iNUT: From Gamer to Founder to now CEO

3 August 2019 | The Information Technology Park (ITP) of Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh city (VNU-HCMC) first introduced Swiss EP to iNUT after the team won US$5,000 cash prize as the best student startup by the Ministry of Education & Training (MOET). A small room at ITP is the headquarter of iNUT Technology Investment & Development Joint Stock Company. As of June 2019, the company has 12 staff members – of which 11 are students. The founder and CEO Ngo Huynh Ngoc Khanh (born 1996) has just graduated in late 2018.

Khanh – the student presented Mr. Obama a 3D lotus made by his laser cutter when the US President visited Vietnam in May 2016 – appeared a small and quite tech geek.

As a member of Robotics & IOT Lab of AILab (VNU-HCMC) Khanh learned that his kLaserCutter – which can cut 3D pictures on wood and other materials and controlled by computer – was selected to showcase to Mr. Obama two days before the visit. “I want to present it to President Obama because lotus is considered national symbol of Vietnam – showing the elegance, purity, and intelligence of Vietnamese people,” said Khanh. Khanh started to design kLaserCutter when he could not do kirigami (a variation of Japanese origami) manually in summer 2015. Nine months later, he showed the US President how the machine – controlled by an open operating system designed and developed by himself – works. Khanh made a kLaserCutter at the cost of US$700 which is one fifteenth of the price of an industrial laser-cutter. All design of hardware and operating system software of kLaserCutter are shared on http://arduino.vn/.

“I used to be addicted to games when I was at grade 4,” Khanh told of his early entrance to the computer world with a sense of feeling guilty. Khanh quickly lost his top position in class. “Fortunately, my teacher and family, with their discipline and love, showed me that there are more interesting stuffs in computer than games.” Khanh was lucky having his teacher as the first mentor to guide him to the fantastic world of computer programmers. Khanh is still a gamer as playing games helps him overcome stress and get new ideas. He, however, spends most of his time on exploring new frontiers of computers and applications of internet-of-things in daily life and business world.

Khanh founded http://arduino.vn/ in late 2013 with a mission to disseminate IOT and programming knowledge to young Vietnamese who are newbies in information technology, computer science, and physics by helping them to make their own IOT applications. There are now more than 70,000 members in the community, the largest in Vietnam, with 2 million views every month.

At the beginning, Arduino Vietnam was more personal hobby and for fun. Then members started asking Khanh about where to buy hardware (i.e., circuit boards, sensors, and controllers) operating software, and how to make and control the “things” through computer programs. The increasing number of enquiries encouraged Khanh to do something to meet the need. As an effort to commercialize his graduation study, Khanh managed to sell handful of circuit boards for controlling lights in 2017. One problem popped up: hardware is not enough to create an IOT application.

To solve the problem, in early 2018, Khanh introduced iNUT Platform that standardizes IOT programing modules and corresponding hardware equipment. iNUT operating system allows developers to build applications on iNUT circuit boards. Early versions of iNUT circuit boards were capable of controlling one, then three equipment. Khanh was so happy with the progress and quickly learned a business lesson. “Sell what market needs not what you can do.” The price of iNUT circuit boards was double that of Chinese manufacturers.

Khanh, with support from his elder brother, fixed the problem by interviewing more users and potential buyers about what they need and are willing to pay for. In April-May 2018, Khanh realized a need for IOT application in smart farming. When production sites are hard to access positions, producers can save a lot money if they can monitor and control temperature, moisture, and other climate indicators remotely and automatically. With a circuit board that can control eight equipment and monitoring program dedicated to specific productions, iNUT found first clients.

To formalize a business, Khanh learned about services of ITP – a startup ecosystem in VNU-HCMC. In June 2018, iNUT team got an office in ITP. The team also accessed to ITP’s laboratory to manufacture first smart farming applications. Khanh – the founder – begun participating in business training sessions by ITP trainers and business guest speakers. He quickly realized that a company needs more team members than the geeks. Phu – who studies business and economics at law school – was invited to join iNUT and in charge of business development. Through ITP’s Create Idea Contest (CiC) 2018, Khanh found mentors and even got investment offer from an ITC corporation.

“The corporation wants to get 2.5% equity stake of iNUT for US$30,000. But we don’t know if we should take the deal,” Khanh told ITP managers. iNUT Technology Investment & Development Joint Stock Company was founded in August 2018. By the end of the year, the Company made revenue of US$40,000 and reached break-even. In 2019, Khanh has a plan to increase sales to smart-farming producers, offer training services on IOT, and develop more applications in more productions such as mushroom growing and hydroponics. Khanh also wants to learn more about business management.

“This is a critical time for iNUT to scale up and grow,” said Le Nhat Quang, Vice Director of Innovative Entrepreneurship Center VNU-HCM (IEC) of ITP. “Khanh and his team are talented engineers. They however need a lot of mentorship on business management and leadership. We are trying to connect iNUT with more business executives. It is important that the team is young and coachable.”

In addition to equipping the tech founder with business management foundation knowledge, ITP’s networks of mentors and business angels will help Khanh and iNUT getting ready for blitzscaling – that is moving faster than competitors in an uncertain world of business. iNUT can do that, we believe, with their talent and love of technology for good life./.

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