Vietnam has an ambitious name for its latest economic experiment: Silicon Valley Vietnam.
But it could take years before the country sees any of the successes of the California tech companies.
With GDP growth at its slowest since 1999, Vietnam is in bad need of a boost to its economy.
Now it is betting on start-up companies to tap into a domestic market of over 90 million people, and in particular a burgeoning young population.
Saigon Hub is a popular meeting place for start-ups in Ho Chi Minh City.
An image of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder, is prominently displayed here.
Vietnam recently announced two major projects – Silicon Valley Vietnam and a 110 million US dollar fund. Both would support the country’s budding start-up scene.
Nguyen Hai is helping connect the government with the world of technology.
“Look at this project as a first signal to prove that now the government, they are aware about technology start-ups. So they do want to support and grow the technology start-ups in Vietnam.”
Officials haven’t released many details, but the money is likely to go toward two so-called “accelerators” – one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City.
Accelerators are like mentor programs that support, train and connect start-ups with investors.
“The model is, they will support the start-up from the very beginning, from just the business idea, to building the idea into the prototype. And then test the market, launch the product, and then scale to the next level.”
Sceptics question whether governments should be involved in start-ups at all.
But in communist Vietnam, nothing much succeeds without some government support.
Many say that for start-ups to be successful, they need more efficient regulation.
“I would encourage anything the government can do to make it easier to get a license, to make it easier to pay my taxes to the government, to make paperwork easier,” says Chris Harvey, CEO of ITviec, a website for IT jobs.
“And if there’s a special program for internet companies or start-ups, maybe some kind of fast-track program that makes it easier for us to get licenses and do business, that would be great.”
The country is looking at examples in South Korea, Malaysia and especially Singapore, where the government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in start-ups.
But Vietnam has its own advantages.
More than half of the country is under 30 years old, about one-third have internet access.
And there are 120 million mobile subscriptions, in a market of 90 million people.
“Now we’re experiencing a new generation, so there’s a lot of momentum right now,” says Anh-Minh Do, an editor at Tech in Asia, a popular online technology and start-up website.
“A lot of young people are doing startups, a lot of experienced people are doing startups. So it’s in a new space it’s never been in before.”
Vietnam needs start-ups because economic growth has reached a record low.
But IT is one of the few sectors that have remained strong.
Chris Harvey says that this is how it should be.
“Information technology is a great industry for Vietnam. It doesn’t require a lot of money, you don’t need a big factory. It’s clean, these are clean jobs, they don’t pollute, they’re highly paid generally. And also the world is moving towards more information technology all the time.”
Nguyen Thi Thu Tram is operations assistant at Square, the Burmese answer to Facebook.
She says startups have a lot of passionate employees.
“I saw there are a lot of challenging opportunities for me to work here. I can learn a lot from this environment. So I think Squar is a good company for me to learn and make my contribution to this company.”
Along with many other start-ups, Squar uses Saigon Hub as an office.
Hoang Tran Quang Khai says he helped open Saigon Hub to encourage innovation.
“Maybe you can work from home or from a coffee shop. But they all lack a community. … So when you come here, you can have the motivation from all the entrepreneurs working with you. You can share all the resources and knowledge, the experience of each other to be successful together.”
If Silicon Valley Vietnam takes off, Saigon Hub could get a lot more crowded.