September 27, 2016
Dragon Capital founder Dominic Scriven is building Vietnam into a startup nation.
For those unfamiliar with Dominic, he is the pioneer of Vietnam investing. His firm, Dragon Capital, oversees over $1.3 billion in Vietnam-driven assets. For the past decade, his funds have been one of the only channels the west has had in investing in Vietnam. On his downtime, he is an avid Vietnamese art collector and an advocate of Vietnamese culture.
His latest passion project is Vietnam’s startup ecosystem. In March, he announced the creation of the Vietnam Innovation Startup Accelerator (VIISA), an open-ended fund that trains and invests in Vietnamese finance, internet, and mobile startups. A co-venture with Vietnamese behemoth FPT Corporation, VIISA will be calling in more names from the Top 500 Vietnam enterprises to develop its ecosystem. We present an exclusive interview with Dominic below.
Can you help our readers understand what inspired VIISA?
The Vietnam Innovative Stat-up Accelerator (VIISA) program is the ramification of beliefs in potential of Vietnamese startups from various angles. Late 2015, Dragon Capital and FPT Corporation first shared a vision to engage further in developing the startup ecosystem. Both firms are inspired by the Vietnamese technology landscape which is reinventing itself.
Vietnam used to be popular for being the reliable software and IT outsourcing destination thanks to the fast-growing community of IT developers. This has been true for over a decade, FPT Corporation has had a significant outsourcing unit and Dragon had also invested in more than two code-to-export companies in the past.
Why is the timing right for VIIISA?
Today, we’re witnessing a new class of business entrepreneurs, both Viet-Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) and Vietnamese-origin, who have confidence in understanding new technologies, especially internet-based businesses and are willing to accept challenges in commercializing new solutions for domestic and even global markets.
We believe timing is right not only for us to introduce the VIISA program but also for the whole Vietnam tech scene to rise. The startups ecosystem in Vietnam is emerging. According to our statistics, there are over 30 institutional venture capitalists, domestic and foreign, looking for opportunities in Vietnam. There are also about 25 incubator / accelerator programs and numerous non-profit supporting firms funded by large corporations, multi-national corporations or governments.
How are the public and private sectors responding to this rise?
We also reckon both public and private sectors are now more receptive to start-ups. In several industries, new non-traditional markets and niches are appearing when state-owned enterprises and private corporations must find ways to compete and to (re-) innovate their business models. This is an opportunity that we see for the business entrepreneurs.
And the global attention to Vietnamese startups?
The current attention for Vietnamese startups is unprecedented, especially from the highest level of the government. Via several conversations, we believe the government’s interest is very clear in facilitating a healthy environment for technology start-ups and venture capital investments. The two efforts that we are particularly interested are the Draft Law on Supporting Small and Medium Enterprises and the draft Circular on Guidelines for Venture Capital Investment and Innovative Startups by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, both are expected to be introduced later 2016.
What is Dragon Capital most excited to bring to the table for VIISA?
VIISA is a unique opportunity for us to serve our business network of entrepreneurs better. Dragon Capital has invested into over 60 companies in Vietnam for the last 22 years. We have always thrived in adding value for investees via corporate governance and continuous dialogue with the founders, owners. This time, we are delighted to offer them opportunities to take part and even be a part of the startup ecosystem in Vietnam.
We know some larger corporations are struggling with their corporate innovation strategies and planning for adaptation with the booming internet landscape. We hope VIISA will be a helpful tool not only for us but also for our investees to launch their own long-nurtured venture building projects.
Dragon Capital was founded in 1994 with an initial base of US $16 million and eight staff. Today, it manages over $1.3 billion with approximately 100 employees spread across four countries.