While its neighbours in Southeast Asia made good progress in edtech in the last few years, Thailand didn’t make much of a progress due to several reasons. A few months ago, 500 TukTuks‘s Managing Partner Krating Poonpol decided to change this, and in early 2019 he launched accelerator StormBreaker Venture to help edtech startups address various challenges.
StormBreaker’s mission is to inspire and impact the Thai education system and has support from various organisations, including Disrupt Technology Venture and KBank’s Beacon Venture Capital, to leverage edtech transform the education system in the country.
In this interview, Pat Naranpat Thitipattakul, Investment Manager at 500 TukTuks and Accelerator Manager at StormBreaker, talks about the project, its objectives, and Thailand’s edtech market.
There is a handful accelerators targeting different kind of tech startups in Thailand, including edtech. Why an exclusive edtech accelerator is vital now?
There have been accelerators in Thailand, but not a single one focused on edtech. Many accelerator houses are the spin-off of corporates — telcos (AIS, dtac, True), banks (Digital Ventures, Krungsri RISE, etc) or conglomerates (SCG Sprint, PTT, etc). These programmes are not suited for edtech companies, as they focus more on the ‘typical tech startups’ with emphasis on synergising with the corporates’ main businesses.
From our hackathon earlier in 2018, we saw first-hand the problems and struggles faced by edtech companies. We believe that creating an exclusive edtech accelerator is vital in order to help these companies overcome challenges. The reason for this is that edtech companies require certain distinct support/help that is different from usual startups.
For example, customer acquisition. It is difficult for a lot of edtech startups to go direct to consumers because their consumers are students. They have to work with partners and go through schools/corporates, instead.
Can you share more details about StormBreaker? How is this this accelerator different from traditional edtech programmes?
Stormbreaker is different because we combine the best of both worlds — the education world and the startup world. From the education side of things, we are grateful to be able to onboard great partners such as Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), Thailand Education Partnership (TEP), and TCP’s Jai Krating Foundation, which is very well respected and well-connected in the education scene.
Whilst from the startup world, we leverage Disrupt and 500 Startups’s strong network to be able to onboard mentors of the highest quality to support these entrepreneurs.
What are the key objectives of the programme?
The following are the key objectives of the programme:
- To equip founders with all the necessary soft and hard skills to become a great founder.
- Provide the right network and connections to key players in both the education industry and the startup ecosystem.
- Open up access to customers both directly and indirectly (through corporate partners).
- Provide credibility, awareness and PR for the startups.
- Assist and ensure these startups secure funding for future growth.
What are the different criteria for startup to apply for your programme? How is the selection process?
We’re looking for edtech startups that have the potential to solve Thai educational issues, impact as many people as possible, and have at least a functioning prototype. It could be a solution for either the education sector or HR talent development. The team must be passionate about education.
The areas we are interested in are English for All, STEM and Coding, Cloud-powered School, Teacher of the Future, reskilling professional or any other area that would solve real education pain points.
Why did 500 Tuktuk choose to partner with Disrupt Technology Venture and Beacon Venture for this project? What is the role of each company here? Can you share more details about this partnership?
Disrupt Technology Venture, founded by Krating Poonpol in 2012, aims to build the startup ecosystem in Thailand through entrepreneurship education programme and corporate innovation service, bringing Silicon Valley know-how to Thailand. Disrupt Technology Venture has over 2,000 entrepreneurs in their network.
From 500 Startups’s view, working with Disrupt Technology Venture gives them the best deal flow on tech startup deals in the country. Since Disrupt has been educating entrepreneurs since 2012, 500 Startups believes that they would be the best partner to run an EdTech accelerator.
Beacon Venture is a corporate venture capital under Kasikorn Bank, one of the leading banks in Thailand. Kasikorn Bank actively supports several education projects and they also foresee the needs for talent reskilling, especially in the digital disruption era. We both believe that edtech startups can make a lot of impact in this area. 500 TukTuks and Beacon Venture considered the potential of EdTech to transform countries and this is going to be a very interesting market in the future.
Are educational institutions in Thailand ready for tech adoption? Are there any initiatives from the government side, which aims to transform the sector through technology?
It depends. The top international schools have long adopted and integrated technology into their system. Public schools and universities are slowly following suit, as key players and incumbents are starting to realise the importance of technology in education. This is very positive for edtech companies.
We learned that many educational institutions would like to try new technologies, but due to the strict regulations, they hesitated as they do not want to take any risk. Their key performance indicators (KPIs) focus mostly on improving students test score, and does not directly promote technology adoption.
