About ten men wearing the same t-shirt uniforms gathered around a teapot in a country-side setting, sharing their ideas about startups until midnight when a middle-aged women came to encourage them to go to bed because the following day was to be a long day of work and training.

Most people would think the men were on a school trip and the woman was their teacher.

In fact, this was an external activity of Vietnam Silicon Valley (VSV) called VSV Camp, which was organized in the mountains of Ba Vi, just 70 km from Hanoi. The ten men were founders and investors of startups and the woman was the CEO and founder of VSV, Thach Le Anh, who is known for her devotion to the development of Vietnam’s startup community.

The camp had some 70 participants, including startup founders, investors, and policy makers and was organized for the first time on April 8-10. There will be many more such camps, according to Ms. Anh.

“The best place to work” isn’t the best

Some of the ten startup founders and investors quit their job at “the best place to work in Vietnam” to establish their own startups, not because of dissatisfaction with the company but because they wanted to manage their own startups.

“I wanted to quit the mainstream workplace,” Mr. Hoang Le An, founder of TechBridge, an app created to serve businesspeople, told VET. He came up with the idea of establishing a startup when working for Intel Vietnam. “Intel Vietnam is great to work for, I just had to focus on my work while the company provided great opportunities for my life and my education.”

“My decision to quit Intel Vietnam made my mother cry and many others called me crazy. However, I thought that if I didn’t make the move at this time, when I was still young and single, I would never do it,” Mr. An said. He added that, after leaving the company, he had a difficult life, renting a room in Ho Chi Minh City and surviving in very simple living conditions.

Five years after quitting Intel and beginning the startup, Mr. An is still developing products that are not yet commercialized.

Another startup founder, who preferred to remain anonymous, told VET: “My early career in startups was full of ups and downs but I still rejected job opportunities from FPT.”

The question is why the two men knocked back big opportunities to work for companies known as the best workplaces in Vietnam and instead chose the rocky road of developing startups. The answer is the fascination of attracting hundreds of millions of users and million-dollar investments and company valuations.

“From 90 to 95 per cent of startups in Vietnam fail,” said Mr. Dinh Viet Hung, founder of JoomlArt.

“They never talk about their failures,” said Ms. Do Tu Anh, General Secretary of the Hanoi Young Entrepreneurs Association (HNBA) in talking about successful startups.  

Such comments show just how hard it is for startups in Vietnam to become successful.

Money matters, of course, but the passion of startup founders seems to overcome financial difficulties.

“It took us a very long time to find work that we can say is for our life,” Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh, a member of Tech Elite, one of the most famous startups in Vietnam, told VET. “You can see the startup culture and I am proud of what I am doing - it is our lifestyle.”

At the VSV camp a number of other men had chosen a risky path to run startups, such as Mr. Hung from JoomlArt, who quit work at an oil company with a monthly salary in the thousands of dollars, or Mr. Pham Kim Hung, founder of TechElite and winner of many international mathematics medals and a full scholarship to Stanford University, who rejected work in the real Silicon Valley to run his own startup in Vietnam.

On-time support

According to Ms. Anh, the difference between VSV and other countries’ startup communities is the involvement of the government.

The government and the Ministry of Science and Technology focused on boosting the growth of technology startups in Vietnam in a project to create an ecosystem of innovation and technological commercialization in the country.

The project marks the beginning of a dynamic and exciting ecosystem for technology entrepreneurship and startups in Vietnam with the application of Silicon Valley-tested training and development programs and networks of mentors.

“VSV matches perfectly to what Vietnam’s startups need, with official support from the government,” said Mr. Khanh. “Vietnam’s startups need a platform to send the community in the right direction. Thanks to VSV, TechElite found its vision to develop.”

With over 30 mentors experienced in startups, VSV will provide the utmost support for Vietnam’s startup community in all aspects, Ms. Anh confirmed.

Mr. An told VET that with experience, training, and lot of activities, including creativity improvement games and demo pitching, VSV has provided great opportunities for his startup and he expressed a hope for more support from the program.

“I am happy with what I have gained through the camps, especially the demo pitching,” he said. “My startup has struggled with licensing and I hope VSV can help me to handle this and other matters.”