Innovation agency unveils plan to support startups

Start up the funding and support startups was the message from the National Innovation Agency last week when it unveiled a three-point, billion-dollar plan to turn Thailand into what it calls the Startup Global Platform of Asia.

The plan laid out by the National Innovation Agency (NIA) would help create at least a thousand new startups employing more than 50,000 highly skilled workers by 2021. Startups, the agency believes, could contribute as much as 5 percent to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) by that time.

The three-point plan would target both local and international investors, said NIA Executive Director Pun-Arj Chairatana, noting that his agency was already collaborating with Huawei. Venture capitalists would play an important role.  Last year, international venture capitalists poured about $1.2 billion into Thai startups, he said. Thailand currently has over 700 active startups.

“I think we have the potential to invite international investors to enter and expand their business in Thailand since the government is providing privileges such as smart visas and supporting international firms to set up operations in Thailand,” said Pun-Arj.

Startups are an essential element of Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy to adopt higher technologies, innovation, creativity, and research and development as drivers of the economy. The government is determined to create an ecosystem that will attract and generate more startups.

The three-point plan consists of building more startups and a greater variety of startups; increasing investments in startups to the range of $10 million to $100 million per venture; and adopting whatever policies, privileges, and incentives necessary to make Thailand the preferred home for international startups.

A National Startup Act has been submitted to the cabinet and should reach the legislature soon. It contains expanded and increased incentives for startups, but it is not certain that the assembly will be able to pass the act before an election expected early next year.

The NIA has designated the Punnawithi area of Bangkok as a hub for the startup industry. True Corporation is building a Digital Park in that area and will work with the government to turn it into a “landing pad” for international startups, Pun-Arj said.

He said the NIA would promote and support startups to develop disruptive innovation and technology in terms of deep technology such as artificial intelligence, healthcare, and green technology. Those technologies could solve the needs of the market, he said.