Building a startup ecosystem in Vietnam’s old imperial capital
The public and private sectors are working together to spur innovation beyond Vietnam's megacities.
Swiss EP partners are working to expand startups in Vietnam's smaller cities.
Hue, in central Vietnam, is most well-known for its centuries-old temples and tombs—relics of the city’s role as the country’s old imperial capital.
Considered by many to be a small, rather sleepy place, Hue does not call to mind a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.
This is the image that Hoang Kim Toan, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), is working to shed, with help from Swiss EP, local startup founders and other stakeholders.
CEI, which is embedded within Hue University, was created to provide development and capacity building for entrepreneurs and enterprises aiming to start a business, enhance the capacity of individuals and organizations wishing to support startups, increase connections between local startups, and more.
Given Hue’s lack of infrastructure in the startup sector, CEI has needed some help along the way.
“Over the years, Swiss EP has provided international experts to consult on development strategies for CEI and supported participation in training programs for students, lecturers, start-up advisors, and startup ecosystem builders,” Toan shared.
Through Swiss EP’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program, Patrick Kedziora, a serial entrepreneur now teaching entrepreneurship and innovation in Paris, has provided much-needed mentoring and coaching to the CEI team.
Beginning at a standing start in a city with no history of startup innovation, CEI struggled to make an impact at first, and found themselves doing busy work in the belief that they were doing the right thing.
Through plenty of hard work, Swiss EP and Patrick helped Toan and his team focus and take action in a few concrete directions.
“CEI trains students and lecturers in entrepreneurship and innovation, and also trains startup coaches, startup advisors, local ecosystem buildings and professional workers,” Toan explained. “We also incubate startup ideas and projects, along with science and technology products and enterprises.”
Truong Thanh Hung, CEO of the local startup Finno, is a mentor at CEI, meaning he has first-hand knowledge of Hue’s gradual transformation into a promising innovation center: “Smaller cities have disadvantages like infrastructure and a limited investor community, but they have one major advantage that’s good for the ecosystem: connections between stakeholders. There’s more attention from the government, and it’s like a small family.”
He does worry about the amount of attention—not to mention the resources—paid to Vietnam’s larger cities, but he believes that Hue has the makings of an important hub of its own: “It has some real champions from the government, the university, entrepreneurs and the business community.”
Toan agrees: “The biggest advantage of Hue is its people. It is small, but the knowledge proportion is very high, including students and the force of lecturers and researchers from Hue University and other local universities and research institutes.”
Fortunately, Toan’s goals align with the provincial government’s, as they aim to establish Hue as a ‘startup capital,’ a title that would surely surprise many who envision weather-beaten royal buildings when they hear the city’s name.
If all goes to plan, Toan, Hung and other members of Hue’s small-but-growing entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem will make an impact well beyond its borders in the near future.