Foster to Prosper: nurturing homegrown tech talent to tackle the nation’s problems
dtac accelerate, widely regarded as the nation’s leading incubator due to its strong training curriculum and mentoring by leading experts from Silicon Valley, launched the fourth season of its startup incubator program this March. It can count some of the most successful Thai startups in recent years among its alumni, many of whom have managed to raise funds from venture capital (VC) firms and spread their wings outside the nation’s borders.
“I think the local ecosystem has developed very rapidly – three years ago when we launched it was almost non existent,” said Andrew Kvalseth, EVP, Head of Strategy & Innovation Group, dtac. “Access to quality mentorship has improved thanks to us and a few others, but also a lot of Thai startups have received VC funding, meaning that Thailand as a whole has become more attractive for VCs in finding talent and potential future acquisitions.”
dtac’s startup and innovation group operates on a belief that the more people have access to the internet, the better the society becomes, the more GDP grows and problems get solved.
“When we surveyed the people to find out whether the price of internet access was too high, it turned out that many people simply didn’t have a compelling enough reason to use it. A lot of that has changed with LINE and Facebook, even if it’s simple communication. Of course, both of those are foreign companies and we believe that once more local entrepreneurs get involved with startups, they will start solving local problems and giving people more reasons to use the internet on a regular basis.”
Kvalseth sees the increased VC funding as the first level of validation in attracting talent and capital, but says that Thailand has yet to see any big exits. While there have been a few “decent sized” ones in the past by the likes of Agoda (acquired by Priceline in 2007 for an undisclosed sum) and Ensogo (acquired by LivingSocial in 2011 for an undisclosed sum) there has been a gap in recent years. The reason for this, he believes, is that at the time there were a core set of entrepreneurs who are now focused on other ventures and it will be awhile until these materialise into something large enough for a big exit.
dtac sees its role within the ecosystem as a key enabler for startups at the beginning of their lifecycles and finding early success. This involves bringing experienced mentors and VC capital from overseas in the kingdom, but also in assisting the local startups with their marketing and distribution. By building a minimal viable product (MVP) and distributing that to dtac’s 30 million customers, the startups are able to prove that their product works and is able to gain traction on the market, which in turn helps them raise further capital from the VCs.
As far as startup ideas go, the majority of them involve in taking concepts that have worked in other markets and essentially cloning them.