Visa gives local startups a boost

12:37 | 27/08/2018
Three Vietnamese startups were last week honoured at the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative final contest, a startup competition held in Vietnam for the first time with the aim to building the next generation of fintech and e-commerce solutions. Thanh Van reports.
visa gives local startups a boost
The award winners and their Visa’s Everywhere Initiative trophies

Visa’s Everywhere Initiative (VEI) is a global innovation programme in which Visa tasks up-and-coming businesses with solving some of the most challenging issues in payments and commerce. Visa has received many submissions since the programme kicked off in May this year.

Last week, nine of Vietnam’s most innovative startups gathered at The Dreamplex in Ho Chi Minh City for the grand finale of the competition. The finalists represented a truly diverse cross section of Vietnam’s business scene and included everything from recruiting services and online marketplaces to food delivery.

Sean Preston, country manager for Visa Vietnam and Laos, told VIR that the participants are comprised of fintech companies, startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Each of them has unique ideas to bring together different elements of technology as well as business processes to create products and services which will solve real-world problems.

This year, the participating startups were challenged to think about leveraging social media platforms to create a seamless financial/banking experience for the millennial segment. Another challenge was to give consumers a digital pay-on-delivery solution that meets their needs far better than cash payment. The third challenge asked the startups to expand the acceptance of electronic payments and provide value-added services to merchants.

Participants pitched their solutions to a panel of judges, competing for cash funding, access to Visa’s products and services, mentorship, support, and exposure to key Visa partners and clients. The winners will be selected based on a whole range of criteria, depending on different categories.

Preston explained that some of the criteria were how realistic the idea is, what opportunities are available for it, and whether it is already being implemented. Other criteria are related to the startup’s existing customer base, the possibility to scale up in the Vietnamese and regional market, and the impact for financial inclusion.

visa gives local startups a boost
EyeQ was declared the overall winner of the competition in Vietnam
visa gives local startups a boost won the VND100 million prize
visa gives local startups a boost
Audience Choice:

A round of applause for the winners

After the intense competition and selection process, the winners were finally announced and took home a total prize pool of VND700 million (nearly $35,000).

EyeQ was named the overall winner of this year’s competition, taking home VND500 million in funding and the chance to pilot their winning idea with Visa. EyeQ’s “Pay with Your Face” solution allows customers to authenticate payments with a selfie. Using facial recognition technology, EyeQ is designed to improve the security and speed of transactions.

According to Claudia Lagunas, senior director of global marketing innovation at Visa Global, EyeQ is on top lists everywhere. All the judges thought that EyeQ was a high-quality startup for several reasons, she said.

Le Mai Tung, CEO of EyeQ, has the knowledge and the qualifications required for what he is building, Lagunas emphasised. The startup also has good funding, as it has already raised close to $1 million. It also employs a very relevant technology which is highly secure, she added.

Lagunas stressed that security is one of the core criteria the judges take into consideration. On top of that, Visa’s partners and clients are very attracted to EyeQ’s technology, so it was part of the first choice for almost everyone, she said.

Meanwhile, household service startup won the Financial Inclusion category with a cash prize of VND100 million. The startup connects domestic workers and customers via mobile phone apps, thereby raising the income of female earners in Vietnam.

Nghiem Thanh Son, deputy director of the Payment Department under the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) and a judge for VEI, lauded the startup’s proposal to use digital payment options to pay salaries for working women. This is in line with the government’s attempts to expand financial inclusion in Vietnam, he stressed., a travel startup connecting local guides with travellers, scooped up the Audience Choice Award and VND100 million in the prize value. The award was voted on by the audience at the pitch event.

Privileges for the winners

Visa is the most trusted brand in payments, with extraordinary representation globally. Winning the VEI will help validate the quality of a startup, which is the main reason attracting the startups to the competition.

Lagunas said that there are many opportunities for the winning startups. As Visa is the biggest payment network in the world, the company has a tremendous amount of partners to which it can introduce the startups. As the startups are seeking to acquire new clients, Visa is happy to present them to its client base.

On top of that, having the Visa brand backing up their solutions is something that can bring more value to the startups, in addition to the financing in the shape of prize money.

On the same note, Preston added that Visa is proud to provide a platform for the startups to showcase their work, get them more exposure, and help turn their business ideas into reality.

“We hope that the initiative will accelerate the work they are doing, particularly around the electronic payment and financial inclusion space. If we can facilitate these innovations, it would be a good representation of Visa’s commitments to Vietnam and the growth of the country,” he added.

