US-based 500 Startups has joined hands with a group of Thai investors to launch 500 TukTuks, a venture-capital fund for Thai tech start-ups.
The plan is that the US$10-million (Bt326 million) fund will invest in between 50 and 60 start-ups in the next three years.
Natavudh Pungcharoenpong, the founder of successful tech start-up Ookbee, is one of the investors in 500 TukTuks – and one of its two fund managers.
He said 500 TukTuks consisted of investments from 500 Startups and a group of Thai investors in the ratio of 10:90, while being run and operated by Krating Poonpol and himself.
The role of 500 TukTuks is to fill the gap in the tech start-up ecosystem in Thailand by providing seed money of between Bt1.5 million and Bt3 million to each start-up in the early stage of six months to one year, and then to double the investment, he explained.
"Seed investment is very important for tech start-ups in Thailand. 500 TukTuks will help get them through this difficult stage, to reach the scaling and exit stage. There are a lot of investments available out there, but all of them serve mature start-ups needing big investment for scaling their business, while tech start-ups in Thailand really need the first chunk of investment to get them to start their business," said Natavudh.
Moreover, apart from seed investment, 500 TukTuks offers mentorship and accessibility to networks of investors, both locally and globally, he added.
The fund manager said 500 Startups had already invested in more than 1,000 tech start-ups around the world.
It also has connections with over 2,000 start-up founders, mentors and investors, in a network that can be the runway for Thai tech start-ups in terms of further investments.
500 TukTuks has two main criteria when considering whether to invest in a tech start-up – its founders and its business model – while the areas of investment include e-commerce, software-as-a-service, and mobile applications.
"Founders and business model are the priorities for us. Founders at least should be specialised in business and technology, while others might be keen on design," said Natavudh.
Thai tech start-ups also need to have ready-to-go-to-market products or services, or at least prototypes, to offer if they are to win funding, he added.
Start-ups also need to satisfy one of two key requirements to qualify: either existing locally, but being scalable to the regional and global markets; or they could have a similar business model to a large and successful business in the global market, but not yet exist in the Thai market, said Natavudh.
The beauty of 500 TukTuks, apart from helping Thai tech start-ups to establish their business more easily, is that it provides Thai investors with greater efficiency in their investments.
"Rather than investing in tech start-ups on their own, Thai investors can easily invest in them through 500 TukTuks, which has the global platform of investment [in tech start-ups] and experts in investment like 500 Startups and two fund managers – Krating Poonpol and me.
"Investing through 500 TukTuks is to the spread the risk [of investment] across many more companies, rather than making an investment on their own," said the Ookbee founder.
500 TukTuks currently has six Thai investors, but would welcome more in order to drive the Kingdom’s tech start-ups to go global by filling a gap in the ecosystem with seed investment.