Grab Ventures initiates next step in startup evolution

March 07, 2020 | 10:00
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To support Vietnam’s goal to create 10 tech unicorns by 2030, Grab has chosen Vietnam to launch Grab Ventures Ignite, an early-stage startup support programme. Chris Yeo, head of Grab Ventures, spoke with VIR’s Truc Van about the new initiative.

Why did Grab choose Vietnam as the first market to launch Grab Ventures Ignite (GVI)?

grab ventures initiates next step in startup evolution
Chris Yeo, head of Grab Ventures

Grab is Southeast Asia’s largest and most successful homegrown technology startup. Our growth story marks a time where tech ventures in Southeast Asia can rise and become global giants. Vietnam’s startup ecosystem is very well poised for digital disruption, and we believe that we are in a strong position to propel it to the next level through GVI.

We want to pave the way for startups to grow and scale faster, playing our part in solving the country’s challenges of tomorrow, promoting innovation, and digitisation in the region. Vietnam has one area where it needs assistance – capability building. Therefore, Grab developed GVI as an accelerator programme customised for early-stage startups in Vietnam. All new firms are encouraged to apply for the programme from now until April 10.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Vietnamese startups?

I am very bullish about Vietnamese startups. The first factor differentiating them from others is the deep engineering capability, which remains an early bottleneck for many companies to scale up. However, Vietnam’s strong engineering aptitude can be seen as a great advantage.

A fledgling enterprise should not just have a great idea. Sometimes it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time. In the past two years, the number of deals has increased tremendously in Vietnam. For a startup ecosystem to work, it needs human capital, money, connections, and the right conditions. We think that Vietnam has all those characteristics.

On the other hand, if you look at a successful ecosystem, one thing it has is experienced founders, who have launched two or three enterprises before. It does not mean that all of their ventures are successful, but the experience of a founder is more important. Vietnam still lacks these experienced figures, but it is simply a matter of time until they emerge.

What is the potential for Vietnamese startups to be synergised into Grab’s ecosystem?

We have some criteria for selecting new initiatives, including their business model, the founder and team, as well as the synergy potential synergy with Grab. However, this synergy does not have to be immediate. In Grab’s large ecosystem, firms can be synergised on the consumer side, driver network, and micro-merchants.

Grab welcomes all startups from different fields such as logistics, fintech, and agri-tech. For example, we also provide solutions for small food merchants. While Grab’s food delivery service helps them to improve online sales, an agri-tech startup could provide solutions for vendors to reduce costs in the supply chain.

As Vietnam is yet to create any unicorn businesses, what is your key message to the local community?

It is important for each country to have a success story. Vietnam aims to create 10 tech unicorns in the next 10 years, which we think is achievable. When looking others in Southeast Asia, it takes five to eight years to thrive. It is important to focus on the right things in the ecosystem at each stage. The type of accelerators and venture capital funds will be different in the next three to five years due to the market. As of now, it is crucial to improve hard and soft skills and the mindset to achieve greater feats.

GVI aims to inspire the local ecosystem and nurture more experienced founders. Under the programme, we will bring Vietnamese founders to Singapore and Indonesia to learn and exchange their expertise. Hopefully, they will apply these experiences to write their own successful story in Vietnam’s startup landscape.

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