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From Vietnamese Bus App to AI Pioneer

In 2019, Le Yen Thanh founded BusMap to provide convenience to public transit users, which in Vietnam means public bus passengers, as there are no operating metro systems here.

A Vietnamese startup has moved from strength to strength as it expands into IoT devices and AI applications.

What started as a straightforward public transit app has become so much more.

In 2019, Le Yen Thanh founded BusMap to provide convenience to public transit users, which in Vietnam means public bus passengers, as there are no operating metro systems here.

The following year, BusMap received a round of investment from the Phenikaa Group, a tech and smart device-focused corporation. This allowed Thanh and his team to expand their focus, while also transforming their company into Phenikaa MaaS.

“We are a smart mobility solution provider for businesses and government,” Thanh said. “We are currently focused on both B2B and B2C relationships, and we work with businesses that need mobility management solutions, or a system to manage their vehicles, and we build and provide solutions for them.”

While Phenikaa MaaS has expanded well beyond public buses, bus management systems (BMS) remain a major part of their business, and their clients include the likes of VinBus, the electric bus company owned by Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private corporation.

“We also have projects where we focus on niche markets like a BMS dedicated to school buses,” Thanh explained. “Many schools in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have students who use buses, so we started this project late last year, and now we have deployed the service at five schools with more than 50 buses, so we see there’s a potential market for this.”

From that starting point, Thanh and his colleagues are further expanding into smart school solutions, which would include ways to manage learning systems, as well as students and teachers. Smart school services have become a separate dedicated part of Phenikaa MaaS, and by the end of this year, these models and strategies will be expanded to the business world as well through smart company solutions.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another core focus of Phenikaa MaaS, and the startup is working on incorporation this into a number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as the bHub, which can monitor a driver’s behavior in order to ensure safety.

AI also led to the development of their Smart Port service, which Thanh and his team built and delivered in just three months.

“When we worked in Da Nang, we saw that there was a need to automatically check in containers going to the port,” Thanh explained. “So we built the service and it uses our IoT device to check in containers. We aim to scale that to other ports across Vietnam soon.”

Phenikaa MaaS also took part in the Qualcomm Vietnam Innovation Challenge 2020, where they finished in third place. As a result, they are able to use powerful Qualcomm chips in their devices, allowing them to run on LTE mobile networks.

Since beginning as an app for bus passengers, Thanh’s company has expanded into four core technologies: the bus management system and map, AI services, IoT devices, and big data processing for its apps and smart solutions.

This impressive growth has been aided by two Swiss EP Vietnam partner organizations, ITP under the Vietnam National University, and the Saigon Hi-Tech Park Incubation Center (SHTP-IC).

“We started working with ITP in March 2020 to build our IoT team,” Thanh shared. “One of the advantages of ITP is that it is in VNU, so there are a lot of facilities for us to use.”

This includes an R&D lab and a dedicated support team, while the university link also makes it easy for Phenikaa MaaS to hire students as the company grows. In fact, most of Thanh’s team now consists of VNU graduates.

“We started working with SHTP-IC at the beginning of this year, and they have an AI lab, so that is for our AI team,” he added. “It also has a lot of services to support startups, so we can get support on marketing materials and plans, and they have a lot of training sessions, not only for me, but also for my teammates.”

Phenikaa MaaS won an AI Hack competition organized by SHTP-IC, giving them access to even more support. Their partnerships with both incubators have given them a solid base for R&D, human resources and further scaling in the future.

“We are focused on smart mobility solutions and we aim to become a leading IT provider for smart mobilization in a year or two, because we believe that our services are unique,” Thanh said. “We aim to dominate the market through our smart school, smart company and smart hub solutions, and then we plan to expand overseas.”