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In the wake of establishing its inaugural $50 million venture capital fund, Touchstone Partners is on the way to becoming a leading early-stage backer of start-ups in Vietnam’s flourishing tech sector. Touchstone co-founder and general partner Ngo Thuy Ngoc Tu, a serial entrepreneur, has more than a decade of experience in the start-up scene and is a founder and the chairwoman of YOLA education company and former co-founder of ELSA, an English pronunciation coach application. With her core mission of finding ways to enable potential talents to be fully developed, Tu is committed to connecting and supporting Vietnamese founders in tackling problems they’re concerned about in Vietnam.
In this episode of Vietnam Innovators, Tu shares her vision with Vietcetera CEO Hao Tran and reveals the meaning behind the name Touchstone. The word represents a piece of stone used for testing out real gold, she said, which aligns nicely with the mission of the firm: To look for original founders who have “integrity as something that they hold dear to their core.”
The name also reflects Tu’s goal of Touchstone Partners becoming a benchmark for new ideas and models in the tech frontier. Touchstone prioritizes investing in start-ups in the fields of healthcare, renewable energy and education, among others.
While a significant number of start-ups that Touchstone is investing in are led by first-time founders, Tu doesn’t see this as a problem. The firm is dedicated to working alongside new leaders to help them figure out “the nuts and bolts” of their companies. What matters to investors, she said, is that founders know the ins and outs of their industry and to possess a large network of connections in their field. At the same time, she highlighted the need for strong and resilient teams who are able to work together long-term.
For future aspiring entrepreneurs who seek to scale their businesses, Tu advises to “look beyond Ho Chi Minh city and Ha Noi” – the most prominent start-up hubs in Vietnam. Founders should work on understanding the diverse local cultures outside these two cosmopolitan cities, and to develop a collective and collaborative mindset in working with others. When it comes to expanding their start-ups internationally, besides getting companies financially and legally prepared for the process from day one, story pitching is key to getting on the same page with investors.
Commenting on Vietnam’s investment ecosystem, Tu believes that the country has an advantage over other markets in Southeast Asia and beyond, as the country enters a new growth cycle – a golden opportunity for investors to seize. To those skeptical about the promising and innovative aspects of Vietnam, Tu remains optimistic:
“With an entrepreneurial culture where people are motivated to learn and hard-working and a healthy investment industry,” she said, “we should be able to see a few unicorns, if not more, bigger start-ups coming up in the next 10 years.”