January 16, 2021

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Thailand’s National Innovation Agency focuses on regional deep-tech start-up plan

The National Innovation Agency (NIA) is gearing up for the development of deep-tech start-ups in regional areas, to groom 100 start-ups in this field over three years. The “Deep-Tech Regionalisation” programme is meant to propel economic growth and create jobs in the future.

The Executive Director of the NIA stated that deep tech is the next phase of growth for Thailand’s start-up ecosystem because it draws support from large corporations and conglomerates in Thailand and entices investment from foreign venture capitalists.

The agency will work with universities and science parks countrywide to groom deep-tech start-ups under the Deep-Tech Regionalisation programme, he said.

NIA has the Youth Start-up Fund and Start-up Thailand League programme, which are ready to support these deep-tech start-ups. The agency aims to have 100 deep-tech start-ups with intellectual property rights by 2023, he noted.

The NIA defines deep-tech as including bio-based materials, energy, food, farming, astronomy, medical fields and genomics. Over the past 10 months, deep-tech start-ups have been attractive to venture capital and corporate venture capital (CVC) firms. In Thailand, more than 30 CVC firms have expressed interest in investing in deep tech, he said.

Deep tech creates high-value employment and prepares the workforce for the future. In ASEAN, venture capitalists are interested in investing in Bangkok, Singapore and Jakarta for deep tech and critical digital start-ups.

Meanwhile, NIA is also working with True Digital Park to make the Punnawithi area a cyber-tech district, which would serve as a digital hub and a one-stop service for local and overseas start-ups. The area could also support start-ups in using deep tech for value-added services.

True Digital Park was designed by True Group, which aims to make Thailand a global hub for digital innovation. The park offers services to 91 start-ups and 53 firms, which have a total of 4,151 employees from eight countries. Over the next 10 years, True aims to help seven start-ups become unicorns — meaning they are valued at over US$1 billion. These seven start-ups could be worth around THB210 billion in total.

According to the Executive Director, the cyber-tech district next year will be expanded to cover the southern Bangkok corridor, covering the Bang Na intersection, Udom Suk and Bang Chak. In the post-pandemic era, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions segment is expected to make use of deep tech, ranging from temperature sensors to virtual reality and data analytics, he said.

Earlier this year, the NIA earmarked THB100 million to support innovation development projects carried out by start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) financially constrained by the pandemic.

The Executive Director has then said that as the pandemic triggered a global economic crisis, the NIA is rolling out a financial support programme to assist innovation-based SMEs, social enterprises and local start-ups.

NIA provided a grant of THB39.8 million to support 10 innovation projects, he’d said, and after the pandemic subsides, THB70 million would be given to support innovation-based SMEs working for the country’s economic and social development.

The agency is also working with Government Savings Bank (GSB) to support a zero-interest loan programme of up to THB3 million, spanning three years, for those who develop good innovations.

NIA is stepping up efforts to explore new markets for start-ups and encourage the government to procure products developed by local start-ups.

More universities should attach importance to these technologies. The use of government tech, civil tech, health tech and education tech should become more common as people become more familiar with them during the lockdown.

He said local start-ups have to turn the pandemic into an opportunity by adjusting and recovering fast.