THAILAND must focus on promoting innovation in all six aspects should it want to create an innovation-driven society under the Thailand 4.0 vision, said the National Innovation Agency (NIA) director, Phanart Chairat.
Phanart said in an interview that the first priority to create such a society was public sector innovation, where the government takes the lead in applying new ideas in public services such as healthcare, security and water management.
Second is area-based innovation, with big cities such as Bangkok and Pattaya pronounced as the areas to apply innovations. As seen in Singapore, many innovations are invented in urban areas to address future challenges and they are applied in manufacturing industries.
Third is financial innovation, which extends far beyond payment systems; it should also involve innovative borrowing channels.
Fourth, Thailand needs “thinking innovation” and this directly involves the education system. Fifth is social innovation that concerns people in society, including the underprivileged. Sixth is green innovation to cope with increasing demand globally for non-polluting businesses.
“The world has changed tremendously in the past 10 years,” Phanart said. “If all these six priorities are not happening, at best our ranking in the Global Innovation Index will remain in the range of 48-50 as in past years.”
In the 2017 Global Innovation Index, Thailand ranks 51st, against 52nd in 2016, 55th in 2015, 48th in 2014 and 57th in 2013. While there is a lot of room for innovation development in the Thai capital market, the education system is lagging behind, which leads to poor skill development.
Phanart noted that the Thailand 4.0 vision will materialise only with collaboration from all people in society.
“There has been increasing awareness of innovation since the Thailand 4.0 strategy was unveiled, but it is still concentrated on research. The world has changed, making many products and processes obsolete. Without innovations, many Thai products will face increasing challenges in the global market place.
“What if some countries impose transport-related CO2 charges on Thai agricultural products? How will Thai companies cope with that?” he said.
The director sees a positive sign, though. In the past two years, there have been more discussions on innovation, indicating greater awareness among Thai companies. More entries are being submitted to the NIA Innovation Awards. Working with the Stock Exchange of Thailand, NIA is also helping audit some listed companies’ innovation management.
“The urgent tasks now are for businesses to think harder and educational institutions to work harder in producing skilled labour for future workplaces,” he said.
NIA, an agency under the Science and Technology Ministry, is also taking a bigger role in this regard. From small and medium-sized enterprises, its focus has been extended to start-ups. A co-working space has been created for tech-based start-ups as well as a network with entrepreneurs and investors.
NIA is working with 30 universities around the country to groom potential students. These students with good ideas can win Bt100,000 to complete their business prototype, and they can seek further training on developing a business model or an internship with registered start-ups, with the view to transforming into entrepreneurs. In the past years, more than 1,000 SMEs and start-ups have submitted their innovation projects to NIA. They can receive up to Bt1.5 million in matching funds from NIA’s Innovation Coupon and NOW Venture schemes.
In 2016, NIA extended financial support worth Bt141.85 million to 98 innovation projects, 27 involving the food-processing industry.
Starting this new fiscal year, NIA is working with 800 vocational schools nationwide, inviting vocational students to join the Thailand Pitching Challenge to win prize money and the opportunity to learn from start-ups.
“Most Thai SMEs are still in the 2.0 version and it can take five years to move up to the 3.0 version with automated systems. By shifting the focus to students, we aim to produce innovators,” he said.
Phanart asserted that Thailand is still haunted by a misperception that innovation concerns the engineering process.
“In the country where services generate 53 per cent of gross domestic product, the viewpoint has to be changed,” he added.