Stressing the importance of education in building entrepreneurship, Steve Landman, managing partner at Lotus Fund, said: “We must empower youth to create innovation and build entrepreneurship; ultimately, creating a better environment for Vietnam.”
The impact investment fund and Hanoi-based Foreign Trade University (FTU) on Thursday reached an agreement to launch the Lotus Hub – a startup incubator within the university campus, following the partnership with the University of Da Nang in November last year.
On the sidelines of the launch, DEALSTREETASIA spoke to Landman about the fund’s investment in education and entrepreneurship in Vietnam.
By forging partnerships with local universities, is it right to say you are investing in the long-term?
Absolutely. We are building capacity. Southeast Asia in general is seeing a lot of innovation, and Vietnam has a lot of potential. I also believe Southeast Asia combined – is a large market. Even excluding Indonesia – Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao and Thailand combined create a fantastic opportunity.
Having been in Vietnam for several years, I see limited capacity, expertise, entrepreneurship and even resources for young people to be able to learn how to start a company, or even take the idea to the next stage.
So I think educating students in universities is a great place to collaborate. Although a lot of people are talking about ecosystem, not many people are supporting the young people. So that is why we are supporting them.
Tell us about your collaboration with Da Nang University?
It has been positive. We have been refining the incubation and mentorship process. We are pleased with the results so far.
It started with 27 companies who applied for the program, of which 15 were accepted into the Lotus Hub. Now, we are working very closely with five teams which have received funding commitments from Lotus.
We believe that two of the teams will get to their products to market and do rather well. Eventually we hope to take their products outside of Vietnam and penetrate markets in the region. Having started the programme, I see that this is the foundation we need in order to part of the lager ecosystem.
What do you provide for the universities?
We are providing all that is needed, capital resources and expertise in community building as well as seasoned entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley. There are key components we bring to our Hubs. At FTU, for example, we bring capital for the administration of the programme as well as a global network of experts. Over the last eight months working at the Lotus Hub at the University of Danang, we have have been fortunate enough to have my friends from the Silicon Valley coming to help every month.
We also provide technical assistance, capital, advisory services like design and financial planning. Some of those services are a result of our incubation of a local company called, MyVietnamCFO.com.
Do you think young Vietnamese are short of practical experience? What do you think about their potential?
I think it is an educational issue where you go to school, get a job and take care of the family. In the education system, there is no encouragement to be entrepreneurial. We are talking a lot about ecosystem and entrepreneurship yet we have no courses or curriculum in the universities that is focused on entrepreneurship.
So in the Lotus Hub we focus on starting companies. Successful companies – like that of our mentors who come to the Lotus Hub; most have been involved with startups several times with successful exits. We don’t teach our teams how to start the companies… we start them with them. Furthermore, we don’t teach our teams how to raise funding; we teach them to run sustainable businesses.
Do you plan to enlarge the partnership with other institutions?
Yes. The next partnership will be in the south of Vietnam. Right now we want to focus on Hanoi and make the Lotus Hub at FTU a success. There are also some other institutions that we are currently in discussions with throughout Vietnam and in the region. Now our focus is to be successful at FTU Hanoi and expand from there. We are committed to making FTU – a very prestigious university in Vietnam a center for entrepreneurial excellence.
What is your take on impact investment in Vietnam?
There is not a lot of money available to social enterprises in Vietnam. About 60 teams applied to FTU’s business challenge competition which is really encouraging. At least, we are starting to see more and more activity in the social impact space which is really exciting. However, more investors are a necessity to the success of social entrepreneurship. We need to work with companies in Vietnam to have a positive social impact while being sustainable financially. We are quite hopeful to see the social impact space flourish.