MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“How do I make a difference?”. The question has been ringing in my ears for years. Straight out of college — where I graduated in International Business Administration from Ho Chi Minh City’s Foreign Trade University — I joined a “traditional” venture capital firm that focused on investing in Vietnam and Thailand. There, I spent four productive years fundraising and investing across a number of sectors. While I learned a lot, I knew there was something deeper calling me.
In 2016, I decided to apply all I had learned in venture capital to help TBK Greenfood: a social business promoting high-quality agricultural produce and creating jobs and better health care for poor women in the Lamdong province of Vietnam. Over ten months, this rewarding experience inspired me to dream of building my own accelerator and an impact fund for social entrepreneurs in Vietnam. In order to equip me with the tools I needed to help me realise this dream, I enrolled in the two year MBA programme at Babson College in Boston, USA.
However, I still had some gaps in my knowledge. I needed to learn more about how an impact focused venture capital fund actually worked. To fix that, I spent one month last winter in Vietnam as an Associate at Patamar Capital — the region’s leading venture firm focused on unlocking better economic opportunities for low-income communities: investing in high growth companies solving South and South East Asia’s most pervasive problems at scale. The experience had a profound effect on me.
One of the hallmarks of Patamar Capital are the people work there: in fact, I believe the team is one of the many reasons why the firm continues to be so successful and respected. At some new workplaces, it takes time to fit in. My colleagues here were immediately supportive and always made me feel included throughout my four weeks. On my first day, Shuyin Tang — who is a Partner and leads the Vietnam team — asked me about my goals and expectations for the winter and also invited me to think outside the box and suggest ideas the team could implement.
RUN WITH IT
At this time, Patamar Capital had just launched its newest fund. The ‘Investing In Women’ fund is the first fund dedicated to investing in high potential women-led businesses in Vietnam. It made me think of the fact that many startup founders don’t really understand how to raise capital from Venture Capital firms. I wondered how we could support female founders, and attract prospective deals while building more awareness for the new fund at the same time. I suggested we organise a workshop for female entrepreneurs with this aim in mind — and share knowledge, tools and create a sense of community. Shuyin was very responsive to the idea and let me run with it. Two short weeks later in January 2018, we delivered our ‘How To Raise Venture Capital Funding” event in Ho Chi Minh City for ten female entrepreneurs.
The workshop provided me with an opportunity to hear the stories shared by the female entrepreneurs firsthand and to really understand the challenges and barriers they face in their day-to-day working life. These stories were very thought-provoking and really inspired me to think more deeply about my role — and what more I could do to contribute to female entrepreneurial empowerment in the venture industry.
A TRUE GIFT
The feedback we received from the group was very encouraging. One attendee told us “This is the first time that I have felt so comfortable talking to venture capitalists. I have talked to many VCs in the past, but most of them were men. The conversations we have shared today were so open — and that makes me feel much more confident about fundraising in the future.” Another workshop attendee shared a very personal reflection with the group. Before the workshop, she told us that she only saw the disadvantages of being a female founder. But after the event, she had started to realise that being a female entrepreneur was a true gift!
One of my personal motivations when joining Patamar Capital was to learn the distinctions between impact investing and more traditional venture investing. Although I had studied lots of about the performance metrics that impact investors use to measure social, environmental and commercial success — the experience of seeing how professional impact investors use this data in practice was invaluable. It really gave me a clearer picture of the landscape and gave me a framework to start building my social impact fund when I returned to Babson College.
Looking back, my one month working with the Patamar Capital team flew by so fast. It has left a lasting impression on me and I’m so grateful for this meaningful experience on so many levels. Now I am back in Boston, I am working remotely on the launch of ’Seed Planter’, my own impact accelerator. We produced a successful kick-off event in Vietnam this April and organised our first training program for 35 aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs in May.
While I continue to ask myself “How do I make a difference?”, I now have the framework for the fund I want to build. My time spent in Vietnam working on ideas, conducting market research, meeting entrepreneurs and hearing their stories — has only further strengthened my motivation and given me more confidence for the road ahead as I continue to try to make a difference in Vietnam.