Starting a business or launching a startup requires a great deal of creativity and effort. But for female entrepreneurs, the road to a successful business is bumpier. Beyond creativity and effort, it requires endurance and unrelenting fortitude.
Sad but true, statistics show that 93% of investment funds in Southeast Asia go to male-led companies. In Vietnam, the gender imbalance in the business and investment landscape is even wider.
But many Vietnamese women accepted the challenge and created their own empires. The road they took may be filled with potholes and big rocks, but their visions and goals are bigger than any obstacle. Their quest for innovation — in different forms, for different objectives — has proven that entrepreneurial success isn’t based on gender.
Today, as we celebrate Vietnamese Women’s Day, we listed five women who are leading some of the country’s most successful startups and companies. Their passion, endurance, and innovativeness have helped push Vietnam to greater heights.
Ella Trinh — Co-founder of Vulcan Augmetics
From launching her own startup in London to winning prestigious competitions for women in tech, such as She Loves Tech, and then eventually becoming a pitching trainer for emerging startups, Ella Trinh is a “Boss Lady” in the true definition of the phrase. Boss Lady is, in fact, the name of her first business venture, a shopping fashion site for modern women.
Ella is the woman behind the continuous success of Vulcan Augmetics, a Ho Chi Minh City-based biotech research firm that produces high-functioning affordable prosthetics designed to help the 38 million unserved amputees in developing nations rebuild their lives.
“Vulcan Augmetics aims to turn human augmentation technology into consumer products. This includes changing how they are designed, manufactured, and distributed to end-users,” Ella told Vietcetera editor Hiezle Bual in a separate feature.
She joined Vulcan in its sixth month in operation, at that time, they only had two prototypes. “My job was to turn the little project into a company with a decent culture and sound process in place. I started recruiting CPO (chief product officer), some more engineers, and other key members to speed up product development; I started pitching Vulcan to partners like The Coffee House and UNDP, and represented Vulcan in various startup competitions and awards. Eight months into my job, we had the first successful fit of the robotic arm on a user.”
To build the momentum, Ella and her team at Vulcan spent another year and a half refining and making it into a commercial product that is cost-effective to manufacture and a proud-to-wear piece of tech for users.
With their efforts and hard work, Vulcan is now available and accessible to amputees across Vietnam through a network of 17 prosthetics clinics and hospital partners — providing a new sense of hope to those who need it the most.
Louise Linh Pham — Founder of Logivan
Transportation and logistics are industries dominated by men. But for Cambridge-educated Louise Linh Pham, real entrepreneurship knows no gender. She launched Logivan in 2017, promising a technology solution to help businesses connect with the network of transport partners across Vietnam.
Her company soon grew big, with venture capitalists backing its goals of digitizing the trucking industry. Currently, Logivan has more than 8,000 active truckers and over 4,000 shippers, serving clients such as Wilmar, Ajinomoto, Unilever and TH True Milk.
But Linh’s main goal is to help businesses save logistics costs and help truck owners earn more. With Logivan’s business model, truck drivers have increased their income by 30%.
In March 2018, Logivan won UberExchange startup contest and was the only startup to win a ticket to Silicon Valley and receive direct advice from UBER’s global CTO Thuan Pham. It was also included in Forbes Asia’s 100 to Watch List last year.
Logivan’s success through the years is rooted in Linh’s perseverance and determination. It’s no wonder that Linh was awarded Global Entrepreneur of the Year at Pitch@Palace and Founder of the Year at the ASEAN Rice Bowl Awards and was even included in Forbes Vietnam and Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30 in 2020 — recognitions that prove the incomparable strength and innovativeness of female startup founders.
Chi Pham — Co-founder of Anfin
Anfin is a venture-backed financial technology startup aiming to democratize Vietnamese people’s access to stocks, bonds, and structured investment products. With a wide range of products that offer low starting capital, the startup inspires people to make safe investments.
Chi Pham, along with co-founders Phuoc Tran, Michael Do, and Hiep Nguyen, wants to offer financial peace of mind for all Vietnamese, especially with the pandemic proving how uncertain the future is. Financial freedom, the founder believes, is not just about safekeeping assets but getting rich sustainably while living life to the fullest. Anfin now has more than 100,000 funded accounts, with deposits reaching $5 million and $10 million in total transaction value.
Before launching Anfin in 2021, Chi held different important roles in different industries — division manager at Saigon-Hanoi Bank, senior business analyst at Capital One, and product manager at Tiki, to name a few. Joining the wealth tech firm was, as Chi posted on LinkedIn, a change of career path.
“…the early-stage start-up is hard! But the joy and excitement of doing what you love, building things from scratch, are tremendous and no-word-to-describe,” Chi posted.
Chi Pham also actively supports other female startup founders and the Girls in Tech Vietnam movement.
Minh Thu Do — Co-founder at Vuihoc
Education technology boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic as the global education sector switched from the traditional face-to-face teaching setup to a full online system.
But even before the pandemic disrupted education, Minh Thu Do was already leading an education platform for Vietnamese K-12 students. Thu founded Vuihoc in 2019 with Lam Do to provide comprehensive and high-quality online courses for elementary, middle, and high school students.
With a can-do mentality, Thu took the challenge to gamble into a then-untapped opportunity in edtech. Vuihoc was the only educational startup that reached the final round of the global creative competition Viet Solution in 2019, and it has garnered attention and multi-million dollar investments since then. Thu’s marketing expertise, which she honed from her various marketing roles in different firms way back, helped Vuihoc reach its target market.
Her edtech startup uses the most advanced technology that complements traditional learning methods to improve student engagement. With a team of experienced professional teachers and educational programs that follow the VSA (visual, self-practice and analytics) methodology, Vuihoc is committed to fostering the passion for learning among young Vietnamese.
Esther Nguyen — Founder of POPS
POPS Worldwide is the leading digital entertainment company in Southeast Asia, serving 523 million subscribers with high-quality and exclusive content tailor-made for all ages. The all-in-one platform allows access to the very best copyrighted entertainment from content creators in Vietnam, Thailand, and around the world.
POPS started with its founder’s passion to change Vietnam’s digital music landscape. Esther Nguyen, a media and technology entrepreneur, was a pioneering force in the development of the digital entertainment industry in Southeast Asia, especially in her home country. Esther has been instrumental in the evolution of Vietnam’s entertainment sector, educating industry players on copyright potential and allowing content creators to thrive and earn.
Building and expanding the POPS ecosystem was a challenging task, especially in Vietnam, where copyright violations and piracy are rampant. Streaming and downloading content can be done in a few clicks without having to pay a single cent. This problem is a major setback for the people who work tirelessly to produce quality content. The emergence of illegal websites and Vietnamese people’s fast adaptation to everything digital made it harder to trace and stop content piracy.
“In any business, there are challenges. I care less about what difficulties I face, but more about how to solve them,” said Esther in an interview with cafebiz.vn.
Now 14 years in the business, Esther continues to take her mission further and wider with the establishment of POPS offices in Thailand and Indonesia. As a testament to her superb leadership and passion for media, Esther was named by Forbes as one of the top 10 inspirational female tech entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, with POPS named top 60 women-led startups shaking up tech across the globe. Esther is also a favorite speaker at digital entertainment events in the region.