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Building a ‘startup nation’

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (right) and Alibaba founder Jack Ma (left) walk together at the Government House in Bangkok in April. HANDOUT/ROYAL THAI GOVERNMENT/afp

Building a ‘startup nation’

Talented Thailand could lead Asia onto the global tech and innovation stage if financing is in place to light the bonfire.

The thousands of technology startups emerging in Thailand should be inspired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s latest message about turning the country into a “startup nation”, especially with a focus on using new technologies to uplift the economic wellbeing of farmers and other lower-income groups.

There are now an estimated 8,500 startups in Thailand, many of which have been launched by aspiring young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to solve the “pain points” faced by consumers, businesses and other stakeholders in society.

By taking advantage of digital and other new technologies – from data analysis and blockchain to artificial intelligence and cloud computing – they hope to provide better methods for tackling stubborn, age-old problems using new models in business and social enterprises.

As a startup nation, Thailand aims to be Asia’s global platform for the new generation of so-called “economic warriors”, starting from college and university students with exposure to new technologies to those already in business or the labour market. In fact, startup programmes that bring in experienced or even retired people with specific qualifications to help younger persons develop new business models should be encouraged so that society can benefit from both worlds.

On the social front, over the past several decades the country has faced the significant negative consequences of an unbalanced national development strategy, ranging from unequal access to natural and other resources to environmental degradation and poverty. These issues could be tackled more effectively with new technologies and more creative ways of doing business. Hence, the government needs to play the facilitator role to help usher in a suitable eco-system for startups.

A proper legal and regulatory framework is required, especially with regard to flexibility in permitting foreign nationals and tech talents to work in the country and in permitting a new category of limited companies whose capitalisation and valuation are different from those of traditional businesses. A one-stop-service agency responsible for the registration and promoting of these startups is also necessary, while tax and other incentives should also be provided to multiple private-sector efforts on incubation and related programmes.

In terms of human resources, the government should set aside a budget to help startups with recruitment and payrolls during their early stages of development, when these entrepreneurs are mostly short of cash flow even if their products and services have a promising future.

In addition, a state-sponsored fund is needed to provide grants and loans for colleges and universities to invest in new technologies and human talent to help drive the growth of a new eco-system.

Of several thousands of startups, only 10-15 per cent can be expected to succeed, while the rest will likely fail. To thrive in the new eco-system, failures should be seen creatively – as lessons.

This means they should fail fast and start again quickly. While startups initially might not create many jobs by themselves, they have the potential to trigger new businesses and industries, while boosting the competitiveness of the Thai economy in the global context, where platform economic activities are becoming more strategically important than the traditional economy. the nation (thailand)

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