Hanoi, November 26:

With a father in the military and a teaching mother, Nguyen Hoa Binh seemed destined for a career in the public sector. But this 25-year-old from Ha Tay province, north of Hanoi, ch-ose instead to cr-eate his own Internet start -up, PeaceSoft. The firm speciali-ses in e-busin-ess, setting up Internet portals for businesses and administrations.

Vietnam this month received the green light to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and now attracts technology giants such as Intel and Microsoft. And the country’s youth tends to worship Bill Gates as its new idol, rather than Ho Chi Minh, the father of modern Vietnam. “While most people still prefer a secure and stable life in a big company, there are more and more young Vietnamese people like me,” said Binh. “Born after the war, in a Vietnam finally opening its doors, we are fascinated with information and communication technology (ICT) and are ready to take risks and start our own company.”

Two thirds of Vietnam’s population are under 30 and “they are Internet-savvy”, said Henry Nguyen, managing partner at IDG Venture Vietnam, a US-bac-ked investment fu-nd specialising in the ICT sector.

The number of Internet users has increased from just 500,000 in 2000 to more than 14 million, while the number of mobile phone subscribers has risen from 789,000 to 13.5 million. This growth is among the strongest in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a study by investment bank Rothschild. And it is far from over. If the economy keeps growing at between seven and eight per cent a year, Rothschild believes the ICT market could expand at 20 per cent.

“The IT sector in Vietnam is still in its early stages, so there are a lot of opportunities for small companies to get started and thrive,” said Nguyen Minh Hieu, 26, from Hanoi. After two years at university in Sydney, this son of a civil servant last April set up DreamViet, a comparative shopping website. La-st month, he noted with envy how American giant Intel, along with Texas Pacific Group, invested $36.5 million in Vietnam’s leading ICT firm, FPT.