Pitch Contest Goes to Vietnam

The University of Dayton launches an entrepreneurship competition in Ho Chi Minh City.

EVERY BUSINESS SCHOOL wants to make an impact, but for Western schools seeking to make their marks in Asia, it can be difficult to choose markets where they will not be duplicating the efforts of schools already on the ground. That difficulty led the University of Dayton (UD) in Ohio to expand its entrepreneurship programs to less prominent regions in Asia—particularly those proving to be up-and-coming markets for startups.

In 2012, for example, the school opened its China Institute in a business park in Suzhou, China, where it offered interdisciplinary training programs and a business plan competition for its students. (See “Eastern Exposure” in the January/February 2016 issue of BizEd.) Last fall, it added a new city to its international business plan competition: Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The new location made sense, given the school’s desire to make an impact on new startup markets, says Vincent Lewis, director of UD’s L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “Ho Chi Minh City is not getting as much attention as some of the more well-known areas like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai,” Lewis says. “We felt that we could have more impact on the startup ecosystem in a developing area.”

To enter the market with more confidence, the university partnered with Hatch Ventures, a nongovernmental organization based in Hanoi. “Hatch was already running an annual startup weekend in Hanoi,” Lewis explains. The university linked its event specifically to Hatch! Battle Junior, a competition involving both university and high school students in Vietnam.

UD’s competition, now called Flyer Pitch, involves students in Ho Chi Minh City, Suzhou, and Dayton. The event, which includes six rounds, kicked off in October of last year and finishes this spring. Initial one-minute “Shark Tank”- style elevator pitches were held in each of the home cities; intermediate rounds were held at UD and the China Institute. During the final round, to be held in Dayton in March, teams that won previous rounds will give 20-minute presentations. Finalists from Asia will be flown to Dayton for free.

About 200 teams competed in the first round, including 50 from Vietnam, 70 from Suzhou, and 80 from Dayton. In January, 17 finalists gave five-minute presentations and answered questions for five minutes from a panel of judges. These included five Dayton-based teams and 12 Asia-based teams that gave their pitches at the China Institute. The judges chose one team from each group to compete in the final round.

Winners at all stages of the competition will share US$150,000 in cash prizes and $150,000 worth of support, ranging from legal advice to sales training. The team that wins the grand prize will receive US$25,000.

A unique feature of this year’s Flyer Pitch is the addition of high-school-age participants in Vietnam. The university did not make special accommodations for these younger students, says Lewis. In fact, one of the two teams that won the pitch round in Ho Chi Minh City was led by a high school student.

This year, UD added special prizes for green technology and social enterprises in the first round. It also added a technology transfer award, sponsored by The Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton, for teams working with the United States Air Force Technology Acceleration Program.

Lewis notes that the most challenging part of expanding the competition to Vietnam was establishing new contacts. For that reason, coordinators realized early on that that they would need to partner with a credible organization if they wanted the event to succeed.

The pitch round in Ho Chi Minh City was the first time UD had experimented with “franchising” its competition to an external organization. “Hatch already had an established network of mentors and investors, as well as strong local market knowledge,” says Lewis. “The fact that we were a complete unknown in Vietnam made holding the event in Vietnam a more complicated endeavor.”

Read more about Flyer Pitch at udayton.edu/business/academics/centers/crottycenter.