Friday Notes: Singapore start-ups set for Ho Chi Minh City

In this episode (FN.005): Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City has become the latest city to join Singapore’s Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) network.

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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability.

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Granger: Finally, Friday! It’s been a rainy week here, but the sun came out today. It has been really polluted, not so much fun getting outside and running around, but hopefully, we’ll have a nice weekend for all of you to enjoy with your family.


What is Singapore’s Global Innovation Alliance network?

Granger: Today, I would like to talk about a group that has come to Ho Chi Minh City, called the Singapore Global Innovation Alliance network. The GIA was launched in 2017. Its mission is providing Singaporean students, entrepreneurs, and businesses with the opportunity to connect and collaborate with foreign counterparts.

Granger: This is a really big step when you see countries like Singapore reaching out to Vietnam, to partner with Vietnam and groups in Vietnam. It just verifies everything. We’ve been talking about the opportunity to connect with other cities in the network such as Beijing, Shanghai, Berlin, Munich, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, Jakarta, Bangkok. This gives Vietnam an opportunity to have its startups and companies have more access to the outside world.


Why does GIA expand to Ho Chi Minh City?

Granger: It’s a big question. You hear a lot of people talk about Hanoi being the technology hub of Vietnam, but I would beg to differ. I think Ho Chi Minh City has a lot going on in the technology scene. Maybe they’re equal, but different, possibly. You may have some more industrial manufacturing technology in the north, in Hanoi while you have more startups and software development here in the south.

Granger: Ho Chi Minh City contributes 45% to Vietnam’s gross domestic product. Investments in startups here, between 2017 and 2018, attracted $890 million. There’s a lot of money and it is growing exponentially.

Granger: The government’s goal is to turn Ho Chi Minh City into an international financial hub. As we’ve discussed, they want to be a leader in technology for the ASEAN market by 2030. They want to go cashless by the end of 2020. They want to do a lot more on the infrastructure side, for security, for data centers. So, Ho Chi Minh is going to be a key player in that. If you look at the newly developed Thu Thiem area in District 2, it’s expected to start the construction of an entire financial center to attract major investors, enterprises, financial institutions, and others. It’s a beautiful area over there if you look at SALA and all that. They’re building a new bridge across there, in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s causing some traffic jams right now, in the mornings and evenings, but it’s going to give even more access to the area that just 10 years ago was rice paddies. It’s amazing to see the growth.

Granger: VIISA, the Vietnamese Innovation Startup Accelerator, which was started in 2017, has the goal is to invest in over 100 global-ready Vietnamese startups over the next five years. Another initiative here in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City that is getting a lot of attraction and gaining more support.


What are the objectives of the GIA expansion to Vietnam?

Granger: There was an MoU signed on July 18th of this year between Enterprise Singapore, Singaporean venture fund Quest Ventures, and the Vietnam government-linked Saigon Innovation Hub.

Granger: Their objective is to create programs to introduce Singapore startups to the innovative ecosystem in Ho Chi Minh City, and then throughout Vietnam. They want to connect Singaporeans to partners, investors, and customers in Vietnam. That certainly goes both ways. You have technology transfer, you have e-commerce and cross border issues that come into play. They want to help Singapore startups set up, test and commercialize solutions as well as form business partnerships in Ho Chi Minh City and all of Vietnam. They also want to create more internship opportunities for Singapore students in startups. That’s where more knowledge transfer happens.

Granger: It also supports Vietnamese startups to set up in Singapore. Vietnamese startups here are having a lot of attractions and wanting to expand out to Singapore. That is a more mature market which probably has a little better stability from a banking and certainly legal system standpoint, even with all the great strides Vietnam has been making. I often talk about this. I’m often asked and ask in return with my friends who have been here for years,  what they think about Singapore, about the claims that Vietnam will surpass Singapore in the next 10 years as the financial center, as the lead of the ASEAN market. It’s hard to believe, really. It’s not when you look at the entrepreneurship, the drive and the passion of the Vietnamese people. And when you see the growth that’s happening here, it’s not hard to believe from that standpoint. But Singapore is a very mature market. There are a lot of major corporations, a lot of banking, really good legal system. It’s very similar to Hong Kong, with a lot of young people, a lot of major banks and a lot of infrastructures. It’s just not easy to recreate that, duplicate that or build that in a new country and a new region. So I would think Vietnam has a chance to make huge strides, but will they surpass Singapore? I’m not sure but they don’t need to, right? You really don’t need to if you open up the borders; if you open up the technology transfer; if you do what VIISA is trying to do; if you do what GIA is trying to do which is creating a network of cities to access the world’s most competitive economy, Singapore, to bring the knowledge and access to other cities that are growing but not quite there. You’re going to see a tremendous impact.

Granger: We’re talking about the startup scene, technology transfer and how you approach it from a competition standpoint. With the government of Vietnam supporting these types of initiatives when you bring in these groups, you have a perfect way to do it. It opens up the competition, it brings a more level playing field and it’s good for everybody.

Granger: Do I think it’s a good move for Singapore? I think it’s a good move for Vietnam. I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’ve talked about the EVFTA, I’d love to hear your thoughts about that and what industries you think will benefit from that as well. It’s really exciting. Hopefully, that law will fully go into effect. I think it’s good for everybody.

Granger: That’s it. You’re probably tired of this voice now on this Friday afternoon or Friday morning, but I hope I’ve given you some of the thoughts to think about. I hope you have a beautiful weekend. We’ll talk to you on Monday. 

The Lotus Talks is produced by The Vietnam Group. This episode was produced by Granger Whitelaw, Cameron Lynch and Toan Tang.

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