Learning curve for Thai start-up drive

Economy October 21, 2017 01:00


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MORE THAN 10 Thai financial technology (fintech) and related start-ups have learned the strengths of their Hong Kong counterparts during a recent visit to the Chinese special administrative region.

Rated as one of the world’s most competitive tech start-up destinations, Hong Kong also exemplifies the successful government-private sector partnership in nurturing start-ups, which will play a crucial role in Thailand’s emerging digital economy.

According to Akarapong Srisuphandit, deputy director of Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP), Thailand should learn from other countries which have successfully nurtured their start-ups.

In Hong Kong, the government has played a leading role in developing tech start-ups over the past decade during which a state funding of up to 30 per cent is offered to qualified start-ups while the private sector provides the rest of funding.In Taiwan, he said, there have also been programmes similar to the Academy Fantasia (AF) reality TV show in which qualified youngsters can join tech start-up camps aimed at nurturing a new generation of enteprenuers.

They are also encouraged to work closely with older, experienced and retired business people as well as other mentors to capitalise on strengths which younger people may not have for a period of up to six months.

In Turkey, he said, universities are encouraged to work with big companies to turn research and development work into commercial products with one of the latest outstanding products being a multi-dimension camera system for drones using the infrared technology.

He said the Thai government should also consider promote local tech start-ups by being their first customers of innovative items while noting that the pricing of patents and other intellectual property rights in Thailand is still not suitable for SMEs,

Regarding Hong Kong, its government-owned Cyberport has been a renowned digital community for tech start-ups which may rent its co-working space to work innovative projects and get interaction with potential investors and venture capital funds.

The Hong Kong Cyberport also has a number of incubator and super-connector programmes aimed at solving market problems and turning those solutions using the digital and other technologies into commercial projects.

It also aims to inspire a new generation of enteprenuerial spirits, with on-demand delivery service provider Gogo being one of the most successful start-ups when it recently became Hong Kong’s first US$1 billion start-up or Unicorn.

The Hong Kong Cyberport, which currently has about 964 members, focuses on artificial intelligence (AI), big data, fintech, e-commerce, edutech and entertainment start-ups.

The agency’s 2-year incubator programme currently has a member survival rate of 75 per cent.

Besides funding, mentoring, IP application and other services are provided to participants, of which on average 95 per cent complete their programme, which those who do not are encouraged to learn from failure experience. In addition, there are acceleration programmes for start-ups which have strong commercial potential.

As for Thailand, Akarapong said the government should promote start-up awareness among secondary school students nation-wide since it may be too late to start at the university level. Selected secondary schools should also be encouraged to hold start-up and app development competitions.

Akarapong cited SCB Express as an example of the new digital banking service developed by the Thai bank allowing customers to use smart-phone cameras to verify their personal identity for bank account opening, among other features.

Regarding the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative, digital and other technology can also be used for cultural and tourism start-ups as well as smart farming, among others.

According to Rapipongs Banchong-Silpa, Thailand’s deputy consul-general in Hong Kong, who helped organize the Sept 27-29 visit, Thai start-ups should benefit from their first-hand interaction with counterparts in Hong Kong.

Among participants are Durian Corp, (incubator, idea lab), Thai Fintech Association, D90Capital, Skootar (fintech service), Takemetour (travel tech), Smart One Logistics (service tech), Claimdi (insuretech), Taladinvoice (fintech) and Refinn (fintech).

Olarn Weranond, CEO of Durian Corp, said the Hong Kong visit reflects close cooperation between the government and private sector in helping start-ups to tap opportunities in Thailand and abroad, especially in terms of business matching between Thai and Hong Kong enteprenuers.