Among the startup scenes in Asia, Thailand’s can be considered one of the most active and vibrant. With startups like Taamkru making waves in the tech scene with its recent funding round led by 500 Startups, as well as events like our recently-concluded Echelon Thailand 2014 showcasing the kingdom’s market and business potential, the next billion-dollar “unicorn” startup in Asia could very well be Thai.
That said, an active tech ecosystem, like Rome, isn’t built in a day. In addition to a society and economy that fosters creativity and doesn’t penalise failures too heavily, there need to be institutions that provide frameworks for startups to grow. These can include investors, incubators, and educational institutes.
In Thailand, the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok plays this role for the local startup community, with its Sasin Entrepreneurship Centre initiative. Loyal readers of e27 may know Sasin Graduate Institute as the location of Echelon Thailand 2014.
Started in the middle of this year, Sasin Entrepreneurship Centre helps startups through the following key aspects: curriculum innovation, entrepreneurial outreach, new venture commercialisation, and research and consultation. To carry out these initiatives, Sasin Entrepreneurship Centre partners with local and global organisations, organising events like monthly talks networking dinners and providing platforms where Sasin students can meet established business people to get advice on monetising their innovations and research best practices to improve Thailand’s innovation landscape.
Old school ties
So, has their programme been successful so far? Here, Surasit Sachdev, Co-founder of restaurant reservation app Hungry Hub, gives his views as an MBA alumni of Sasin Graduate Institute.
According to Sachdev, Sasin has provided him and his team a grounding in both the theoretical as well as practical aspects of running a business. “Sasin has helped us with the strategy and leadership innovation aspect of business, as well as given us opportunities to pitch in front of real investors during business plan competitions,” he says, “Because we were still students, there’s no way we could do this with a low cost or to get the same contacts and connections.”
Sachdev adds, “Sasin has opened more than 100 doors for me which I would never have even thought of being able to meet. Let’s just say if I started my own business without having been to Sasin, it would be 10 times harder.” (Sic)
One factor that make universities a conducive environment for budding startups is their robust alumni networks. When many past students are entrepreneurs or work in the tech industry, the old school tie binds strong and a support network is formed.
Sachdev notes that this network is especially strong in Sasin. “(Sasin’s) strong and diversified body of students is the best place to form your startup team. Getting to know your classmates for two years, you will know whether or not you want to be working days and nights with them on a startup.”
Birthplace of ideas
Another entrepreneur who counts Sasin as his benefactor is Nithipont “Bond” Thaiyanurak, Founder of web laundry service Washbox24, which won first prize at the Seedstars Bangkok startup competition.
“I suppose Sasin is more like a birthplace of Washbox24. The idea came by not in the classroom as most people may think, but came out of a casual chat between my classmate and myself at a bar,” he notes.
“(My classmate) said ‘Dude, I’ve got too much stuff to do and so I send my laundry to this laundry shop, but I hardly have time to pick it up during store hours. Also, the laundry guy kept losing my one sock!’ Here, the idea of having a laundry locker was born.”
Like Sachdev, Bond credits Sasin with the students’ network, as well as with meeting his co-founder. “My classmate and I invented the tracking technology for Washbox24 together. Without Sasin, we would never have met,” he says. “To me, Sasin is more than a school. It’s also a place where people with ideas hang out and somehow lives the entrepreneurship spirit.”
Partnership with N-Vest Ventures
As mentioned above, one strength of Sasin Entrepreneurship Centre is in its collaboration with partners, and one of them is N-Vest Ventures. Together with Expara, N-Vest Ventures is the company behind the i4 Accelerator programme, the first of such initiatives in Thailand.
According to Co-founder Sarun Sutuntivorakoon, N-Vest Ventures has a fund size of US$1 million, and focusses on scalable early-stage startups. “N-Vest’s mandate allows us to explore various types of innovations, which could be both tech and non-tech,” he says. “However, our current portfolio and those under discussion are weighted towards the interactive and digital media industries with some IP-based physical products.”
So far, Sasin Entrepreneurship Centre has graduated a diverse range of startup companies. They include hard science and engineering firms like Redigen, which develops composite materials made from recycled tyres, as well as web- and mobile tech-focussed like Hungry Hub, mentioned above. It is clear that with the contribution from community players like Sasin and HUBBA, the Thai tech and startup ecosystem has a bright future ahead.