Uber-inspired Vietnamese start-up wins golden ticket to Silicon Valley

By Trang Bui   November 24, 2017 | 02:56 pm GMT+7
Uber-inspired Vietnamese start-up wins golden ticket to Silicon Valley
Vietnamese start-up Logivan bags first prize at UberEXCHANGE, a nationwide start-up competition, on Thursday. Photo by VnExpress/Trang Bui

The start-up competition paints a bright picture for the country's young ecosystem. 

Ten aspiring Vietnamese start-ups went head-to-head on Thursday at the final of UberEXCHANGE, a nationwide competition offering a $4,400 prize and two tickets to visit Silicon Valley.

Logivan, a two-month-old start-up, emerged as the winner with its plan to ‘Uberise’ Vietnam’s road freight market.

“From my house I can see lots of empty trucks returning to their depots after completing their deliveries,” said CEO Linh Pham. “It’s a huge problem.”

The start-up already works with 300 trucks and ships up to 28,800 tons of freight per year.

Logivan hopes to step up in the giant market that will be worth an estimated $9 billion in 2017.

“If you bought something, a truck brought it!” the slogan says.

Last year, the Vietnamese government set a target of reaching one million new firms by 2020, turning the country into a start-up nation.

In the cozy conference room, both experts and competitors were positive about the country’s start-up scene.

“People say that Vietnamese start-ups are not tech-related, and that might have been true a few years ago when most people were focused on commercial start-ups,” Nguyen Thi Thu Van, board member and vice president of the Vietnam Youth Union, told VnExpress International.

“But this year we’ve seen two clear tech trends: bio and information technology.

"I don’t think the government’s target is out of reach,” Van continued. “Since the plan was announced, remote provinces like Kon Tum have been the most supportive for start-ups.”

Diep Que Anh, head of communications for Uber Vietnam, shared Van’s optimistic view.

“We’ve seen a number of them reaching international markets in their very early stages,” Anh told VnExpress International. “So I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic and excited about.”

Vietnam, particularly its biggest economic hub Ho Chi Minh City, has long been known to the global tech market as an outsourcing haven, but the nation is yet to register on the global startup map.

In the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017 released by U.S. research organization Genome, Ho Chi Minh City was not mentioned in its top 20.

Geektime, one of the biggest tech blogs that focuses on global innovation, estimated the number of tech start-ups in Vietnam stood between 1,400 and 3,000 in 2016, making the country the third largest ecosystem in Southeast Asia. However, around 95 percent of start-ups die within 3-5 years.

But Vietnam’s start-up spirit, its young, tech-savvy generation, and recently, ambitious leadership, make the country an attractive new ecosystem.

What Vietnamese start-ups are missing is access to experienced professionals.

“Even the best teams we’ve seen today don’t have the necessary presentational and persuasive skills,” said board member Van Nguyen.

“It helps to receive mentorship from successful startups to learn about management skills,” Van stressed.

Diep Que Anh, head of communications for Uber Vietnam, offered more advice.

“It’s always important to understand the landscape in which you are competing,” Anh said. “They need to look regionally and globally, not to solve just Vietnam’s problems.”

Despite all these problems, Phan Nguyen, CEO of another finalist, said it was a good start. “It’s good to see the quantity first, then the quality will improve.”

Uber’s Que Anh agreed. 

“If these are the indications, then the future is very bright," she said