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Listen and subscribe to “Vietnam Innovators” in Vietnamese: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | YouTube.
Headquartered in Singapore but with a very strong appetite for Vietnam-based startups, FEBE Ventures is an early stage Venture Capital fund supporting outstanding entrepreneurs. The fund’s co-founder and managing partner Olivier Raussin names Vietnam as the number one market in the region when it comes to investing in startups. If before COVID it was in the top five, the government’s competent handling of the pandemic propelled the country to the top position.
Among other factors behind Vietnam’s rise up the ranks, says Olivier, are its global integration, strong educational programs, such as K-12 math teaching and engineering degrees, as well as the government’s push for 5G development. Other oft-cited factors like high e-commerce and digital payment penetration also play a part.
Thanks to Vietnam’s newfound status as a regional investment hub, FEBE receives an average of 15-20 new investment opportunities every week. In the past 14 months the fund invested in 11 startups, both B2B and B2C.
What does it take for a startup to be noticed by FEBE? At the moment, the fund focuses on fintech, logistics, healthtech and edutech, with foodtech and proptech coming a close second. And if your company has a SaaS business model, even better.
As a founder-centric fund, FEBE gives entrepreneurs a complete freedom to develop truly unique solutions. Nano, one of the startups in its portfolio, offers blue-collar workers affordable financing by solving two common B2C bottlenecks: credit scoring and cash collection. After running a pilot with Annam Group for a few months, the founder Dzung Dang and his team were able to solve these issues through technology. Such was the success of the model that Nano became the first Vietnamese startup to be selected by Y Combinator in the US.
Other startups in FEBE’s portfolio include Propzy, a category leader in real estate, and Clevai, a tutorial company.
Unicorns vs zebras
Since the start of COVID, the balance has shifted from pursuing growth at all costs to prioritizing profitability and seeking to create a positive social impact. These so-called “zebras” tend to be focused on equitable ownership and building sustainable businesses by providing solutions for underserved markets or making employee happiness a focus.
There are less welcome trends too, says Olivier. Chairman’s Syndrome is one. But as Vietnam’s ecosystem is maturing, the scenario where successful offline founders recruit a young, dynamic team and then seek to control all decision-making will be less common, hopes Olivier.
Sparring on ZALO
To beat Chairman’s Syndrome, FEBE advises entrepreneurs to do it by the book: invest a bit of money, bootstrap, raise capital from an angel and so on. This belief informed FEBE’s decision to roll out the “Assembly” program that connects successful business models systematically proven in other emerging markets with outstanding Vietnamese founders.
Vietnam Venture Capital Association is another organization Olivier and FEBE are part of. With 500 startups and managing partners as members, it offers all the standard tools to make entrepreneurs more efficient. At the end of the day, says Oliver, with early stage startups it is less a question of money than value-adds like MVP, business development and recruitment. By acting as a non-judgmental sparring partner offering the know-how and mental support — both face-to-face and on messaging apps — FEBE gives these young companies the all-important leg-up.