January 8, 2022

Venture Fellows Program: Empowering entrepreneurs and innovators in Vietnam

January 8, 2022

“A Curriculum for Tomorrow’s Workforce” – this is one of the key principles upon which Fulbright University Vietnam builds its liberal arts undergraduate program. Interwoven with an interdisciplinary core spanning the arts, humanities, sciences and engineering – one that inspires students to master the faculties of critical thinking, intellectual curiosity and the desire to do good for society throughout their life – is a number of learning opportunities outside the classroom developed by Fulbright’s dedicated departments. A sterling example is the Venture Fellows Program, organized by the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Fulbright’s very first center since our establishment 5 years ago.

Cultivate and Empower entrepreneurs and innovators to solve Vietnam’s biggest challenges

Vietnam faces a disconnect between its educational priorities and the demand for skilled employees. While Vietnamese students perform well on standard academic tests, employers consistently report that students lack the skills needed to excel, as reflected in the high underemployment rate of college graduates. On top of that, while the Vietnamese economy and startup ecosystem are booming, major existential challenges loom on the horizon. The country is one of the world’s most at-risk countries in terms of climate change, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi continue to grow rapidly while already struggling with air pollution and congestion, and advances in automation and artificial intelligence threaten Vietnam’s manufacturing labor force.

As a university that aims to cultivate the next generation of ethical leaders and changemakers of Vietnam and the region, Fulbright is committed to empowering aspiring and current entrepreneurs and innovators—both our students and beyond—to tackle our society’s greatest challenges. Rooted in our mission to close the gap between higher education and Vietnam’s greatest needs, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) is Fulbright’s flagship effort to embed entrepreneurship and innovation into the core of our culture and academic program. The CEI offers impactful learning opportunities on entrepreneurship and innovation for stakeholders across Vietnamese society and the region, including non-Fulbright students, professionals, startups, companies, and members of the general public. In time, as both the CEI and Fulbright University Vietnam grow, the CEI will incubate and accelerate ventures going after Vietnam and the region’s toughest challenges.

“CEI is Fulbright’s gateway into Vietnam’s thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems. We aim to cultivate and accelerate innovation both in our students and across Vietnamese society,” says Vo Duy Anh, Strategy and Operations Manager at CEI. “As a startup university ourselves, we believe that through nurturing entrepreneurial leadership, we can cultivate and empower entrepreneurs and innovators to solve Vietnam’s biggest challenges.”

The mission of Venture Fellows Program: Build, Contribute and Network

The Venture Fellows Program is the CEI at Fulbright’s flagship initiative. Launched in April 2020 and organized annually since, it is a six-month entrepreneurship-focused, work-study program that supports Fulbright students to work at the country’s most exciting startup and technology companies over a summer internship, with 4 main objectives:

  • For Fulbright students to chart their entrepreneurship pathways, build business toolkit, get a inside view through impactful project work, and grow their network
  • For entrepreneurial, high-growth companies in Vietnam benefit from and contribute to the development of a talented pipeline of students
  • Providing a structured approach and scaffolded support: pre-internship seminars, ongoing mentorship, post-internship, reflections for Fulbright students
  • High quality network of partners, mentors and peers for Fulbright students to foster self-learning and personal development

After two successful cohorts in 2020 and 2021, the next iteration of the Venture Fellows Program will span four months from June to October 2022. Prior to the summer internship of highly selected Fulbright students at partnered startups and companies, at the moment until April 2022, the CEI is currently seeking potential organizations in HCMC and Hanoi to join the program and mentor our student fellows. The 2021 cohort attracted 13 partners in Hanoi and HCMC, including VNG, Aspire, CoderSchool, EnCapital, Ru9, JobHopin, UrBox, EcoTruck, Manabie, Homebase, Funtap, Tribee, ReactorSchool, whose evaluation of Fulbright interns were nothing of short of delight.

“100% positive. Our intern is a superstar — brilliant, versatile, enthusiastic. We put her on different types of projects to test her, ALL were new to her, but she thrived. She always delivers, everyone is so happy with her. Only suggestion for the program is to send us more interns!” — Stefano Pellegrino, CEO of Aspire.

“I look for three things in employees. One is logical thinking, two is clear communication, and three is a very good attitude. And I think that Fulbright students exhibit all three of those things.” — Le Lan Chi, Head of ZaloPay.

“After the interim report, the other team leads were so impressed that they wanted the interns too. Next year, other teams would want to bid the interns!” — Christopher Day, Chief Commercial Officer of CoderSchool.

Our 2021 partners gave the Venture Fellows Program a NPS of 80 with 92% of partners saying YES to hiring the interns as full-time employees after the internship. The fellows also gave the program a 8.15 score for learning and personal development satisfaction and 8.25 for work and internship project satisfaction.

Nurturing Vietnam’s future leaders

The CEI’s selection process — for Fulbright students to confidently gain professional work experience in entrepreneurial, growth-focused companies — demands the following criteria:

  • Strong academic performance
  • Demonstrated interest in entrepreneurship
  • Community or campus involvement, including leadership experience
  • Maturity and humility

As a result, only 26 excellent fellows were selected from 57 applications with 58% chosen fellows having GPA above 3.67. Prior to their actual internship at partnered companies, Fulbright candidates are required to participate in training courses organized by the CEI that will prepare and equip them with the necessary skills to adapt and thrive in a rigorous, serious work environment. The 2021 cohort of the Venture Fellows Program involved more than 46 hours of mock interviews and 126 hours of student assessment, as well as 32 hiring managers acting as key contacts to supervise, coach and nurture Fulbright students’ development during their summer internship.

Nguyen Nho Thuc Khang, Class of 2023, was placed as Sales and Business Development Executive at Reactor School. “I was so impressed with the support that CEI provided for Fulbright students in their previous cohort of the Venture Fellows Program, that’s why I decided to apply,” she says. “My position at Reactor School allowed me to learn and thrive in a fast-changing environment in the most positive way. The experience there helped me strengthen my passion and gain insight into the world of venture capital, startups, and investment in general, which I intend to pursue after graduation. After the internship, I received an offer from Reactor School to join their Reactor Ventures program, part of which was a sponsorship to study a course about venture capital. And so, the Venture Fellows Program did indeed exceed my expectations and prove to be a truly meaningful experience.”

Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong, Class of 2023, also shares the same sentiment. “I had the opportunity to work as a Data Researcher and in Business Development at JobHopin,” she says. “After the internship, I’d learnt a lot about the real-life experiences in a for-profit startup, while appreciating the one-on-one coaching and training sessions which the company is keen to deliver for its young members and their personal development. The lessons that I’ve picked up helped me realize that I want to find a way to channel them into social enterprises, to support my passion working for organizations aimed at social goods through my meaningful contributions. Regardless of which organizations you work for, clear communication and effective strategy are key to foster our goals and make our dream come true. ”

Over the next 2-3 years, CEI aims to continue growing the Venture Fellows Program to become the top choice internship program for students. We’re working on expanding the program to external top-tier university students as well as partnering with more high quality companies that can offer meaningful internship experience and working environments. Ultimately, through the Venture Fellows Programs, CEI wants to empower the next generation of Vietnamese entrepreneurs and innovators, to reimagine the university in Vietnam, and build the next generation of leaders equipped with the skills to tackle global challenges.

Find out more about our program and how to apply at https://bit.ly/VFP2022-PartnerInfoPack

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