31-year-old Luu Thi Hoa grew up in Dong Van, Ha Giang, a remote Northern region of Vietnam. Her business Po Mỷ Cooperative grows fruit and seeds and produces local highland specialty food products like mint honey, which she sells at agricultural product fairs and shops in the cities.
Luu Thi Hoa started her business after witnessing the desperation of local farmers who were unable to sell their fruits and vegetables and fed them to buffaloes. She says,
“My hometown products are special, and they do not deserve to be mistreated like that. Dong Van nurtured me and now it’s time for me to repay it.”
When starting her business, Luu Thi Hoa encountered two main challenges, the first one being disapproval from her family and husband who wanted her to stick to her 9 to 5 job. Secondly, she lives in a low-income area of Vietnam where the entrepreneurship ecosystem is still in its very early stages. Consequently, supporting policies or incentives for entrepreneurs, startups and women are lacking. Training activities are implemented periodically but they are incoherent and do not have an impact for businesses like hers.
After doing some research into support programmes for aspiring women entrepreneurs like her, Luu Thi Hoa came across YBI member Startup Vietnam Foundation’s (SVF) “Women Collaboration - Future Creation” programme, part of YBI’s Futuremakers programme supported by Standard Chartered Foundation, and decided to join.
Through the programme, Luu Thi Hoa was matched with a mentor who had expertise and experience in the agricultural and food production sector. SVF provided ongoing guidance and support with arranging meetings between Luu Thi Hoa and her mentor as well as writing and implementing action plans after each meeting. Luu Thi Hoa says,
“Besides having a wealth of experience, knowledge, and expertise, my mentor also has a keen desire to share this information. His honest feedback pushed me out of my comfort zone to enter the learning zone and walk away with steps I can take to improve.”
Following the programme, Luu Thi Hoa reports that her business skills improved from 5 (before the programme) to 8 out of 10. She has implemented numerous changes in her business, from modifying her business model to surveying customers’ needs and executing a new marketing strategy with Mint Honey as her flagship product. Dong Van mint requires soil and water free of chemicals to grow, making its cultivation sustainable and environmentally friendly. Luu Thi Hoa markets this as the USP for her Mint Honey. She says, “I now feel very confident in the sustainability of my business plan. I hope that my business will inspire other young entrepreneurs to stay in my village and contribute to its economy.”
Luu Thi Hoa is passionate about encouraging young people in the Ha Giang region to get into entrepreneurship. She has given talks at local colleges and offers training on sales, where participants are given the opportunity to sell her products and earn commission. She organises tours of her farm and factory for local youth, where they learn about mint harvesting and manufacturing agricultural products. She even recently started ‘The Club of Startups’, which aims to nourish the startup ideas of local young people. The club currently has seven members, two of whom are running business projects trading local agricultural products.
Luu Thi Hoa’s success story is a brilliant example of how local, female-owned businesses can impact and transform communities if they receive the right support to succeed.