Alumni Profile: Annie Pham
International Trade Consultant & Entrepreneur, ShineBridge
Annie Pham was born in Vietnam, took her Master's degree at Åbo Akademi University, and is now running her own consulting business focusing on the trade between Vietnam and Finland.
Take the chance to grow beyond what is expected of you.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
My name is Kim Anh Pham, but I am also known as Annie. I was born and grew up in Ho Chi Minh City – the largest and busiest city of Vietnam. I am now living in Helsinki starting up my own consulting business, ShineBridge, with the goal to promote trading between Finland and Vietnam. I am also the co-founder of VietES – the Vietnamese Entrepreneurship Society in Finland – where I devote my free time to growing our community as a team lead in business development.
What subjects did you study? And when?
I completed a Master of Science (Business Administration and Economics) within the degree programme Digital and Mobile Business majoring in Information Systems. I studied at Åbo Akademi University between September 2014 and December 2016.
What made you choose Finland and Åbo Akademi University when there are so many other great countries and universities in the world?
When deciding to pursue a Master’s Degree, I had already lived in Finland for 6 years. I was in love with this country and intended to build my life here. I chose to study at the Åbo Akademi mainly because of the degree programme, which was specifically about e-commerce. While other universities in Finland had quite general programmes such as business management, strategy, etc., ÅAU offered a trendy as well as well-structured and focused programme. The digital and mobile business was booming both worldwide and in Finland, and I hoped the knowledge that I was going to acquire would benefit me greatly when building my career path.
Where have your studies taken you? What are you working with now and how did you get there?
I am an independent consultant focusing on the trade between Finland and Vietnam. In my work, I am strongly involved in different kinds of business analyses, such as market/industry research, consumer behavior, PESTLE, SWOT, etc. to find market opportunities and suitable partners. It is an interesting job where I learn to understand various industries and meet different stakeholders.
Concurrently, I am also working at VietES – my inspiring side hustle. VietES is a non-profit association and the first and only startup incubator for Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Finland. My team and I are building projects to foster Vietnamese and Finnish startups to scale internationally, which allows me to meet a lot of talented and successful people. Nothing feels better than knowing you are making a positive impact. That is exactly what my work brings to me.
Even though I am currently busy with the startup world, I am still looking for opportunities to advance my career and the business. I am thankful that I have learned about digitalization and acquired analytical skills during my study. It helps me to make better decisions in my work.
What would your best advice be for Finnish companies wishing to expand into the Vietnamese market?
I would say that ‘cold calling’ does not usually work. Have yourself introduced by mutual associates. Physical presence, such as face-to-face meetings and company visits, will also get you better results than online communication and emails. And, make sure you have a Vietnamese speaker with you to minimize the misunderstanding/nuances in communication.’
How do you remember your time at Åbo Akademi? Is there any special memory you would like to share with us?
The course I remember best is a project course lasting for 6 months, where I teamed up with five other students from different disciplines (from software development, UI/UX, marketing, sales) to build an application from idea to demo. We built the HowAbout mobile application to connect young people to meet up for lunch and other social activities based on their location. It was featured in the Aamuset, a local newspaper of Turku City. Those 6 months of hard work were exhausting but definitely worth the effort. I consider it a milestone, where I entered the startup world for the very first time.
One of the best courses I had was with Professor Christer Carlsson. The lessons were incredibly interesting, but at the same time quite stressful. Without being fully concentrated, you would probably embarrass yourself because he could throw you funny, yet tricky questions any time.
Do you have a message for today’s students, or perhaps for someone planning to study abroad?
It took me quite a long time to find a suitable job after graduation. There are many reasons for this, but I think the biggest barriers were language and inadequate skill sets.
In fact, I finished all my courses within 8 months and immediately concentrated on writing the thesis. This is what I regret the most. Because later, when I started applying for jobs in my field, I realized that companies expected a lot more of different skills, especially technical skills relating to data, software/tools usage, and even programming for which I was not well-prepared. I was in too much of a hurry to finish my degree.
I learned a big lesson. As a student, I should have been more proactive to explore courses offered in other programmes. I could also have made better use of my time, effort, and the university resources to learn extra skills. So take the chance to grow beyond what you are expected to – that’s my message to any student about to study at ÅAU as well as at other academic institutions. Studying is an endless possibility to learn, so take the chance to learn as much as you can and whenever you can.