Marking their third birthday that, through no accident, is on International Women’s Day, the Women’s Initiative for Start-up Entrepreneurship (WISE) launched the WISE Women Innovation Accelerator 2019 program.  

Seeking out women-led start-ups, the WISE Women Innovation Accelerator 2019 is the only accelerator for women-owned businesses in Vietnam and is now taking applications from women-led start-ups who want to expand their business to the next level.  

The new program will be supported by the Australian Government and the Asian Development Bank, in cooperation with Swiss EP, SAP, and other partners.

“We believe advancing gender equality is the most productive way of addressing poverty,” began Ms. Deborah Paul, the Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam, as she gave the opening remarks at the WISE workshop today in Hanoi.   

“Programs like WISE are accelerating women’s entrepreneurship in Vietnam, inspiring women everywhere by leading by example,” continued the Canadian Ambassador, as she addressed an eclectic crowd of entrepreneurs, development professionals, and local press. 

Earlier this week, a national competition was launched by the Women’s Initiative for Start-up Entrepreneurship (WISE) to develop technological means of empowering rural women.  

“Technologies for Equality” was the result of a collaborative effort between the Irish government and the Australian government, with WISE managing the contest, hoping to establish technological solutions to issues faced by women in rural Vietnam.   

As CEO of WISE, Ms. Từ Thu Hiền has dedicated the past three years to developing a new wave of female entrepreneurship. 

“We believe in the power of networking, of connectivity, and in the power of the women supporting women.”  

“Through our WISE women accelerator, we’ll help to ease the burden of prejudices that women face in Vietnam,” continued Hiền.  

These are not imagined prejudices or issues either. In Vietnam, a staggering 73% of people believe the tech industry is sexist. (Source: Guardian newspaper) Yet return on investment (ROI) is 35% higher in women-led tech start-ups and they make two times more revenue on average after five years of operating (Source: Kauffman Foundation).

Despite this, just 2% of venture-funded firms have women CEOs (Pitchfork data) and a substantial 86% of companies have no women in management. It’s a situation that’s sadly mirrored for much of the world over. 

Women in start-ups – especially tech-start-ups – are grossly underrepresented.  

Attitudes towards gender and work in Vietnam are steadily changing, but there remains a lingering belief that women lack the confidence to run a business. WISE is taking the steps necessary to address this outmoded way of thinking. 

Last year along, WISE signed up more than 200 female entrepreneurs from across four countries.

As the only women-led start-up accelerator in Vietnam, WISE have benefited from developing a vast and varied network spanning across Vietnam and internationally. Of the 12 teams showcased last year, ten were from Vietnam. After six months, five of them had garnered international exposure and raised over $800,000. Two teams featured have since expanded their operations internationally, but it all starts with a leap of faith.  

It all starts with WISE. 

“I highly recommend accelerator programs,” explains Marita Schultze, Chairwoman of the World Innovation Forum, “It connects you to people who will help you to get over obstacles you wouldn’t even see otherwise, programs like WISE help you with issues that are outside of your comfort zone.” 

Speaking at today’s WISE workshop, Mrs. Schultze brought her expertise to bear in a valuable speech that sought to provide the open, collaborative environment that’s crucial to sustaining the women-led start-up ecosystem.  

A self-made billionaire and long-serving advocate of women’s role in business leadership, Mrs. Schultze was on hand to reinforce WISE’s advocacy for women supporting women. Joining her onstage at today’s event, winners from last year’s accelerator program explained how WISE had helped propel their businesses to new levels. 

“I started the accelerator program in 2018,” said Huyen Tran, founder and CEO of True Juice – a healthy living focused business that has now flourished since graduating from the WISE accelerator program. 

“Joining WISE gave me access to an open network, it connected me to so many opportunities that I didn’t have before, I was able to interact with so many other women running start-ups and that is a truly valuable resource.” 

It’s a notion that COO of ABIVIN, Cassie Nguyen, agrees with, “The biggest impact has been the network, WISE connect you with the right mentors, the right opportunities, and you get the right advice on how to overcome challenges.” 

ABIVIN won last year’s accelerator showcase and Cassie remains in touch with the networks she made through WISE.  

“We’ve grown a lot since winning last year, but the best benefit has been the network – that’s proven to be one of the things that people, especially investors or potential partners, tend to look at when you’re a start-up.”  

With applications now officially open for the WISE Women Innovation Accelerator 2019, CEO of WISE, Ms. Từ Thu Hiền, offered sage words of wisdom and welcomed Vietnam’s female entrepreneurs to join them. 

“Get a good pitch, present it clearly – this is such an important step and it refines your knowledge of your product, so – naturally – it’s good development for your business. If you can clearly articulate your concept in your pitch deck, you’ll be far better equipped to sell your product.” 

This is what lies at the heart of all that WISE does with successful applicants. It seeks to expertly steer female entrepreneurs through the complexities of turning a dream into reality. The success of True Juice, ABIVIN, and a whole host of other innovative teams that took part last year is testament to the value of WISE. 

“You’ve got to be open to the opportunities that come up in the WISE program,” explains Huyen, “The best advice I could give to anyone looking to take part is be prepared – be ready to review your ideas, be ready to be judged, and be ready to change.” 

With hundreds of applicants expected to submit their proposals before the April deadline, Cassie Nguyen offers her advice to those ready to take the next step. 

“If you want to get the most out of WISE’s accelerator program, you need to prepare – establish what you want to learn or improve. This will help you get the support from the right people for the deeper knowledge that you need, it’s all about setting clear goals.” 

For more information on this incredible opportunity to take your business to the next level, please visit the WISE Women Innovation Accelerator program’s website to check your eligibility and see all the latest news on the program.