In the dynamic Investment landscape of Southeast Asia, Vietnam has emerged as a key player, offering promising opportunities for investors seeking to capitalize on the region’s growth. As we delve into the investment landscape in Vietnam in the 2020s, it becomes evident that the country’s digital economy is on a trajectory to reach $45 billion by 2025 (e-Conomy SEA, 2023), fueled by robust expectations of economic growth. However, amidst these prospects, investors are facing a myriad of challenges across all stages of the investment lifecycle, with exits being top of mind.
In this article, we delve into the captivating investment landscape of Vietnam in 2023. What are the expectations driving investors? What challenges and opportunities shape this dynamic field? Let’s uncover the answers in the upcoming sections.
Vietnam Investment Landscape 2023 Overview
Vietnam has established itself as a stable, rapidly developing, and high growth destination for international business and foreign investment with more than 208 venture capital funds, including 40 domestic ones. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of venture capital in Vietnam has gradually grown again, with 634 million USD in 2022, and reaching 413 million USD in the first half of 2023 (baochinhphu.vn, 2023).
In the past 5 years, Vietnam has weathered global macroeconomic headwinds with more resilience compared to other regions around the world with nominal GDP growth rate in the past 5 years being 8% and expected to increase to an average of 9% per year in the next 5 years (2023-2027). The total value of Vietnam’s goods is expected to reach a compound annual growth rate of 20%, from 30 billion USD in 2023 to nearly 45 billion USD in 2025 (e-Conomy SEA, 2023). Contributing to that growth are key industry groups including E-commerce, Transport & Food, Online Travel and Online Media.
Despite global macroeconomic headwinds, Vietnam is on track to achieve the government’s target of the digital economy accounting for 30% of GDP by 2030 (VnEconomy, 2023). The favorable business climate, robust economic growth, and strong government support have positioned Vietnam as an attractive destination for startups and investors. Additionally, the rising role of local funds in driving the tech investment landscape underscores the increasing maturity and sophistication of Vietnam’s investment ecosystem.
Startup funding value declines have been common across SEA.
Amidst the opportunities from the economy’s prospects, investors are facing a myriad of challenges that are impacting their expectations of returns and capital distribution.
In 2023, the total funding into Southeast Asian (SEA) tech startups dropped 65 per cent to $4.3 billion, compared with $12.4 billion in 2022. Southeast Asia’s tech startups ecosystem continues to face the effects of the funding winter, in line with other major countries. (e-Conomy SEA, 2023). Private funding to digital economy-related sectors in SEA has fallen back down to 2017 levels, after hitting record highs in 2021. In the first half of 2023, total funding was $4 billion, which means it is very unlikely to reach the $27 billion raised in all of 2021. Deal count fell to 564 in the first half of 2023, compared to 2,697 in all of 2021. The funding decline affects all stages of startups, from seed to E+, and is happening across Southeast Asian markets (TechCrunch, 2023).
In the meantime, the value of startup deals in Vietnam was $95 million in the January-March quarter in 2023, down 56% from the previous year, as higher interest rates and increasing global political turmoil held down activity (Nikkei Asia, 2023).
Investors are facing difficulties across all stages of investment lifecycle with “exit” being top of mind
With the data from the Bain SEA Venture Capital Investors Survey from Q3 2023, e-Conomy SEA found that investors are facing difficulties across all stages of the investment lifecycle, especially with exits and distributions.
87% of investors find that fundraising has become more challenging
64% of investors have seen a drop in diligence and top-of-funnel activity
88% of them feel that they are facing a more difficult exit environment.
According to the report, funds that started in the mid-2010s are now in the late stages of harvesting, putting pressure on delivering returns. 50% of investors only partially met or did not meet their divestment targets.
According to the report Innovation Ecosystem in Vietnam in 2022 (BambuUp, 2022), investment trends have a major change in investment selection criteria, angel investors and Venture Capitals have become more cautious in the process of selecting projects for capital injection. The funding winter in investment does not only come from the global economic recession, the real cause comes from the very low number of startups capable of successfully implementing projects and the ability to scale up quickly.
The economic recession causes other investment channels to fall into difficulty and even fall into a bubble since investors are more cautious and pay more attention to technology application models that have higher potential for rapid growth and sustainable development based on high scientific and technological content, or the startup team is strong enough to execute their plans and generate profits.
2024 Future Outlook
High value users (HVUs) in Vietnam spend 5.4 times more than non-HVUs
The e-Conomy SEA report reveals that high value users (HVUs) in Vietnam spend 5.4 times more than non-HVUs, representing the most positive change in spending outlook (e-Conomy SEA, 2023). This significant difference in spending patterns underscores the importance of understanding and catering to the needs and preferences of HVUs in the Vietnamese market. By recognizing and capitalizing on the distinct spending behaviors of HVUs, businesses can develop targeted strategies to effectively engage this valuable consumer segment and drive sustainable growth in the digital economy.