The advantage of these startups is that they not only have great ideas, but have solutions and products already in place. Hence, Visa can use and leverage their products without having to wait and see whether the idea really works.

Driving fintech forward

Addressing the event, To Duy Lam, director of the SBV’s Ho Chi Minh City Office, expressed his great appreciation for Visa’s initiative, its promotion of innovation in the financial services industry, and its support for the startup community in Vietnam. He emphasised his belief that in the near future, these fintech ideas would be nurtured, perfected, and offered to customers.

Vietnam is now home to around 80 fintech companies operating in a wide range of subsectors, including payments, loan application or financing, blockchain, money transfers, and biometric solutions. In 2016 and 2017, the total investment into local fintech companies was reported to reach approximately $129 million, according to Pham Tien Dung, director of the SBV’s Payment Department.

With a vision to shape the future of commerce and payments, Visa is seeking further collaboration with startups in Vietnam.

Lagunas from Visa Global told VIR that Vietnam is an important market for Visa because the country is still cash-driven. Meanwhile, its fintech industry is still in the early stages of development. The company sees great opportunities to develop digital payment in the market. She expected that with this kind of programme, the Vietnamese fintech industry would grow stronger, underscoring Visa’s solid commitment to the startup community.

Visa’s Everywhere Initiative was first launched in 2015 to harness creativity and talent within the worldwide startup community. Since then, the programme has seen the participation of over 2,100 startups worldwide, who have collectively raised over $2 billion in funding.

Le Mai Tung - CEO, EyeQ

visa gives local startups a boost

EyeQ, the computer vision startup, is honoured to be the winner of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative 2018 for its “Pay With Your Face” product. Applying facial recognition technology, the startup hopes that buying things with a smartphone will become as easy as taking a selfie. Customers can substitute signatures and PINs with their face to make payments without a card.

EyeQ aims to offer customers more options and flexibility with different biometric methods including facial recognition. Besides providing customers with a new experience, its facial recognition system also enhances the security of payment and transaction processes. While a signature can be faked and a PIN is easily forgotten or lost, face-matching systems can be nearly 98 per cent accurate, providing a safe and convenient payment option for consumers.

In Vietnam, where cash-on-delivery is still the norm, EyeQ has tremendous opportunities to grow its business. Vietnam’s burgeoning e-commerce market was valued at $2.7 billion in 2017 and may reach $4.5 billion in 2022. At present, almost 85 per cent of all e-commerce orders are cash-on-delivery, while 14 per cent are digital payments.

Taking part in Visa’s Everywhere Initiative has been a fantastic opportunity for EyeQ to gain exposure, network with other startups and business leaders, and generally refine our products. Visa’s API (Application Programme Interface) System is a diverse ecosystem that helps startups and fintech companies to develop. After this competition, we hope EyeQ will receive more attention to expand our offering, and to really put our proposal into action.

Being endorsed by a leading digital payment provider like Visa will improve EyeQ’s brand awareness and marketing. With a vision to go global, EyeQ sees the competition as a shortcut to bring our offerings to overseas markets. EyeQ hopes to extend its reach to more of Visa’s partners and clients, and one day it will integrate the system into their platforms. To facilitate this goal, the startup is seeking more talent in the areas of artificial intelligence and computer vision.

Over the past few years, Vietnam’s startup scene has picked up momentum thanks to the government’s incentives and various initiatives in place. Vietnam is a high-potential market for startups, with enormous opportunities to innovate and expand. However, there are not many investment funds for Vietnamese startups. Hopefully, more programmes like Visa’s Everywhere Initiative will continue to give rise to new fintech companies and new payment methods in Vietnam.

The founder of EyeQ graduated from the doctoral programme at the University of New South Wales, one of the Top 100 programmes in Computer Science. With a deep knowledge of big data, he wishes to create intelligent and innovative products offering high quality. EyeQ officially made its debut in Startup Wheel 2017, where it also picked up the first prize. Since then, the startup has begun to gain traction with its products for coffee shops, airport security, transport, and smart cities.

With a focus on facial payment systems, EyeQ has developed a track record for face recognition by successfully identifying over two million Asian (including Vietnamese) faces. Hence, its service is trusted and used by its corporate clients such as Vingroup and Unilever Vietnam. EyeQ is looking for opportunities to integrate its face recognition system into mobile wallets, banks, and insurance companies, in addition to collaborating with Visa in the future.

