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THE ASCENT vol. 2 – Has the golden era for Vietnam’s tech ecosystem arrived?

Above: Founders, investors, advisors & team at our year-end social last December

Hi everyone,

Happy 2022 – chúc mừng năm mới! 🎉 We hope that you had a productive start to the new year and wish you and your loved ones a year full of health and happiness!

A new year always brings new hope, and we at AVV have a hopeful outlook on Vietnam this year. On a macro level, Vietnam is now among countries with the highest COVID-19 vaccine coverage and thus is ready to gear up for an economic rebound. GDP growth is estimated at 6.5% or higher, fueled by the recovery of manufacturing, tourism, and other sectors. For the Vietnam tech scene in particular, between capital raises and new unicorns, 2021 was a record-breaking year. All signs point to 2022 being a noteworthy year for Vietnam’s digital economy – it is already starting well with several deals closed in the first two weeks of the year like agritech startup FoodMap (one of our latest deals), stock trading app Anfin, HR tech firm Startup Oi, and digital bank Timo.

In a recent quick interview with Bloomberg Asia, our GP Binh Tran shared his belief that the golden era of Vietnamese startups has arrived. The interview was well-received, so for this edition of The Ascent, we asked him to expand on some driving forces and factors behind the growth of Vietnam’s startup ecosystem (see more in Spotlight below.) To contribute to that growth, we are excited to continue our efforts to support founders this year, starting with a fundraising bootcamp for women entrepreneurs in Q1. If you are keen to learn more, check out AVV in Action.

Until next month,
The Ascent

Spotlight: The Golden Era of Vietnamese Startups

 

By modern definitions (access to early-stage capital, sufficient internet bandwidth, and broad government support) the Vietnam tech ecosystem is only about 5 years old, quite nascent compared to Silicon Valley or Singapore. However, elements such as comprehensive government support, unique market accessibility, strong tech talent, etc. have bolstered growth.

  • The Vietnamese government is supporting startups now more than ever before. Since 2016 was dubbed “the Year of Startups”, things have come a long way. Tech is being recognized as a key driver for Vietnam’s economy, with the government announcing a goal of having 20% of the nation’s GDP come from the digital economy by 2025.
  • Vietnam is one of the most accessible ecosystems in SE Asia, leading to faster startup maturity. In sectors like e-commerce, ride hailing, social, and many others, the market leaders are international companies. In many of these sectors, there is no limitation on foreign ownership. These non-protectionist policies plus the fact that 97% of enterprises in Vietnam are SMEs (i.e. few large conglomerates acting as gatekeepers) make Vietnam highly accessible, attracting international companies to enter the market and grow their businesses. Accessibility also means stiff competition for startups, and we have seen many gain competitive capabilities. As seed investors, we are meeting 3rd- or 4th-generation local founders that have quickly adapted and learned from working at or competing with international companies entering Vietnam over the past few years.

    With an accessible and fast-maturing tech ecosystem, a low cost of living, a safe and stable environment to work, and the largest pool of affordable and talented software engineers in the region, Vietnam is an ideal “test bed” for tech companies building for the broader emerging Asia market.
Binh’s interview with Bloomberg Asia

This growth is attracting new top-tier investors, including those from Silicon Valley, to the Vietnam market. To put things more in perspective, the total volume of VC deals in VN in 2017 was only $48M. That grew to $800M in 2019 and reached a record high of $2.25B in 2021. Vietnam now counts five unicorn-level tech companies – VNG, VNLife, Axie Infinity, Momo (latest unicorn announced), and Tiki (soonicorn). Top-tier investors such as a16z, Goodwater, and Altos are taking notice and are attracted to opportunities in Vietnam.

Big opportunities lie in blockchain gaming, Defi & crypto adoption… According to a recent report by Chainalysis, Vietnam ranks #1 for crypto adoption and #2 for DeFi adoption in the world. The combination of a growing middle class with disposable income, lack of diverse domestic investment opportunities, and a very tech-savvy population is driving both adoption and innovation. Axie Infinity, a homegrown unicorn, is considered one of the most developed GameFi communities in the world where users can actively participate in an economy not just as players, but as creators, employers, landlords, and investors. New large blockchain funds such as Paradigm ($2B AUM) are looking at Vietnam and SE Asia for the next Axie Infinity, and SE Asia-based NFTs, DeFi, and DAO (decentralized autonomous organizations) will continue to be areas of great interest for US-based funds through 2022.

… as well as other sectors that have also evolved with COVID. The digital economy accelerated at the onset of COVID. E-commerce is an example – two weeks after GrabMart was launched in March 2020, it saw a 91% surge week-on-week in orders. E-commerce enablers are no exception. Kilo (an AVV investment), an FMCG retail enabler, saw its GMV grow 61% month on month last year. Vietnam’s edtech market also saw a 50% growth from $2B in 2019 to $3B now as a result of increasing online learning demand induced by the pandemic.

AVV in Action

 

1. Year-end founder social. At the end of last month and after a long hiatus of remote meetings and calls, AVV hosted a founder social, bringing together founders, partners, and investors for an evening of sharing and celebration.

2. GP Eddie Thai discussed blockchain gaming opportunities alongside other investors on TechCrunch. Learn more about Eddie’s views on the intersection of sentimentality and utility in NFT games and how ‘play-to-earn’ is different from ‘play-and-earn’ as well as other investors’ blockchain gaming theses via the survey here.

3. In early January, Le Nguyen from the AVV investment team spoke at an online seminar by TAO Startup, an online founder community. Discussing blockchain/NFT startup fundraising, he suggested that founders should be aware of the different benefits of a token raise vs. an equity raise. He also reaffirmed that regardless of technologies, fundamentals like team, defensibility, and ability to execute still matter to VCs.

4. Partner Hau Ly shared her perspectives on investing in women founders as a guest on Vietnam Innovators, a leading business podcast in Vietnam. Two participants of AVV’s SHINE woman-focused incubator also made appearances. Talking about her experience directing training programs for female entrepreneurs, Hau highlighted the growth mindset and hard work observed across the board. She was also inspired by their openness to connect and support each other, citing how the community remains active even after SHINE wrapped up. Check out the episode here (Vietnamese with English subtitles.)

On that note, SHINE is launching a two-week fundraising bootcamp for women founders in late February/early March. If you are interested in joining or making a referral, email us at shine@ascendvietnam.com.

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