17 April 2017 | Mekong AgriBusiness Tour – a part of Mekong AgriTigers – was awarded a grant of US$5,000 at the 1st Mekong Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Summit supported by the U.S State Department program Tigers@Mekong and organized by the Center for Business Study and Assistance from April 1st to 3rd, 2017.
The Agribusiness Tour is sponsored by leading corporate members of the Vietnam Premium Manufacturers Association (i.e., Vinamit, Thien Long, Tam Lan, Trung Nguyen), the U.S State Department program Tigers@Mekong and the Finish Government's IPP. The tour invited delegations from Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam to study the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Dong Thap Province, Vietnam. In total the tour had 85 participants – including young entrepreneurs, startup founders, business owners, mentors, and investors – who visited eight agribusinesses, attended an innovation & entrepreneurship forum at Dong Thap University, and enjoyed a wide range of cultural exchange and networking activities.
Innovative Agribusiness Stories
Some of the inspiring stories the delegates heard during the tour include:
Tam Viet Rice, founded by Vo Van Tieng, produces organic rice. After returning home from military deployment, Tieng started studying how to grow rice without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Two years ago, when Tieng first told his family, neighbors, and friends about his idea, many were skeptical. Tieng, however, did not give up. His first crop yielded 60% in comparison to the conventional production method using a variety of chemicals. Tieng continues to improve the natural ecosystem on his fields. He uses earth worms to enrich the fields. He brings in natural enemies to protect the rice plants. Tieng also gives his fields some rest by cultivating two crops in a year instead of three. Today, Tieng reaches the yield of 7 tons per hectare in a year.
Tam Viet Rice is now a brand and Tieng has a team of 10 colleagues. He also received an angel investment to scale up from 2 hectares to 50 hectares. When Tieng won the first prize of Startup Competition 2016 organized by BSA, business champion Nguyen Lam Vien, the founder of Vinamit, decided to provide Tieng not only financial but also business support. Tam Viet rice is now available for purchase in Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi.
Khoi Nghiep 152 is the first privately-run incubator in Dong Thap. It is managed by champion Luong Nguyen Duy Thong a former university professor who is currently the vice chairman of Dong Thap Young Business Association. He runs B2B businesses and offers his vast array of business connections with large corporations (VNPT, Viettel, Mobifone, Vinaphone, Bao Viet) to startups. Selected startups are offered free space – which they can use to register their companies – for six months. Veteran business people in the province are supporting young entrepreneurs by sharing sessions and short-term financing. They are eager to provide mentorship but are in need of some assistance.
Several lessons shared in the tour include:
Lam Vien, the founder of Vinamit Nguyen, pointed out the present-day advantages of starting an agribusiness in Vietnam. First, Vietnamese produce attracts international buyers and consumers due to large volumes and low prices. Market attraction is important. The business champion reminded young entrepreneurs that before thinking about raising funds they need to be certain of having a unique quality product. Agribusiness should first start small to focus on safe and quality products.
There are also lessons from Cambodia and Myanmar. In Myanmar, one business is not enough. Once an entrepreneur gets the first business up and running, she starts thinking about the second, and the “next” businesses as an effort to diversify. A comparative advantage of Myanmar agribusiness is the availability of large fields where almost no chemicals have been used. Indeed, Soe Amy Kyaw is managing a travelling company and eco hotel, while growing 100 hectare of cocoa on lands where there are still mines.