Co-working spaces have grown into an increasingly popular choice among young local and expat freelancers and startup owners in Ho Chi Minh City.
Over the past few years, dozens of co-working spaces have sprung up in the southern metropolis, providing an auspicious new working space for fledgling and freelance office workers and entrepreneurs.
Co-working is a modern-day model in which individuals pay to use a shared working space.
In co-working environments, young office workers are no longer confined to the conventional workplace, using the social aspect of the venue as an opportunity to interact and take on more challenges alongside other like-minded professionals.
Most of these young people are dynamic, rambunctious, and fluent in English.
Co-workers and complete strangers often sit side-by-side, engrossed in their laptops, communicating with brief looks, smiles, and the occasional whisper.
These modern-day urban work spaces cut the cost of conventional office rent, enhance work efficiency, enable people from various fields to exchange experience and foster new professional relationships that might bring about business opportunities.
Toan, founder of Perkfec Co., a consultancy that focuses on promoting corporate culture, sits on the same desk with four of his colleagues at a popular co-working venue in the downtown area.
They share the same spacious office with dozens of others from different companies, using sound-proof studios for private space during meetings and taking advantage of the ready access to recreational booths, phone boxes with comfy chairs, and Wi-Fi connection.
Apart from the affordable rent, connection and sharing augment the appeal of co-working venues, Toan said, adding his potential clientele might include his ‘neighbors.’
Nguyen Gia Khanh, 23, works as a designer with ELSA Co., the creators of the ELSA, or English Language Speech Assistant, app.
ELSA was awarded first prize at the SXSWedu 2016 Launch Startup Competition, held in Texas, the U.S., in March 2016, after beating ten other finalists working in different areas of education to provide innovative methods for foreign language learning, international student success, substitute teaching, and more.
Khanh’s company rents a permanent seat for him at a co-working space.
He goes to work in the morning and leaves work in the afternoon with no one keeping tabs on him as he keeps in touch with bosses living in the U.S. and Portugal, primarily via email and Skype.
“I could easily work from home, but the hectic atmosphere in the co-working space keeps me busy and motivated. Also I can ask my ‘neighbors’ and coworkers for comments right after I’ve sketched some designs,” the young man noted.
Among the proliferating collective working spaces is Work Saigon in District 3, which is a French-architecture villa richly adorned with lush vegetation.
The venue boasts a rich artistic atmosphere and provides inspiration for its clients, particularly those in artistic circles.
Others include Saigon Coworking in Phu Nhuan District, Start Saigon and The Ventures in District 1, and Circo in District 4.
Most of these venues are fully booked.
According to Vo Minh Toan, in charge of marketing at Dreamplex, a co-working space in District 1, its nearly 500 seats were occupied only four months after the site was put into operation.
The company is poised to launch a second branch, double the current venue’s area, in early December, almost one year after its debut.
Expat office workers and startup owners are also drawn to the various co-working sites dotting the southern Vietnamese metropolis.
Keith Teo, the young Singaporean CEO of Raydar Co., which operates in copyrighted photos, currently works with six of his employees at a co-working site.
They are able to use the space for free for the time being and are able to recruit new staff from a ‘next door’ human resources startup.
“Such free-of-charge common working sites are perfect for startups like ours, who try to minimize administration fees and focus on product development,” he said.
They can book permanent seats or rent small rooms with four to eight seats for personal space.
Apart from physical co-working venues, more companies dedicated to facilitating startups are cropping up throughout Ho Chi Minh City.
The physical space is just part of the support meant for the startup owners, which also involves connecting them with venture capital funds, angel investors, or capital providers for business startups.
The free co-working space where Teo and his employees are working is run by The Ventures, a startup facilitating company which began operations in March 2016.
The Ventures and similar companies call themselves ‘seed startup accelerators.’
The Ventures, which mostly provides assistance to startups in the Republic of Korea, also connects Vietnamese startup owners with Korean investors and funds to help realize the young aspiring entrepreneurs’ ideas, according to Vo Minh Giang, in charge of The Ventures’ sales development.
“The Ventures, focusing on aiding fledgling businesses in information technology, can also invest in candidates’ plans in exchange for ownership,” Giang added.
Smaller startups which grow in scale will be asked to leave the free co-working space to make room for the next occupants.
Apart from foreign accelerators, the municipal Department of Science and Technology debuted the Saigon Innovation Hub, abbreviated to SiHub, in August 2016 at 273 Dien Bien Phu Street, District 3.
The launch is part of a project named ‘National Program to Support an Innovative Startup Ecosystem in Vietnam by the Year 2025.”
The project is meant to create a favorable environment to promote and support the development of startups with high-growth potential.
Nguyen Thi Mai Huong, a representative of SiHub, revealed they are currently providing support for 26 fledgling businesses in various areas, including agriculture, fashion, realty, and education, by offering a common working space, holding exchange programs with successful startup owners and experts, and providing gratis consultation and training workshops.
SiHub also serves to connect the aspiring entrepreneurs with potential investors, and partners with foreign entrepreneurship communities to ensure achievement-oriented goals.
“We even have a ‘jury’ to assess the groups’ ideas and offer ideas for improvement,” Huong added.