Government to start doling out funds to startups in September

The Thai government has approved the establishment of a $147 million “Digital Fund” to support local startups and will begin allocating the money to selected enterprises in September, a government official said last week, as private sector executives praised the country’s rising spending on research and development but insisted that even more focus and funds need to be devoted to R&D.

“Thai start-ups are of good quality and have potential to expand. The government will try to help local startups expand their business in both the domestic and international markets as well as creating a nationwide startup ecosystem,” said Minister of Digital Economy and Society Pichet Durongkaveroj.

Thailand’s startup scene is relatively young but growing rapidly. The Kingdom has over 5,000 startups and the minister predicted that the number would double by the end of this year. Thailand aspires to be the startup hub for the region and is implementing a number of policies to facilitate that goal, including creating a separate capital market for startups that will not have the same strict requirements that are a barrier to entry to the main bourse for young firms.

Pichet said this ministry is also working on creating special “startup visas” that will make it easier for international experts to come and work with Thai startups, transferring technology and expertise in the process.

The sectors with the most promising potential and opportunities for startups include agriculture, automotive, tourism and healthcare industries, he added.

Meanwhile, several experts said that Thailand’s efforts to increase support for research and development have been paying off but more needs to be done for the country to achieve its goal of becoming a more advanced economy and society.

According to the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office, the country’s R&D expenditure increased from 0.47 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 to 0.62 percent of GDP in 2015 and 0.75 percent in 2016. The percentages of R&D expenditure between the private sector and state agencies has also substantially changed from 54 percent/46 percent in 2014 to 70 percent/30 percent in 2015.

“Most private operators think spending on R&D is expenditure, so they hesitate to spend. They should change that mindset to consider that cost in R&D is investment that will have a return eventually,” said Rutjawate Taharnklaew, vice-president at the R&D Center of Betagro Group, a major food-processing firm.

Rutjawate said the improved funding for research and development has been mainly the result of government policies that have placed more weight on R&D and technology to boost the country’s competitiveness.