Vingroup, Vietnam’s biggest private-sector company, said on Wednesday that it planned to expand into artificial intelligence, software and big data and set up a Silicon Valley-style tech hub in Hanoi.

The sprawling Vietnamese group, which is already involved in real estate, retail, agriculture, education, carmaking and mobile phones, announced it was creating VinTech, its newest business unit, at a ceremony in the Vietnamese capital on Wednesday. Vingroup said that it aimed to become “an international-standard technology-industry-service conglomerate” within 10 years.

Vingroup said that VinTech would specialise in developing AI products, software programmes and new-generation materials. It said that it had set up two new research institutions devoted to big data and high tech, as well as a technology investment fund focused on projects “that are applicable on a global scale”.

“Investments in the two sectors will not only help Vingroup reach new heights, but also create a new tech-industry environment to boost Vietnam in the world’s technology ceremony,” said Nguyen Viet Quang, Vingroup’s deputy general director.

The company said that it had committed to employing 100,000 technology students within 10 years, and planned to build a tech hub in the Vietnamese capital modelled on Silicon Valley. Vingroup gave no details of the amount it planned to invest in the fund, or its foray into high tech.

The push into tech will mark the latest move into a new business area by a company that describes itself as a “cradle to grave” supplier of goods and services to Vietnam’s fast-growing economy, and is positioning itself as a partner of choice for foreign companies seeking to enter the market.

It will come at a time when the country’s communist rulers are seeking to promote “national champion” local producers in areas such as carmaking and pharmaceuticals.

Vingroup has over the past year listed Vincom Retail and Vinhomes, its retail and real estate arms, and embarked on a bold but risky move into car and scooter production through VinFast, its automaking division. Vinfast’s partners and vendors include General Motors, BMW, and Siemens, with which Vingroup agreed earlier this month to produce electric buses.

The company grew rich as Vietnam’s economy opened to the world, and Forbes lists his net worth as $6.7bn, making him the country’s richest man.

By John Reed - The Financial Times - August 22, 2018

Separately, Vingroup last month announced an agreement with the Spanish company BQ to produce smartphones under the Vsmart brand name.

“They are moving away from their original core business of real estate into a new core business of lifestyle,” said Fiachra Mac Cana, head of research at Ho Chi Minh City Securities. “Perhaps we need to look at comparative companies in countries like South Korea and Japan, where you have your classic chaebol with five or six businesses that is seen as a national champion.”

Vingroup was founded in 1993 under the name Techcom by Pham Nhat Vuong, a former geology student in Moscow, who developed what was to become Ukraine’s top instant noodle brand.