Thailand working to become regional start-up hub


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As thousands of tech-oriented entrepreneurs descended on Bangkok for the largest technology start-up conference ever held in the Kingdom, the government announced plans to support efforts to develop Thailand into a gateway for startup companies in Indochina by expanding startup communities in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Khon Kaen, while the central bank said it is working on regulations to ensure that consumers are protected as financial technology expands in the Kingdom.

“Four years ago, no one knew what a start-up was in Thailand and now here we have this major tech conference,” said Charle Charoenphan, co-founder of Techsauce, which hosted the Techsauce Summit last week that attended by over 3,000 people, including representatives from companies of all sizes, along with venture capitalists. One of the summit organizers was Digital Ventures, a subsidiary of Siam Commercial Bank.

Charle said that Southeast Asia is the fastest growing cyber region in the world, with nearly four million new internet users being added every month. He believes Thailand will eventually be able to mount a challenge to Singapore as the best home for startups in the region. He said Thailand’s larger population and cost structures were advantages.

“With the money a start-up raises in Silicon Valley, a start-up that can normally stay there for six months, can stay here for three years,” Charle said. “They extend their run rate by six to ten times just by moving.”

Ben King, country head of Google Thailand, said of the summit, “There is a very influential crowd here, a lot of amazing local leaders, and a lot internationally focused companies with global reach that can help connect the dots between Thailand, Southeast Asia and the globe.”

Creating and facilitating an ecosystem for startups is part and parcel of the government’s strategy of moving the Thai economy from over-reliance on manufacturing to knowledge- and technology-based industries.

“Our emphasis on Thailand’s strong position in the startup industry will drive towards Thailand 4.0 as an innovation-based economy,” said Science and Technology Minister Pichet Durongkaveroj. “The government will have major activities to promote this issue nationwide.”

One way to do that is through supporting events and communities around the country, not just in Bangkok where most businesses are located. The Information and Communication Technology Ministry and the Science and Technology Ministry are collaborating to organize the Startup Thailand & Digital Thailand event under in Chiang Mai, August 5-7, in Khon Kaen on August 26-28 and in Phuket, although the date has not yet been set.

Pichet believes these events will draw entrepreneurs from, and interested in neighboring countries, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Viet Nam, and help establish Thailand as a hub for startups focusing on that sub-region. Tech innovators and infrastructure are still minimal in those countries and so partnerships and collaboration with Thailand could benefit all.

Suphachai Chearavanont, president of True Corporation, one of the largest internet service providers in Thailand, said that if the ecosystem is built correctly and talent incentivized around the region, then Thailand can become a start-up nation. “We can catch up really fast,’’ he said.

Korn Chatikavanij, former finance minister, said he truly believes that start-ups, especially those in the area of financial technology, are “the revolution that can push a country like Thailand forward.”

Bank of Thailand governor Veerathai Santiprabhob said his institution is developing new regulations that it hopes to unveil soon that address financial technology. Regulations are necessary, he said, to protect consumers, as the technology is new and most are unfamiliar with the risks that may be involved.

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