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Vietnam’s startup landscape has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, propelled by various government initiatives aimed at fostering entrepreneurship. This dynamic and innovative ecosystem holds immense potential for expansion and development. To gain valuable insights into the thriving Vietnamese startup scene, we turn to Mr. Quentin Frécon, the Vietnam Country Manager of Schoolab. As an expert in the field, Mr. Frécon offers a unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges present in Vietnam’s entrepreneurial journey.

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Mr. Quentin Frécon
Vietnam Country Manager at Schoolab
Interview by Source of Asia

Can you please introduce yourself in a few words as well as Schoolab’s missions?

After a few years working in digital marketing for Société Générale, I started my journey at Schoolab as an Innovation Project Manager in 2017, working on various projects and programs to support large corporations in launching new products on the market. In 2018, I was sent to Vietnam for a 3-month mission to explore the local entrepreneurship scene and corporate innovation market maturity to identify the opportunities for launching Schoolab’s activities in Vietnam. Our presence in this beautiful and super dynamic country is now considered as our strategic hub to support our European and US partners, mostly large organizations (MNCs) to accelerate their sustainable and inclusive development in this blooming economic region, from Japan, the Philippines… and of course Vietnam.

Schoolab is a global Innovation Studio, founded between Paris and San Francisco, and as a mission-driven company, we’re committed to helping individuals (students, entrepreneurs, executives…), startups, and big corporations to make their transition towards more positive impact for the people, the society and the planet.

Our activities are two-fold: Innovation and Entrepreneurship training programs, and project acceleration. Our “secret sauce” is to design and operate programs that put into action (and collaboration) mixed populations of students, startups, and multinationals, to tackle important social and environmental challenges through various innovation and entrepreneurship frameworks, processes, and methodologies.

When we started in Vietnam, 5 years ago, the academic ecosystem was traditional and theoretical, offering little place for critical thinking and project-based learning experiences. In parallel, few programs were focusing on supporting early-stage entrepreneurs, so our initial focus was creating entrepreneurship programs to support any individual, from students to executives, with an idea or an existing project, to access international standard coaching and mentoring to make their project successful (or kill some early ideas).

How would you characterize the present condition of Vietnam’s startup ecosystem?

It’s always complex to describe the state of a startup ecosystem, as it depends on many factors, particularities, and the culture of each country and region.

First, as a one-party political scheme, local authorities, through their strategic plan, 5 years roadmaps, regulations, etc., play an important role in the emergence of the startup and tech scene.
Secondly, the demographic factors specific to Vietnam and its dynamic emerging economy (highest GDP growth rate in the region), are significant assets for startups to thrive locally, with a fast-growing young middle class accessing higher education and white-collar positions, resulting in high demand for consumer tech, goods, entertainment, etc. of new types of super connected consumers and users.

What I’ve seen since 2018 is that the startup ecosystem has been growing rapidly and is one the fastest growing in Southeast Asia. We see a trend where the Vietnamese ecosystem is growing faster than the Thai ecosystem for instance.

Many of the entrepreneurs have various occupations and/or side hustles, working the day in an office and in the evening to help their family business and make extra money, something I discovered some of my collaborators were doing. And that’s something many business owners and managers experience in their team here!

“Vietnamese are born entrepreneurs.”

Even if the Vietnamese market is still young, reflecting the age of its population, it is becoming more and more mature and starting to have more spotlights on the global scene. People are very connected and tech-savvy. Everywhere you go, everybody has a smartphone. Vietnam, with regards to its latest stage development, compared to developed countries, is focused on Mobile First, unlike Europe, which was focused on Computer First at the beginning, in the 90s – 2000s. This gave many opportunities for tech entrepreneurs and allowed Vietnam to be an attractive market.

Another key aspect of the local startup ecosystem is the government’s role, which implemented positive incentives for entrepreneurs who launched technology-powered ventures. When I arrived in 2018, the government just launched its plan of becoming a cashless nation by 2025. We’re still not there, but this accelerated the emergence and adoption of FinTech, insurTech related startups, to facilitate access to banking, payment and transactions.

Now in Vietnam, you can pay 90% of your daily expenses and monthly bills with just your bank account (or Momo). This was related to the government’s objectives to reduce cash as well as bureaucracy.

I think having a strong commitment from the government, and that’s also the added value of being in a one-party country, is that it offers an opportunity for entrepreneurs to create solutions that answer unmet needs or new issues, to be able for the government to reach its objectives.

So, the local policies, the rising middle-class consumers, the diaspora of Vietnamese born and raised abroad (viet kiu), and the startup support program have really put Vietnam as one of the top startup ecosystems in the region.

How can we compare Singapore’s startup ecosystem to the one in Vietnam?

Again, it’s very different. Many startups operating in Singapore are looking to the Vietnamese market to expand.

Singapore entrepreneurs, due to the limitation of its market and consumer-based (approx. 3M inhabitants), in particular for B2C solutions, have to think and be global. Whereas in Vietnam, its 100 million inhabitants is a great playground for entrepreneurs, hence a focus on local development and rarely regional, which is a challenge when you’re looking to raise funds. When you want to attract more funding, you need to show that your goal is not just to target the local market, but also to go global.

Also, Vietnam has a strategic location which is an asset for trade and regional expansion, but the country must still learn how to go international.