The government has launched some initiatives to promote access to education such as free online courses and infrastructure funding. There are some efforts from government side to partner with private sectors to, at the first stage, set up tech infrastructure like computers and Wifi. We hope to see more initiatives to promote EdTech adoption once the infrastructure is ready.
Affordability of and access to edtech solutions are going to be major impediment in rural Thailand. How can edtech address this challenge?
We want edtech to focus on developing the best learning solutions that provide learners with the most effective learning experience. Our partners can help them with the distribution in multiple ways.
As for affordability, if a solution is proven, our partner would consider sponsoring the edtech startup as part of their CSR initiatives. This way the startup would be able to give out some accounts for free or reduce the price for underprivileged kids.
Many edtech companies also offer freemium model.
In terms of access to edtech solutions, many CSR projects give funding to schools to allow them to build necessary infrastructure such as PC, internet and tablet. Through edtech collaboration with these CSR programs, edtech firms will be able to launch their solutions in rural areas. With the increasing trends of tech adoption and internet penetration in Thailand, we want to make education accessible for everyone.
You mentioned that your goal is to help transform the learning experience of one million people by 2020. Can you elaborate this. How are you planning to achieve this ambitious goal?
By supporting the edtech and helping them with distribution, we help them to reach as many users as possible. In 2018, we were able to reach 150,000 learners. We saw that if the solution could actually solve user pain and deliver good experience, the number of users would increase quickly through word of mouth. We will also continue to work closely with our partners in order to onboard schools.
As for the corporate sector, we help connect edtech startups to HR professionals from companies in our network. Each company has thousands of employees and we do believe that edtech is the most efficient way for companies to manage employee learning path and development.
What are some of the key characteristics of Thailand’s education sector? What are the unique challenges it faces?
- Lack of qualified teachers: The system in Thailand does not fund and incentivise the best and the brightest to become teachers.
- Large difference between students: There is a very large dispersion in the education of children in Thailand. The quality of education between the rich and the poor is vastly different.
- There is a big focus on rote learning (memorising) and heavy emphasis on exams.
StormBreaker kicked off with five startups in September last year. How is the programme progressing?
Four of the five startups from StormBreaker’s first batch have graduated, having gone through an intense action-packed accelerator programme, and are now ready to scale up their impact (the fifth startup ‘Quest’ decided to drop out of StormBreaker, as they got an offer from another programme). Key activities in the programme include intensive bootcamp sessions & workshops, exclusive mentoring sessions, B2B meetings, and demo-day pitching.
The four startups are:
Vonder: Vondor is an educational chatbot pioneer which has already transformed the way 70,000 students learn, in addition to 30,000 more working professionals. They grew their user base of 10,000 students to 70,000 students within six months. Vonder started with a team of five in the beginning of the programme, having only one business model (B2C). Through the programme, they have discovered unmet needs in HR learning solutions, so they’re able to come up with a new business model (B2B) which generated a new income stream. They have already acquired more than 3 clients that are big corporations.
Voxy: Voxy is an English learning platform, which utilises AI for personalised learning. When Voxy joined our programme they were still new in the Thai market and had no clients back then. The founders shared with us that our programme has helped them learn how to move fast like a startup and given them access to more B2B clients. Within four months, Voxy has been able to secure B2B deals valued eight million THB and launched pilot projects with over 10 organisations in Thailand.
InsKru: insKru is uniting forces across the nation to enhance the way Thai teachers teach by disseminating ideas to over 38,000 teachers. The team started with three co-founders, who are passionate about education and they all had experiences volunteering in the education sector, which have given them deep knowledge of teacher, school and student pain points. The StormBreaker team has supported their operations, given PR visibility, and helped connect them with CSR departments of many corporations. InsKru has expanded from just the platform to an online-to-offline teacher community by arranging teacher skill development workshops in many provinces of Thailand. They successfully built an active community of teachers, who want to create an impact on Thai education. Today, their social media has over 16,000 organic shares, reaching thousands of teachers.
OpenDurian: OpenDurianis an education platform boasting revenues of over 49 million THB, this startup aims to breed more than 500,000 skilled talent to prepare and respond to the impending digital disruption. The team consists of academic professionals. The company has been in the market for more than five years. Our mentors have helped them come up with plans to launch new product in the area of professional re-skilling, leveraging their presence in the online tutoring market with over three million users, who are university students. In addition to that, joining StormBreaker has opened up the door for them to new partnerships as well as fundraising opportunities.