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VietChallenge’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs of Vietnamese descent, supported by a broader vision of building a robust network of Vietnamese American executives, experts, and investors who share our mission. VietChallenge was founded in response to the lived experience of its founder, Mai Phan Zymaris. Upon earning her LLM from Harvard in 2013, Mai joined forces with her brother Dung, a CompSci PhD from UMass Boston, to build Potoo, an anonymous social networking app startup. The two poured countless hours into making the most of their initial funding and support from UMass Boston and, soon after, embarked on a journey to raise seed funding to grow Potoo. The startup ecosystem didn’t match their hopeful spirits, as pitch after pitch, Mai and Dung received feedback laden with undertones on their being first-generation Vietnamese immigrants, questioning their credibility, accents, and lack of network. Forced to shut down Potoo, Mai was left acutely informed of the lack of a community for Viet founders, despite her incessant search for one. Mai founded VietChallenge to address that need, informed by the reality of being a Viet founder and the fragmentation of the Viet business community in the US. At VietChallenge, we understand that support must not come only via access to funding, but also a supportive network to get you a seat at the right tables to amplify your idea. We work tirelessly in the pursuit of expanding our support network, with a proven track record of elevating Vietnamese founders across the past eight years.
About the Organization:
$100,000 - $500,000
Despite accounting for 5.6% of the U.S population, Asians account for less than 2% of leaders positions in business, politics, and entrepreneurship. Compared to other Asian American groups, Vietnamese Americans are reported to have even a lower rate of self-employment per the American Immigration Council, citing historical immigration contexts. Having worked with thousands of Vietnamese American entrepreneurs and professionals these past eight years, VietChallenge identifies three unique issues below that collectively hinder the potential of a Vietnamese entrepreneurship movement and community in the US. Firstly, while a path to entrepreneurship is elusive to the AAPI communities at large, its absence bears greater magnitude amongst Vietnamese Americans. Studies often note it often takes at least three-to-five generations to get out of poverty; the majority of Vietnamese Americans entering the workforce nowadays are second or third-generation immigrants, following the post-1975 immigration boom. As such, the community lacks generational wealth and infrastructures to nurture entrepreneurial spirits. Secondly and relatedly, the recent immigration context translates into cultural norms that deter Vietnamese entrepreneurship. Since 2015, VietChallenge has worked with hundreds of first-generation Vietnamese Americans who have found considerable success in legacy business and corporate settings—executives at Yahoo!, Intel, etc., who subscribe to more tested career models than entrepreneurship. This in itself is a three-fold issue, as young Vietnamese Americans are discouraged by elders from pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, lack role models, and, most importantly, face difficulties harnessing generational wisdom towards building their own businesses. Lastly, the same immigration context creates fragmentation within the Vietnamese American community. The majority of first-wave Vietnamese immigrants navigate war traumas that shape their political and social understanding, favoring more conservative ideals of American nationalism and capitalism. Facilitating communities across generations of Vietnamese Americans, as a result, is difficult, oftentimes requiring avoiding dissecting the Vietnamese American identity. At the surface level, this deters the abilities of new generations of Vietnamese entrepreneurs, either those newly immigrated to the US from Vietnam mainland or second/third-generation Vietnamese Americans, to create meaningful connections with older generations for support, either in terms of expertise, network, or funding.
VietChallenge tackles these issues through a combination of events, education, and private network facilitation. Since our establishment in 2015, our flagship event series has evolved from a simple startup pitch competition to a comprehensive year-long process that holistically addresses the access gap. The process begins with a call for applications in May, followed by thorough due diligence by our investment professionals on each pitch. The top 12 semifinalists are selected and provided with tailored feedback. Each semifinalist is then paired with an advisor—an esteemed investor or industry veteran, and participates in a month-long entrepreneurship bootcamp covering pitching, legal operations, and fundraising. After the bootcamp, the 12 semi-finalists pitch during a virtual demo day to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists. Six finalists are then chosen to advance to our Final Round event series. This series includes private networking events with angel investors, pitching workshops led by entrepreneurship experts, and culminates in a Final Round pitch/networking banquet. The banquet is a great celebration of Vietnamese excellence, announcing the season winner, presenting cash rewards, and revealing investment commitments from our private investor network. Beyond the flagship series, we have developed partnerships with other entrepreneurship-focused organizations to strategically showcase Vietnamese founders at events not exclusively catered to AAPI founders. For instance, since last October, VietChallenge has partnered with Boston New Technology to co-host a quarterly Boston Life Sciences Showcase sponsored by JP Morgan, Morrison Foerster, and Tufts University, each featuring one Vietnamese founder from our network, providing them with exposure to a wider investor audience. We have since harvested such partnerships and networks to form a private investor alliance that meets quarterly, with a distribution list to which we share fundraising calls from Vietnamese founders we have sourced. On a day-to-day basis, we keep a newsletter that aggregates news within the Vietnamese entrepreneurship ecosystem and AAPI startup opportunities. When not working on our flagship events, we proactively check in with our alumni, reach out to new Vietnamese investors/experts referred by our network, and host webinars featuring these investors/experts to share knowledge with our community base.