Quality deals with dependable exit pathway need to be proved
Digital businesses must demonstrate that they have quality deals with dependable exit pathways to overcome the current funding winter. This means that they need to provide realistic entry valuations, proven monetization models, and a clear path to profitability. Additionally, they must ensure that there are clear and feasible exit pathways for digital businesses, which could be in the form of a more conducive capital market environment and supportive regulations. Realizable monetization pathways and sustainable unit economics have become key requisites for digital businesses in Southeast Asia. By proving that they have dependable exit pathways and a sustainable business model, digital businesses can attract investors and secure funding even during challenging economic conditions.
Local funds’ vital role in Venture Ecosystem
According to the report of Mr. Viet Nguyen, head of Technology Investment at Vietnam Investments Group, presenting at Vietnam Innovation Summit 2023, the percentage of local fund participation in investment deals has increased significantly in 2021 to 49% of a total of 81 deals and 46% of a total of 64 deals in 2022. Gen 3 VCs in Vietnam have been able to raise funds from both local and foreign investors, which results in a substantial increase in their fund sizes.
Government Initiatives and Strategic Pillars to shift forward sustainable investment
In the near future, Vietnamese government direction will focus on 3 key strategic pillars to restructure the economic growth engine with shift focus to “higher quality” FDI
Vietnam has transitioned its FDI strategy from a blanket approach of “attracting at all costs” to a more selective method, emphasizing high-quality investments. This shift prioritizes value-added initiatives such as Education, R&D, and Supply chain linkages, aiming to support businesses that operate with high safety standards and full integration, while fulfilling their commitments such as job creation and tax contributions.
Additionally, there is a focus on promoting technology efficiency through the encouragement of advanced, new, high-quality, and clean technologies, as well as modern management projects.
Furthermore, there is an emphasis on facilitating technology transfer and governance for Vietnamese companies.
Lastly, Vietnam is also dedicated to enhancing environmental impact by improving standards and technical regulations on products, environmental protection, resources, and energy conservation in alignment with regional and global standards.
According to Mr. Huynh Cong Thang, Co-founder & CEO at InnoLab Asia, the investment landscape for startups in Vietnam during the first half of 2023 appeared less optimistic. However, from mid-2023 onwards, there are signs of recovery and resurgence in investment interest. Thang suggests that companies and startups navigating and overcoming this period are likely to stand resilient and enhance their potential for funding in the market.
Jussi Salovaara, Co-founder and Managing Partner for the Asia region at Antler, anticipates an improvement in VC funding in the last 6 months of 2024. “We believe that the amount of capital injection will increase, especially in the mid-year. There will certainly be a shock due to rising interest rates, a decline in venture capital funds, leading to a decrease due to restricted partners and funds becoming more selective. So, the market will take some time to recover,” Salovaara stated. (cafebiz.vn, 2023)
Dr. Nguyen Quoc Viet, Deputy Director of Vietnam Institute of Economic and Policy Research (VEPR), also commented, “For the business environment to truly improve in the future, companies need to decisively discard the fear of mistakes, dare to make decisions, and break through the defensive mindset of business barriers.” (Bao Dien tu Tien Phong, 2023)
Vietnam’s investment landscape in 2023 showcases both opportunities and challenges. Despite being a stable and rapidly growing destination, the region faces a significant decline in private funding for tech startups. Investors are grappling with difficulties across the investment lifecycle, with fundraising and exits being particularly challenging.
Looking ahead to 2024, businesses in Vietnam need to focus on quality deals with dependable exit pathways, realistic valuations, and proven monetization models. The role of local funds is crucial, and government initiatives prioritize attracting higher-quality foreign direct investment.
While challenges persist, Vietnam’s commitment to restructuring its economic growth engine provides a foundation for resilience and continued appeal to investors in Southeast Asia and around the world.
e-Conomy SEA by Google, Temasek, Bain: Southeast Asia’s digital economy research programme. (2023). [online] e-Conomy SEA report. Available at: https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/e_conomy_sea_2023_report.pdf.
VnEconomy. (2023). Digital economy to contribute 30% of GDP by 2030. [online] Available at: https://en.vneconomy.vn/digital-economy-to-contribute-30-of-gdp-by-2030.htm.
TechCrunch. (2023). Southeast Asia funding at its lowest level in six years. [online] Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2023/11/01/southeast-asia-funding-at-its-lowest-level-in-six-years/ [Accessed 12 Jan. 2024].
Nikkei Asia. (2023b). Vietnam startup valuations could fall 50%, leading investor says. [online] Available at: https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Vietnam-startup-valuations-could-fall-50-leading-investor-says.
VIETNAM INNOVATION & TECH INVESTMENT REPORT 2023. (2023). [online] Vietnam National Innovation Center (NIC). Available at: https://nic.gov.vn/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/ENG_Vietnam-Innovation-Tech-Investment-Report2023_final.pdf.
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