Startup is always difficult, and it leaves no exception for scientists. First working at laboratories and afterwards starting a business in the field of green agriculture, "business scientists" often have to find ways to approach the market.

Phuong Nam Biotechnology Co., Ltd led by Dr. Vo Thi Hanh is an example. Established in 2013, the company launched a product utilizing alcohol and waste water from alcohol distillation to produce bio-products that help reduce the consumption of animal feed. After 3-4 days of alcohol distillation, a type of waste liquid called 'hem ruou‘ will be removed. This liquid has high nutritional value but often wasted by large factories. Mrs. Hanh and her associates take it to the factory and carry out microbiological treatment to produce a product that helps reduce the consumption of animal feed. According to Mrs. Hanh, 5 liters of the solution dissolved into a ton of fish feed would reduce FCR by 10%, a very remarkable result for feeding field. However, the product was unable to reach the target customers and consumed mainly by partners with the help of existing relationships. “The company staff are not specialized in sales, although they are directly involved in the product research”, said Hanh. Bio Phuong Nam does not have any specialized department in sales and marketing, neither.

*Dr. Vo Thi Hanh - Director of Phuong Nam Biotechnology Co., Ltd

Or take the case of Mitecom - Mr. Le Dinh Duan’s enterprise manufacturing biological products to treat agricultural waste into organic fertilizer. According to the calculations of the enterprise, if the product is disseminated, 600 thousand tons of agricultural by-product can be processed into 300 thousand tons of organic fertilizer each year, reducing 64,000 tons of CO for not using the traditional burning method. Despite such potential expected output, the enterprise still faces a business issue. After leaving research work at National University, Mr. Duan founded the company in 2012, yet before 2016 Mitecom only sold products at field conference (taking place right at the farming field) with the aim of introducing the new technology to farmers. After each conference, the company would sell directly to farmers in need. This type of sales, with low percentage of costumers, couldn’t meet the potential of their well-completed product.

The connecting bridge named VCIC

Weak communication to the community and customers, slow growth of customers, insufficient output to ensure production, lack of professional sales staff, etc. are very common problems which scientists doing business such as Mrs. Hanh and Mr. Duan encounter. Well understanding this fact, Vietnam Climate Innovation Center (VCIC) has become a connecting bridge supporting enterprises as Mitecom and Bio Phuong Nam to overcome the difficulties through the 1st Proof of Concept (POC 1) in 2016.

Mitecom’s business strategy is reorganized by VCIC. From direct sales at field conferences, Mitecom was consulted to offer its product to farmer associations, cooperatives, and the network of fertilizer-plant protection product agencies. Mr. Nguyen Dinh Tien, VCIC's representative, said that if only focusing on selling to end-users, the company couldn’t grow. Thus, VCIC introduced Mitecom to the association of plants and cooperatives. With the presence of representatives from organizations, customer service became easier to manage and the sales increased dramatically. By the end of 2016, the company recorded a 30% increase in sales.

Before receiving VCIC grant, Dr. Vo Thi Hanh and his associates spent all of their capital invested in building and leasing land in a 50-year term. The development team are all scientists, none of whom dared to think of borrowing loans from the bank to continue product research. Later, Bio Phuong Nam was funded 32 thousand US dollars from VCIC. This financial resource was used to procure microbiological equipment and produce trial products for big and small plants across the Mekong Delta. “At that time, though not so large, the grant provided a great support for us. The cost for trial products was very high, and  we even had to pay extra money for factories to try our products and send back their measurement for our further research”, she said. With the sales training classes organized under the support of VCIC and the grant, 50 employees of Bio Phuong Nam now can present their own products; each individual is not only a professional staff but also become a sales staff for the company. At present, the output is 5-6 tons of product per month.

According to VCIC, start-ups run by scientists have 2 major weaknesses including business development and product communication. To improve the situation, it is vital to have the 'middle guy” like VCIC to bring businesses closer to the public. In the near future, in addition to providing consultancy and financial support, VCIC is introducing businesses like Bio Phuong Nam, or Mitecom to large international agricultural exhibitions.

Today, both Bio Phuong Nam and Mitecom are presenting at GrowTech, an international technology equipment exhibition for agro-forestry-fishery held for the first time in Vietnam with the attendance of businesses from the UK, Italy, the Czech Republic, Israel, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, China, etc. Businesses with attractive ideas like Bio Phuong Nam and Mitecom will have the opportunity to reach the international market.

Box: GROWTECH VIETNAM 2017 organized by the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with Adpex Natec from November 30 to December 2 at the ICE International Exhibition Center (91 Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi). This has been the exclusive workshop - exhibition specialized in machinery, equipment and technology in farming, harvesting and preserving of the largest scale in Vietnam so far, attracting large enterprises domestically and internationally in relevant fields. It is expected to bring changes and promote trade in agro-forestry-fishery in Vietnam