Last year, the Vietnamese government asked me to organize a seminar in Hanoi on how to support the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems while I was teaching there as a Fulbright Scholar. Vietnam is one of the most entrepreneurial countries I have visited. Every very inch of street in Hanoi is crammed with mom-and-pop vendors selling everything from homemade chicken soup (pho) to batteries to nail clippers to toys. Vietnam's government is now searching for innovative new ways to tap that spirit. The goal is to boost technology-based entrepreneurship that could lead to significant job growth and wealth creation.
It may surprise you to learn that my hosts asked me not to focus on the success of Silicon Valley. Practically speaking, that would be hard to replicate in Southeast Asia. Instead, they wanted me to look at how my hometown, Cleveland, went about supporting young, high-growth companies.
After the decline of its manufacturing economy in the 1980s and 1990s, Cleveland saw its economic prospects dwindling. The city decided to support entrepreneurship through an array of new programs and institutions that were aimed at growing technology-based entrepreneurship, and have been successful in sectors from biomedical to software. Vietnam's economy, while very different, is also facing great change. The country introduced market reforms in the 1980s to move away from a centrally planned economy, and the nation has been going through a major economic transition.
(Read more: Why downturns spark start-up booms)