Phan Hong Minh - Founder and CEO,

visa gives local startups a boost

Vietnam-based housekeeping service has won the Financial Inclusion Award at Visa’s Everywhere Initiative this year. Known as the Uber for housekeepers, aims to change the traditional housekeeping industry in Vietnam by connecting domestic workers with households online. We currently operate in 10 cities and provinces across Vietnam with a plan to scale up the operations to 20 cities and provinces by the end of next year. applies modern technologies in the recruitment, training, and management of its workers to consistently manage and improve its service quality. As a result, the startup helps resolve most of the problems of modern households by providing trained domestic workers on an hourly basis.

The startup, launched in 2012, has become a leading housekeeping service with a plan to increase its offerings to 10 services next year. estimates that it will create nearly 1.2 million working hours for 2,000 workers in Vietnam this year. It is also projected to process 350,000 transactions in 2018, with $3 million in revenue.

Like other fast-growing businesses, the number one pain point aims to address at the moment is its payment method. The startup reported that 93 per cent of its customers currently use cash or bank transfer payments, and only 7 per cent of customers have adopted internet banking. This causes several problems for the startup, including a complicated process, incorrect information, and a long waiting time. hopes that it can work with Visa to solve these problems and integrate Visa solutions such as Funds Transfer and mVisa directly in its platform. These products will help the startup optimise its mobile app’s performance, especially given that most of its workers and customers are using the app on smartphones.

It is obvious that the collaboration with Visa will bring a lot of advantages for the users. Their transactions will be safer because they no longer need to carry money. They can also use one card for all home services provided by

Meanwhile, the tie-up will help Visa strengthen its cash-less business, not only in Vietnam’s large cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but also expanding to other provinces. On top of that, it gives Visa a chance to have a larger social impact in Vietnam by supporting millions of working women to find part-time jobs and earn additional income.

For, winning this award is of great significance. Being certified by Visa, the world’s biggest digital payment provider, will help boost the startup’s brand. It also shows that Visa pays attention to small businesses and the startup community in Vietnam.

I think that Visa’s Everywhere Initiative is a good programme, because it gathers many quality startups with creative ideas. We have learned a lot from the instructions offered by Visa’s experts as well as using Visa’s direct APIs to solve our payment problems. In addition, the competition is a good chance to brush up our presentation skills. We performed the pitch three times before the grand finale of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative.

Moving forward, we will integrate Visa products into our platform to improve the transparency of payment and transaction processes. Besides developing digital payment solutions, we plan to introduce certain other services like massage at home, babysitting, and elderly care, among others, to help our customers optimise their time and make their lives more convenient. will continue its expansion efforts to bring more opportunities for low-income women in Vietnam.

Hai Ho - CEO,

visa gives local startups a boost

We are very proud that has outstripped many competitors to win the Audience Choice Award in Visa’s Everywhere Initiative this year. This award shows that our product is recognised and meets the requirements of many users.

Our project has been in use for more than four years and has gained initial revenue. When they found out about us, Visa actively reached out and asked us to participate in this competition. At the same time, I also realised that I was struggling with the problem of how to receive payment from international tourists all over the world. Thanks to this competition, Visa helped connect us to other startups to co-work and map out directions for us to develop our company in the coming years. For startups in general and for in particular, it is very important to be able to reach up globally. We are able to do that with the assistance of Visa which has a global network, a long history, and, most importantly, has many related entities which we can be connected with.

Visa has met all of our requirements and answered all of our questions and connected us globally. Visa has even helped gather interested companies from different countries to sit down and work out feasible solutions for their needs. Vietnamese startups have not been given an opportunity like this before. It has special significance for startups like us, as we do not have many relations with other partners. There is a slogan in Vietnam that we are “bringing Vietnamese startups to the world,” but questions remain about where to go and how to go there. And Visa helps us with this task.

Through this competition, I have learned many new things. One of them is that in order to let startups reach out to the global environment, we need the input of different bodies and sides, and startups cannot do it by themselves. Visa is the most interested in solutions which have an impact on the majority of society. It is not enough for a startup to make a product to get revenue; the product must also be of some benefit to society. Vietnamese startups should concentrate on this target, so they can be assisted by Visa and many other companies and organisations globally. This is absolutely the best way to help Vietnamese startups reach out to the global economy.

Of course, opportunities are always accompanied by challenges. One of the biggest challenges was to meet Visa’s requirements with the best answers. We were lucky because we had four opportunities to discuss all requirements with Visa’s team from the US, to find out exactly what we had to do for this competition. Many things were done, many dossiers and proposals were sent between us, and we finally worked out the best way to implement our plan.

Now we have our products, and Visa is assisting us in introducing our products to other partners in the global network. It is so great! We are well aware that this is only the first step and there is a tough road ahead. Let’s go and reach further!

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