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Vietnamese entrepreneurs talk culture of failure to local startup ecosystem

Tuesday, July 26, 2016, 15:11 GMT+7

Together with other ASEAN member countries, Vietnam is attempting to build a healthy startup ecosystem, giving local entrepreneurs more opportunities to grow their businesses. Eight young Vietnamese entrepreneurs have just come back from the U.S. after attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016 held from June 22 to 24 in Palo Alto, California, the U.S. The team gathered at the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 on July 15 for a panel discussion to share what they have learnt and their expectation for the future of Vietnam’s startup scene.Failure? No problem!

“In the U.S., we learn from failure. The more we fail, the more we learn,” said Van Dinh Hong Vu, founder of Elsa, a mobile application which helps learners improve their English speaking skill. The Vietnamese-American entrepreneur asserted that the culture of failure has been built and welcomed in the U.S., enabling young entrepreneurs to flourish at an early start-up stage where everybody can fail easily. “Failure is not important at all. The importance is what you do to solve the problem,” she explained the mindset. Vu called herself lucky having chance to work in the U.S. technology startup ecosystem. “Here, a novice in startup can know exactly what they have to do. Everything is clear and well-organized,” she shared.

Pham Tan Phuc, founder of Gcall Vietnam Pte Ltd., started his first business at the age of 19 with three other friends. Six months later, they failed. “That was my very first failure in life. We were all young and inexperienced in the field,” he recalled. Now, looking back at the old days, Phuc said every failure just taught him a lesson. “Failure is useful. Learn from it and you would not make the same mistake twice,” he shared, adding that in Vietnam people are still unfamiliar with accepting failure and moving on. Phuc’s business, Gcall, was among eight startup project selected to join the GES 2016, where he had chance to share about his story with international friends, including what he learnt from his failure. “For years, my father only wanted me to work for a company and earn high salary. To him, running a business at such a young age is risky and unstable. I decided to move out to follow my own dream. We are young and full of energy. So, why don’t we try?” he stated.Silicon Valley is not a place, it's a "state of mind"

According to Ken S. Rosenberg, vice mayor at the City of Mountain View in California, the success of Silicon Valley has become globally known that authorities do not have to do a lot of business attraction.

“We even charge them tax as normal, but they still come,” the mayor said, adding that Silicon Valley is not a place but a “state of mind” in which everybody joins hands to contribute to the community benefit and innovation is strongly encouraged. “At Stanford University, if students want to open a business, they are allowed to hold their place, access to professors to support their plan, and, to fail,” he emphasized.

Silicon Valley, after years of being a center of high technology and innovation which mainly attracts businesses, is now on its way to reaching a higher level of development.

According to Mejghan Haider, director at NASA Research Park, outdated buildings on site will be demolished and replaced by high tech offices and housing.

“We are determined to build a community where people can live, go to school, and work,” she said, adding that there will be approximately 2,000 units of housing to be built in the next three to five years.

The research park, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and surrounded by high profile names including Google, LinkedIn, and Stanford University, has a land value worth five to six million dollars per acre.

Vietnam’s hopeful startup scene

According to Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Vietnam has been a particularly entrepreneurial culture in which individual and society are being able to start businesses and new ideas that can solve large problems.

“The U.S. President and Secretary of State were there recently and I think they all see Vietnam as a fantastic model of entrepreneurship,” he told Tuoi Tre News’.

Together, Vietnamese young entrepreneurs are now trying their best to build a healthy startup ecosystem, with a number of efforts recently made.

Bui Hai An, founder at Silicon Straits Saigon (SSS), was among eight entrepreneurs invited to the U.S. to join the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in late June.

An was also selected to present his Augmented Reality (AR) startup product to U.S. President Barack Obama during his historic visit to the southern metropolis in May.

At SSS, the company culture is inspired by U.S.’s startup ecosystem which encourages failure and sharing.

“We focus on human development which allows young employees to interact, learn from their failure, and support each other,” An said.

The company, located in District 7, has separated working areas for different types of personalities, including people who prefer either brightness or darkness.

Besides relaxing areas, a small kitchen, and a shelf full of books, the workplace also embraces a sleeping room.

“Employees who stay late at the office can take a nap or sleep there,” An explained.

Besides Vietnam, SSS has collaborated with a number of companies in Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand to develop applications and expand its brand name regionally.

Dao Xuan Hoang, an app developer in Hanoi, also won the first prize worth US$15,000 at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I Pitch Competition held in California last month.

Hoang said his application, an interactive application that teaches children to read, impressed ten members on the panel of judges, among which Assistant Professor Chuck Eesley from Stanford University agreed to be his mentor.

“He will support me in building relationships with investors and other companies in the U.S., as well as giving advice and sharing experience,” Hoang said in an interview with Tuoi Tre News.

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