Finance · 10 September 2019

Lessons in campaigning and fundraising from a disruptive vietnamese startup

Social entrepreneurialism sounds like a fluffy concept to some, so what does it really mean? Moreover, what does the term mean to entrepreneurs driving in that particular lane? Do they really want to save the world? Do they just want to make money? Or maybe ‘true’ social entrepreneurs advocate for a sweet spot in between?

We speak to Vulcan Augmetics, a Vietnamese startup that’s changing perceptions of disability by creating affordable and work-friendly prosthetic limbs for consumers with physical disabilities.

General Manager, Ella Trinh, details their fundraising and networking journey including what methods work best for social impact businesses like theirs, (including the fact that a strong mission can encourage stakeholders to help you out for free! But more on that later).

Business Advice, (BA): What makes your brand stand out in the tech and social impact space?

Ella Trinh, (ET): I think it’s our combined approach that makes us special. Not only are we offering specialised tech solutions for people with physical disabilities, but we also understand the deeper cause of the problem. Disability itself isn’t a problem, it’s employment.

People, especially in Vietnam, are stuck with fake prosthetics that don’t work properly, so they can’t make a living. We create ones that adapt to work functions, including basic hand movement for daily functions.

What we provide is an option for them to take it off and put on a working model that helps them work in a specialist job. Our goal is to help amputees get back into the workforce with product and skils based training.

BA: For social impact businesses, in particular, is networking really that effective for making lasting connections?

ET: Meeting and networking with like-minded people are very important, and especially if you’re in the social impact sector. I can’t describe in words how fortunate we are to meet people who share the same passion for social enterprise.

For example, we were part of the Chivas Venture competition earlier this year in Amsterdam and we met a guy from Japan there whose wife is working in the Paralympics sector in Japan.

From that meeting, we’re already figuring how we can work together. Attending business events and competitions make for invaluable contact experience, we would have never met those people if we didn’t make an effort and network.

BA: How do investors view social impact startups these days? Are perceptions changing?

ET: In Vietnam, there aren’t that many social impact competitions, it’s still a new trend as we’re still a developing country. This means that investors are still quite averse to funding social impact businesses. Sometimes, people think were an NGO, not a commercial set-up.

However, there’s a’shift in attitude happening now. Being seen as a social enterprise is actually good for startups generally, investors get excited, they sit up and ask, ‘why, and how?’ That’s how we survived the last 18 months with limited funding. We’ve had active support from marketing advisors, and have had people chipping in and offering their favours because they believe in the company and what we’re doing.

BA: How about the funding climate for social impact businesses generally?



Annie May is the Features Editor at Real Business and Business Advice. Following her graduation from LSE, she embarked upon a freelance career in current affairs journalism. Annie has written on subjects varying from African history and contemporary politics to community business and current affairs news in London. At Real Business and Business Advice, Annie is passionate about highlighting inclusive and diverse business disruptors and organisations for our evolving readership. Annie believes in fostering community inclusion and has volunteered for organisations such as Fairfield House, a UK based Rastafari centre and a senior citizen association for ethnic minority men and women.

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