America is taking notice of Vietnam startups: Obama

US president Barack Obama talks with Vietnamese entrepreneurs at Dreamplex on Tuesday.

The US government and corporations are hoping for more exchange of knowledge between the two countries, US president Barack Obama told Vietnamese entrepreneurs during his three-day visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

“Your success sends a message to global investors about this country’s incredible potential for innovation. Hopefully it also encourages other Vietnamese entrepreneurs to chase that new idea and start the new company, which will continue to fuel an ever-expanding Vietnamese economy,” he commented, while hosting a session for Vietnam’s startup community at Dreamplex co-working space in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday evening.

Next month at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which Obama has been hosting for several years, eight Vietnamese entrepreneurs will visit Silicon Valley to learn from some of the best entrepreneurs and startups and venture capitalists in the world, he revealed during the interaction at Dreamplex.

This declaration follows close on the heels of an earlier announcement about the close of a $10 million fund by venture capital firm 500 Startups. Named 500 Vietnam, the fund hopes make additional 150 investments more after it has funded several local startups in Vietnam.

This is the first time ever, a top leader of a foreign country hosted a talk with the startup community in Vietnam. Obama did that as he believed the spirit of entrepreneurship will be the real driver for Vietnam’s growth.

“This country is full of energy. (…) You can feel it here at Dreamplex, where ideas are becoming a reality,” said Obama.

In his address, Obama mentioned several positive indicators such as the two-fold increase in funding for Vietnamese startups, some major acquisitions like Fossil Group’s takeover of Misfit Wearables (a fitness device maker founded by a Vietnamese entrepreneur) – adding that there was a strong bond between the US and Vietnam startup ecosystems as more Vietnamese Americans come back to Vietnam to start new ventures.

Vietnam has had a much later start in entrepreneurship compared to the US and other nations. But the scene is growing rapidly and the world is taking notice.

“Incubators like this (Dreamplex) allow Vietnam – alongside its emphasis on entrepreneurship – to see more startups happening than ever before,” added the president.

The interest shown by the US president in the Vietnamese startup space could be a harbinger of more collaborations and exchange, more capital for Vietnamese startups and also more M&A from US companies like the Fossil Group deal, according to Nghiem Minh Duc, director at SHIELD, a local startup community builder.

Other than one of the major foreign investors in the Southeast Asian country, the US is becoming a significant supporter for the local startup community.

Besides 500 Startups, the US government and private sector has been supporting young Vietnamese entrepreneurs get more international exposure via programmes like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative and the US-ASEAN Connect.

Unlike the European countries, the US has become a trade partner of Vietnam within the bloc of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which according to Obama, does not necessarily benefit only the manufacturing sector or traditional industry.

“If we really want to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, I should mention that we need to move ahead with the TPP, because TPP will not only let us sell more of our goods to each other and bring our economies closer together, it will accelerate the economic performance here in Vietnam, boost your economic competitiveness, open up new markets not only for large companies but also small and medium sized businesses,” Obama said.

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