And the other difference is the access to international standard education. This was the second point I wanted to mention regarding the startup scene in Vietnam. What also enables the country’s startup ecosystem to thrive and grow is the Việt Kiều population (overseas Vietnamese) that came back to Vietnam, and are successful entrepreneurs. Education enables you to have the right critical thinking skills, this global mindset, and the high standard of education that you have in Singapore and still lacking in Vietnam.

What are the most productive sectors?

At first, it was fintech, insurtech accelerating access to banking and tackling insurance bureaucracy issues. Other fields that have thrived in the last few years are consumer tech via e-commerce solutions in fashion, food and beverage, and healthcare.

In the last few years, the sector of logistics also got bigger: you have more and more Logitech, namely logistics-oriented startups, since things need to be digitalized. Other entrepreneurs work on this, to perform the delivery as well as the warehouse management.

Finally, I think other opportunities that will emerge are, again, related to the government’s 2050 objectives towards net zero. It’s funny because they combined it with the digital transformation strategy around two objectives to the economic development of the country: going completely digital and at the same point, achieve Net Zero; we are very far from this.

What is the impact of the pandemic on Vietnamese startups and how did they manage to adapt themselves?

The biggest impact was more on traditional businesses, which had almost no experience with remote work before the pandemic. Vietnam has a very hierarchical and traditional way of working, and managing remotely was new for Vietnam. The informal sector playing an important role in the economy, also suffered a lot and they are very vulnerable to strict lockdowns with no social security nor monthly salaries, relying only on daily work results.

The startup scene was also impacted in different aspects. I saw because we worked with a hardware startup relying on the global supply chain, in terms of sourcing materials and components, the pandemic delayed the production of products. Plus, many businesses rely on exports. It is the same for startups. Of course, you had the impact that salaries were cut off, which led to lower consumer spending. This affected the startup revenue and access to funding because investors, with the uncertainty, were less eager to fund them.

On the other side, as I mentioned, you had to work remotely with the pandemic, so people got delivered. Therefore, a lot of opportunities with an increasing demand for digital services, and from all of this, people had to go digital in Vietnam. It enabled a lot of new concepts to be developed. Quickly, all restaurants or supermarkets were working with delivery services or creating their own ones. Furthermore, regarding the Vietnamese educational ecosystem, universities had to accelerate digitalization because they had to stop for a long time. I don’t remember the number of days and even months, but many entrepreneurs were born from it.

What are some of the main obstacles and difficulties encountered by startups operating in Vietnam?

I mentioned the topic of local public authority, as an asset in pushing the development of the ecosystem but at the same time, it’s also giving a lot of barriers in terms of regulation; it’s complicated to navigate and not 100% clear. You need to work with experts, such as Source of Asia, for example. A lot of bureaucracy, which means limited access to capital. The current regulatory framework in Vietnam makes it hard for entrepreneurs to raise funds. There are more and more VCs (Venture Capital – Investment funds) in Vietnam and cash available for startups. But if you want to raise more funds, you must look abroad like Singapore; most entrepreneurs raise funds from there.

Then I would say, even though it’s changing, the limited pool of talents. It’s related to the rather young generation. Access to higher education is evolving but still far away compared to European or US standards. Back in 2015, people were building the curriculum and now we see a lot of tech talents, that’s why there is an emergence of blockchain and AI startups in Vietnam. But related to design, product design, and UX design, there’s still a lack of good academic universities, which makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to recruit good talents.
For higher positions in terms of finance or marketing, talents recruited for these positions are often either foreigners or Vietnamese who had experience abroad. But those trends are shifting and are part of the Vietnamese government’s challenges, to enable Vietnamese talents to be easier recruited.

Last question, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to launch a startup in Vietnam?

You must work with Source of Asia!

More seriously, first, and because I’ve seen a lot of solo entrepreneurs, an entrepreneurship journey is complicated. So, try as soon as possible to find a co-founder. Someone that is complementary to you. If you have a lot of energy, someone who’s calm, if you are tech focused, someone who is business focus; try to balance your team. I don’t recommend being alone because the entrepreneur journey is a lot of ups and downs. So, when it’s time to celebrate, it’s good to celebrate with your team and when you’re in a very low-energy period, it’s also good not to be alone. But maybe that’s more a general rule.

Plus, finding local partners is key, both for Vietnamese entrepreneurs and in particular when you’re a foreign entrepreneur; when we started our journey here, it was key for Schoolab to increase the business opportunity, to find the right partners who shared the same values.

Also, take the time to understand the motivation, the frustration of the end-users, and all the different stakeholders involved. You must pay attention because, in Vietnam, you shouldn’t jump straight into business. Take the time to build trust and strong relationships with your partners, clients, and collaborators, via dinners, and drinks. But you must create this trust with the people you interact with.

Also, you need to collaborate with legal and admin experts; it enables you to focus on your business and it’s always better to be handled by experts.

Last but not least, focus on creating a positive impact on the environment and society; it is easy for people to blame Vietnam for being polluted and not being one of the cleanest countries in the world… However, if we look at the companies manufacturing and producing in Vietnam, most of them are big multinationals. But at the same time, there are many things to do around education, building awareness, and making sustainability accessible. So, let’s make Vietnam green!

If you are looking to launch new products/ new services, to work with talents, or to work on sustainability, contact Quentin on Schoolab or directly at