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Thailand to turn startups into ‘economic warriors’ via tech

The National Innovation Agency (NIA), which was established in 2009, plays a leading role in the development of Thailand’s innovation ecosystem by encouraging entrepreneurs to help solve grassroots economic problems through the use of technology – and to get more people in every region to launch their startups.

The government of Thailand first set up a national startup committee in 2016. Since then, NIA has played a crucial role as a leading agency to develop awareness and build an ecosystem for pioneers, startup investors, young entrepreneurs, corporates, and even capital markets and universities.

While the startup scene in Thailand took off a bit late as compared to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia or Vietnam, there are quite a few startups that have already received big-ticket investments and they are starting to expand regionally and globally. Concurrently, international investors are trying to learn and work with Thailand.

Leaders believe that startups will create innovative jobs and their evolution will provide high potential sources of new income for SMEs. So, startups will indirectly help us kickstart a key growth engine.

Thailand also has a very active and strong large national corporates (LNCs) who back Corporate Venture Capitals (CVCs) with a majority stake in the startup investment scene in Thailand.

The Executive Director of NIA put forward several key strategies and goals for NIA to shape the startup ecosystem of Thailand:

  • It will be more internationalised. There will be more and more new faces from around the world to work closely with the Thai ecosystem
  • The role of CVC will be more and more important for the startup ecosystem in Thailand. Next steps will be to brand CVCs, develop the capacity and capabilities of a fund manager, and work together with them to make key national strategies on investment for startups both in Thailand and abroad
  • There will be increasing concentration on deep technology and creative startups
  • Innovation districts in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are set up to attract international investment and stimulate the local startup scene
  • The government will play a very crucial role in accelerating growth and there will be greater collaboration between government and startups.

Ready for 2020

While the first phase was about generating awareness about startups and entrepreneurship, 2020 will mark the second phase of the startup ecosystem building in Thailand.

The country will shift from awareness and building infrastructures – both tangible and intangible to making the Thailand ecosystem more friendly for not only fresh faces from the university campuses but also from all over the world.

To achieve this goal, the NIA has three focus areas:

  • Recruit early

The first one is to bring in new firms, new startups. This is important since the existing startup numbers in Thailand is not very high as compared to others in SEA.

They have around 147 universities out of which 40 universities are already engaged with the Startup Thailand League. This year NIA will extend support to them with the ‘You Startup Fund’ or YSF.

The fund aims to support students from the day they decide to be an entrepreneur or startup founder. NIA will support them financially and technically on ideation and team building. It will also support them to accelerate growth with registered companies, using the university facilities.

  • More focus on deep tech

University startups in Thailand are capable of deep technology and creative innovation and hence this time the government will focus on building and increasing the number of firms with a focus on deep technologies.

They will be emphasising on agritech and food tech, springing from the economic strength of the country in addition to health tech and MedTech.

The application of IoT, 5G and also blockchain or even AI startups, which is a must, will also be focused on.

  • MARtech

Bearing that creativity sells big in Thailand, they curated a new sector, called MARTech or music, arts, and recreation tech.

The agency is talking about supply chains for startups working on MICE, art, design, e-sports or even sports tech. Thailand is internationally known for hospitality, tourism; hence there is an increasing number of startups in travel tech and media too.

From agrarian to industrial to digital

Thailand moved from being agriculture to nearly manufacturing-oriented OEM countries in the 1980s. The contributions of agriculture to the GDP is only around 8% while the service sector accounts for more than 50% of its GDP.

Thailand does not have many agritech startups and their key challenge is to develop smart farming for those who need it, reducing the consumption of bio-pesticides and also chemicals in agriculture and water management.


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