day long trip was kind of unexpected since the decision of me going was only made two weeks earlier. Our first stop in one of the fastest-growing economies in the world was Ho Chi Minh City.
The day we landed we attended our first event hosted by SMU, the reactor school networking event, where Singaporean students that took courses about the Economy in Vietnam got the opportunity to meet with different people that work in Vietnamese companies and start-ups. Their trip to Vietnam was planned for many years ago, but then Covid hit and their promised trip to HCMC couldn’t take place. After speaking to some of the students and representatives of the companies I quickly got the impression that in Vietnam people think and act very quickly. Our third day was supposed to be a sightseeing day, but because of our many invitations from that first event to visit different offices, we couldn’t do anything free time related. But that was fine because we got to meet a lot of amazing new people with their visions and projects. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Next, we met a representative from the ViCo Center for Sustainability. The Dutch company wants to open an office in HCMC, that is built on the concept of the office they already have back in the Netherlands. They’re looking for an old run-down building, that they can renovate with sustainable methods into an open space, where experts in the field of sustainability can rent part of their office to come together. But that building is not only supposed to be an office space, but also a community space to host events, workshops, etc.. They figured, that in Vietnam people slowly start to show an interest in sustainability, but there is rarely a place to go. Some places brand themselves as sustainable, but that’s rather a marketing strategy instead of actually focusing on that aspect. Right now they are looking for partners, such as core members, core sponsors, or suppliers, and hoping to start renovating their building this year.
Our second evening event was organized by APAC DAO and sponsored by Nature’s Vault, a very successful start-up. APAC DAO is a community of people that are interested in blockchain and web3. They started as a Telegram Group Chat with just a few friends and practically grew overnight without any advertisement. Friends invited their friends, who invited their friends and so on, so now the Telegram Chat has over a thousand members. It’s a very active group since only interested people get invited and people that are trusted by members in the group chat. Now the community is hosting events all over Asia to connect with like-minded people.
With Shuen as one of the speakers for a blockchain discussion, we also got to speak to the other two speakers for quite some time. One of them was Seng Kiong Kok, a RMIT professor in HCMC and the other one was the Founder of Nature’s Vault, Phil Rickard. Nature’s Vault is a very interesting start-up, that focuses on gold. Their premise was, that whenever people buy gold, they’re not using it in any kind of way and just lock it in a vault. Therefore they figured it would be more useful, to just leave the gold in the ground instead of farming it. With the help of modern technology, you always check the amount of gold in the ground first, before you mine it. Using that technology, Nature’s Vault sells this detected gold from their own goldmines in Canada and instead of mining it, they leave the gold in the ground. The buyer gets an NFT to prove their ownership and that NFT has essentially the same value as the gold left in the ground. That has two benefits: On the one hand, it saves a lot of money not to build a mine and hire miners, which can be also a quite dangerous job and on the other hand, it conserves the environment, protecting it from waste caused by mining and keeping the forest above the goldmines instead of chopping all of the trees down to build the construction for gold mining.
ITI Fund was one of the projects we learned about at the SMU networking event. Muller, the managing director, invited us to his office a few days later, where we introduced the concept of Audacity to him. They started this fund, and are looking to invest in tech-based start-ups (including early stage) to diversify their businesses. Because his company can’t work with all of Audacity he now is interested in a list of Audacity’s 12 start-ups for possible investments. Shuen then briefly introduced them to Terraformers, her regenerative travel start-up, where Muller offered to do possible joint projects in the future since they’re also working with local farms.
On the same day, we also met up with the Co-Founder of Innolab, who explained their crowd pitching event to us. Once a month they host a competition where 5 start-ups participate. Attendees buy a ticket for 15$, and after the introduction of every start-up, they have to vote for one of these 5 start-ups. Simultaneously the money they paid for the ticket will directly go to the start-up they voted for. As a result, the most voted start-up will receive the most amount of money. Besides that, there are also judges, who choose a winner, that benefits from a lot of advantages given by Innolab. Innolab does not only continue working with the winning start-ups every month, but they will also host follow-up workshops for the winners and the other 4 start-ups so that they can improve their content and start-ups in general.
The next stop on our business trip was Bao Loc, a rural city near Da Lat, where we met a group of students that organise a project called DNA Corner. In Vietnam, there is a rising problem, that children themselves don’t know what kind of career they want to pursue and only follow their parent’s wishes (doctor, lawyer,…). That’s where DNA Corner helps. They are organizing workshops in different parts of Vietnam, focusing on remote areas that don’t have that much access to career navigation programs. Teenagers from 15-18 are their target group and those have to pay to attend the workshop, but there are some discounts for students. First DNA Corner introduces themselves and collects data on what the teenagers expect from the upcoming workshop. Then they play a game simulating challenges in the international economy, where the winning team gets vouchers. Then they focus on the content that the teenagers earlier had wished for. In the end, they get a certificate, proving that they took part in a career navigation workshop.
After one day in Bao Loc, we took the very comfortable sleeper bus to Da Lat, where we stayed shortly before flying to Vinh City, to live in HEPA for 10 days. But that will be a different blog post. After our adventures there, we took the sleepers bus again to my final destination: Hanoi. There we met with Jackie, a RMIT professor, who is familiar with regenerative travel. She told us about her past projects with her students that focus on tourism and sustainability. This semester their course was about eco-tourism, looking at different models and how to balance tourism and culture. This October her students will also visit Sai Duan, a remote village that may be a possible partner soon for Terraformers. Their task is to collect ideas on how to improve the environment and tourism in Sai Duan and therefore they go to places with natural and cultural value to learn how to contribute to the community. Jacky also recommended KPF to us, an organization that helps villages with community-based projects. So we’ll probably look into that in the future.
Last but not least we met with a few other RMIT professors, including Jackie, to speak about a collaboration between Audacity and RMIT. Right now RMIT has a semi-independent course before their final project, called capstone 1 and capstone 2. In capstone 1 they develop ideas, to improve the culture and community in their neighborhood, that don’t necessarily have to be realistic. The professors want the ideas to be inventive and speculative, to encourage the students to come up with pragmatic solutions. In capstone 2 students have to find a possible way how to implement those ideas. In this stage, the students become conservative and discouraged, so the RMIT professors suggested involving Audacity in capstone 2. If the students are lacking an entrepreneurial approach a start-up might be the best way to teach them. So the next step is to learn about RMIT’s past projects and build connections with local groups that could help with the collaboration.
All in all, are my first impressions of Vietnam even better than I imagined. Vietnam is a beautiful country with many different landscapes and the kindest people. Compared to Singapore they sure lack when comes to infrastructure, but their start-up culture is growing rapidly and everyone is very quick and open-minded. Instead of inviting us weeks or even months later, they asked us to come a day or two later. A lot of people see the growing potential in Vietnam, so there are a lot of investments looking for projects that can improve Vietnam’s development. The smaller children are also extremely intelligent, flexible, and responsible. Their goal is to be respected internationally, and therefore they learn English and use every opportunity to improve their skills. The young generation in Vietnam will grow up to achieve something great, and they have every support from the older generations. I think Vietnam is the perfect environment to encourage people to implement their ideas, whether it’s to improve infrastructure, sustainability, or cultural regeneration. It’s a country where everybody can learn a thing to two from.