While it is true that many internship opportunities are geared towards students in their junior year, at Fulbright University Vietnam, we believe that students should have the opportunities to intern as early as in their freshmen year. Through the internships, students can gain invaluable hands-on experience by building their business toolkit, working on real projects in real startups, figuring out their own entrepreneurial pathways and growing their network in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In April 2020, the Center of Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) at Fulbright University Vietnam (Fulbright) launched its flagship Venture Fellows Program (VFP), which prepares, places and supports students to work at Vietnam’s most exciting startup and technology companies. This year, the program is placing 17 students at 11 notable startups in Vietnam, including Aspire, CoderSchool, Holistics, EcoTruck, Eve (a Fram^ venture), Kim An, Lixibox, Manabie, Ru9, UrBox and VNG. Despite an uncertain economic outlook due to COVIDd-19, Fulbright and its partner startup organizations have prioritized the VFP program based on its potential.
The program was inspired by the track record of similar programs in the USA and Singapore, specifically the Mayfield Fellows Program at Stanford and the NUS Overseas College Program at the National University of Singapore. These programs have produced some of their region’s biggest entrepreneurial talents, including Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s founder, and Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo, and Marcus Tan, the founders of Carousell.
“With Vietnam’s rapid economic growth and organic entrepreneurial spirit, we have a unique opportunity to design a program that would equip students with the toolkit to chart their own entrepreneurial pathways and make a real difference in Vietnam,” Ken Watari, Director of CEI, emphasized.
The Venture Fellows Program
The Venture Fellows Program is a six-month entrepreneurial work-study program for Fulbright students, spanning April to September 2020 with a rigorous selection process. To secure a placement, Fulbright students had to undergo a series of interview rounds, both with the CEI team and our partner organizations. The format of the interviews varied based on the requirements of our partners, and included developing pitch presentations, taking competency tests, and completing data analysis tasks. 17 VFP Fellows were selected this year.
“The students of Fulbright demonstrated outstanding traits and qualities that we are seeking for young Manabians. We have high expectations for any member to join our team. Each person must possess strong cognitive ability, clear and structured communication, as well as high impacts through proven teamwork and leadership records. We entered VFP knowing that we would meet bright students but were still amazed at how each candidate addressed our critical interviewing questions, and fitted Manabian’s qualities well. How fortunate we were to be a participant of VFP. Looking forward to more Fulbright students joining us and making prominent contributions to Vietnamese education and beyond,” shared Takuya Homma, CEO and Founder of Manabie. Manabie has recently raised $4.8 million from investors to build and scale their online education technology platform and in-person learning centers across Vietnam and beyond.
Once the VFP Fellows are matched to their partner organizations, the program is split into three distinct phases: pre-internship, internship and post-internship. In the pre-internship phase, the CEI team will work with the fellows to help them analyze and derive business insights through data analysis, as well as support the fellows to conduct research and develop a venture capital-style investment memo on the company they will be working for. They will also attend off-the-record sessions with notable figures in Vietnam’s entrepreneurship community. This year, our VFP Fellows had sessions with Khanh Tran (former Founding Partner of VinaCapital Ventures), Charles Lee (Founder of CoderSchool), and Sao Lonsdale (Founder of Lixibox).
During the summer, VFP Fellows will spend 9 weeks at their partner organizations, working on a range of projects from new market entry to marketing optimization. The VFP Fellows will also be supported throughout this summer by a dedicated mentor from their partner organization and a team of expert advisors from Vietnam’s entrepreneurship community.
After the internship, VFP Fellows, with the support of their advisors, will reflect on and present their internship experiences to their cohort. This gives them the opportunity to learn about various industries in depth, and allows them to lock in their learnings from the program collectively.
Chien-Teng Chia, CEI Officer, comments: “While some of our Fellows may not choose to pursue startups in the future, our long-term goal is to build a tight-knit and collaborative community of changemakers that will continue supporting and working with each other in the years to come.”
Meet our VFP Fellows
As we await the commencement of the internship experiences, let’s meet two of our VFP Fellows, who will spend this summer test-driving their skills in a real-world setting and earning valuable experiences that will be coveted by future employers:
Hoang Mai Linh, Co-Design Year Student, Class of 2023 – Placement at Ru9
“Start-ups are developing rapidly in Vietnam, especially in recent years. However, about 80% of them failed and could not operate the company in 2 years. As a person who wants to start my own business in the future, I want to (soon) emerge myself in a start-up environment to gain fundamental skills and real experience, so that I can prepare myself better in Vietnam’s intensive start-up environment.
To become a VFP fellow, I underwent 3 rounds: CEI’s application round, CEI’s interview round and partner organization’s round. Before we participated in the final round (interview with partner organizations), CEI held a mock interview session to give us some tips and advice to be successful in the “real interview”. I don’t know about others but my interviews with partner organizations were very “intriguing”. 2 out of 4 companies conducted interviews with me without noticing in advance. I was surprised but I think I did well.
Though my internship is not yet started, I already learned my Lesson No. 1: We should always be ready, because in this “uncertain” world (and an “uncertain” start-up environment), who knows when the opportunity will come. We have to always be ready or else, we can miss that opportunity.”
Ninh Quynh Anh, Co-Design Year Student, Class of 2023 – Placement at Ru9
“As I realize my strong passion and curiosity for entrepreneurship, I think becoming a VFP Fellow will offer me valuable opportunities to learn and develop entrepreneurial skills and mindset. Besides, as a Fulbrighter, why shouldn’t I try out something as new and interesting as this?
First, I had to submit an application form together with my updated CV. When filling out the form, I had time reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses as well as the areas I am most excited to explore for my future career path. CEI then followed up with a 20-minute interview to better understand my expectation and interest. Those who passed this interview proceeded to the next step: interviews with partner organizations.
I was over the moon when I learned that my two-month internship will be with Ru9 this summer. I hope that through this internship, I can gain more insights into the startup ecosystem and how challenging a real working environment can be. I cannot wait!”