10/24/2022 12:11:05 PM
The Illinois CS alumnus founded Dat Bike in 2019, creating Vietnam’s first domestically produced electric motorbike, to decrease the country’s dependence on gasoline while maintaining performance in its preferred vehicle.
“Made in Vietnam.”
Son Nguyen (BS, MS CS ’14) can’t hide his pride when he sees these exact words in association with the electric motorbikes he created through his very own startup company, Dat Bike.
The Illinois Computer Science alumnus started on this path about five years ago with a few ambitious goals in mind. Nguyen wanted to create something that mattered to his entire home country of Vietnam. He wanted to work in a way that his family members revered and saw value in. And he wanted to provide himself with a sense of fulfillment and meaning through a creation that benefited others.
It’s not a simple path to take on such an ambitious mindset, but Nguyen did not shrink away from the moment. Instead, all of his energy and passion went into the creation of Dat Bike, Vietnam’s first domestically made electric motorbike since 2019.
The product he created accounts for a major change in Vietnam’s preferred method of transportation, by reversing years of reliance on gasoline for the bikes that many people in the country use.
“Motorcycles are just as common in Vietnam as cars are in the United States, with most homes having at least one or two of them,” Nguyen said. “However, all motorcycles in Vietnam are imported from Japanese or Chinese brands. Our products gained respect from the local authorities and customers because we do it on our own. This proves that Vietnamese engineers can make things happen.
“We are not just the first and only ‘made in Vietnam’ product in the market, we also provide high performance with the best price and the fastest charging bike.”
This combination of technical proficiency combined with personal inspiration is what Nguyen believes fuels the difference in Dat Bike.
It was a winding path to find this balance, though.
Nguyen can recall choosing to attend Illinois CS for his undergraduate studies, proud that he was accepted to a top-5 program in his chosen field of study. He felt like he took full advantage of the learning opportunities presented during his time here, too.
Upon graduating, he entered the financial sector. Despite success in his job, Nguyen had difficulty finding the meaning in his work. He had trouble explaining what he did to family members, who, in turn, had trouble understanding what his accomplishments meant.
Soon, he turned away from the position despite success.
That, he said, was his initial step toward becoming an entrepreneur.
“I decided to travel, as a way to conduct serious self-reflection,” Nguyen said. “When I became totally free of mind, I thought about what I should do to contribute to my country, something I could proudly share with family and friends and that they could understand. That’s when I turned my attention to the air quality in Vietnam, which was not so good due to emissions from gasoline vehicles.
“Without any hesitation, I knew I wanted to make electric bikes to replace all the gas bikes out there.”
Prior to the moment of creation for Dat Bike, Nguyen worked as a software developer in Silicon Valley.
To this day, he still relies on technical acumen built up through his time here at Illinois CS. As he expects other companies from other countries to join the race to ramp up electric vehicle production in Vietnam, Nguyen believes in his company’s reliance on controlling the power and performance aspects of the product through its own software capabilities.
The ability to foresee these challenges and hold the answers is something his former professor and thesis advisor, Indranil Gupta, never doubted his former pupil capable of.
“During his time at Illinois, doing research with me and one of my senior PhD students, Son was very conscientious, very grounded, and always enthusiastic about different research topics,” Gupta said. “In retrospect it does not surprise me what Son has been able to do with Dat Bike in Vietnam – his ability to learn unfamiliar things quickly, and ability to innovate in new areas, are skills he unearthed during his stay at Illinois and that is continuing to help him.
“Son has been able to target both innovation and service sectors with Dat Bike, and that is just truly exceptional.”
There have been many moments integral to Nguyen’s growth – both personally and professionally – that built towards the creation of Dat Bike’s success.
This started when he first encountered computers in elementary school, unable to pull himself away from a machine that he felt transported him to new worlds through an endless supply of information he could learn about.
Then there was the first time he became a representative of Vietnam, competing at the International Olympiad in Informatics in 2008 and earning his country a silver medal.
He then poured energy and enthusiasm into his undergraduate studies at Illinois CS and into graduate work that paired him with researchers in Gupta’s lab.
Finally, after he found his true calling and created Dat Bike, Nguyen captured his country’s attention by explaining his creation on the TV show, Shark Tank Vietnam.
More excitement and opportunity clearly lie ahead for Nguyen and Dat Bike. How he approaches it all comes back to his growth and development in computing – including from his time here at Illinois CS.
“Being at Illinois was an unforgettable experience in my life, not just because of the knowledge I learned from all of my professors and the school but also because of the people I met during my time there,” Nguyen said. “I had the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful students from various backgrounds. And several of these friends and acquaintances went on to play crucial roles in my initiatives.
“During that time in our lives, we gained knowledge, matured, and developed into who we are today.”