In effectual ecosystem, entrepreneurs build companies that are focused on partnership: Nick Norena, IPP Vietnam

Nick Norena (right) at the HATCH! To14 co-working space. Visual from the IPP website.

The most important part of building a startup accelerator in Vietnam is to take all the right practices and translate them into the needs for the local market, says Nick Norena, who is a mentor at the Training for Trainers (ToT) programme at the Innovation Partnership Program (IPP).

IPP, which has been jointly developed by the Finnish government and Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology, has just launched its eight month Training for Trainers (ToT) programme – the first of its kind in Vietnam – in June. Twelve highly qualified people from the private sector, academic institutions and government agencies have been selected for the training.

It already has a six-month Innovation Accelerator Program that has started with a week-long boot camp in Hanoi (until August 22). 19 startups and four accelerator teams have been selected for this innovation system development and seed funding. They will also be provided with training and network support. The best performing projects might receive additional grant from IPP as well as other investors. Here are the 23 selected teams.

Norena spoke to DEALSTREETASIA about his involvement with IPP and his view on the local startup scene. As a co-founder at photo sharing app Shoto, and a lean consultant from  in Sans Francisco, he has been teaching and using lean techniques to foster innovation for the past three years.

Norena who is originally from a background in outdoor education and leadership training, has a teaching style is focused on creating positive culture and teaches foundational skills to promote innovative thinking.

Excerpts from the interaction:

How do you see the Vietnamese startup scene evolving?

I have been here since June 1, working on the IPP ToT programme, working with university professors and business professionals to teach them techniques and approaches to mentor and coach startups. During my time here, I have also had the chance to meet a handful of companies, some of whom are now involved in the six-month Innovation Accelerator Program. Above all else, what I see in the Vietnamese startup scene is passion and energy, both in the companies and mentors.

In the Vietnamese ecosystem right now there are a lot of young people. A significant percentage of the population are in their 20s. One example of young energy in Vietnam is the team at HATCH! co-working space. It is mostly comprised of young people who are focused on teaching new ways of innovating, and building sustainable businesses. I think many new jobs will come from young people today creating the companies of tomorrow.

There are already a lot of entrepreneurs here. It is a very flexible environment for early-stage entrepreneurship. It is really easy to test a business model with real people here. I think we will see more and more startups succeed at larger scale, attract foreign investment, and impact the investment ecosystem here as well.

Startups have claimed that investments in their companies are challenged by some administrative procedures. Do you have any advice for successfully building up an ecosystem, especially connecting startups and investors?

Things are certainly changing here on a policy level, making it easier for companies to form, and for them to seek investment. Ultimately, the key factor in securing an investment is presenting data that show your idea can scale, attract paying customers, and generate revenue.

We have a lot of companies in the IPP programme that are focused on core industries such as agriculture and education, and they are already doing the right thing to show that data to drive investments.

As you mentioned agriculture, what is the potential for startups to invest in this area?

I have not worked with too many companies at that stage in agriculture. But here you have a growing population, over 90 million people, many of them are very young. They will have a very big need for not just food but healthy food. From my experience as a consumer here, there are still a lot of problems to be addressed. One company I have worked with is producing a product called Trace-Verified, which seeks to track the freshness of seafood from suppliers to the market. This will allow consumers to understand where the food comes from and how fresh it is.

These things are starting to gain a lot of attraction here. As technology meets agriculture, you will see people step up and capitalise on the opportunity to build a transparent agriculture system.

With your experience in the Silicon Valley and from a viewpoint of a coach, what will you tell Vietnamese accelerator teams to do to help startups?

In designing the curriculum for not only this six-day bootcamp but also the IPP Accelerator Programme, we focus on teaching entrepreneurial mindset. We do teach tools and techniques, but ultimately the reason why we teaching them is to introduce a new mindset, something called effectuation.

In an effectual ecosystem, entrepreneurs build companies that are focused on partnership, impacting not only their bottom line but also the people around them, and the ecosystem that they are working in. So for accelerators in Vietnam, they should recognize that and teach a proper mindset. I say “proper mindset”, but really what worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley might not work here. So I think another part of building an accelerator, which is probably the most important part, is to take all the right practices and translate them into the needs here.

That has been a really powerful part of the ToT programme. For myself, working with the trainees, who are successful business people, PhD holding professors, and entrepreneurs, has taught me a great deal. They have amazing perspectives to bring to the material they are working on, and they are able to take that material and translate it specifically to their experience as Vietnamese entrepreneurs and coaches. That is more important than just teaching mindset. We need to find at the core what is the lesson about, and then really ask the question ‘How can I apply this to my real problem?’

Also read:

Finland to invest in Vietnamese startups via IPP

‘Second-wave startups can expand beyond VN’

Vietnam startup scene poised to take off as ecosystem comes together

Hanoi to bankroll ‘incorporated-in-Vietnam’ startups to kickstart tech ecosystem

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.