Singapore startups get leg-up to enter Thai market


THAILAND is now increasingly seen as an attractive potential market for Singapore tech companies in sectors such as e-commerce, enterprise services, fintech, agritech and healthtech, according to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore.

IE Singapore signed two memoranda of understanding (MOUs) in line with this vision yesterday, with Thai partners C asean and Hubba.

The MOUs were signed at the 5th Singapore-Thailand Enhanced Economic Relationship Ministerial Meeting, witnessed by Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang and Thai Minister of Commerce Apiradi Tantraporn.

C asean is a social enterprise aimed at connecting Asean citizens and businesses, and the MOU enables startups to gain immediate access to the tech networks in Thailand, including mentors, VC funds, workshops and events.

Singapore companies will also have the opportunity to attend C asean's Start-up GO programme, a two-week immersion programme aimed at helping companies understand the Thai market better and establish business contacts.

Hubba, meanwhile, is a top co-working space provider in Thailand credited for catalysing the growth of the Thai tech scene, and the MOU is aimed at providing Singapore tech companies access to Hubba's network of co-working spaces in Thailand at a preferential rate.

Thailand offers a growing and healthy start-up ecosystem, with a strong private sector driving growth, availability of funding, ecosystem builders as well as government support.

The Thai government has appointed two lead ministries for startups and innovation, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.

Singapore companies will be able to benefit from the introduction of special visas, enabling startups to connect with regional and global communities.

The Thai government has also boosted funding by creating more angel funds through incentives and financial support for startups, adding digital services as an eligible investment, and exempting venture capital firms and co-working spaces from income tax for up to 10 and eight years respectively.

IE Singapore believes that Singapore players can become early movers in the market, with strong market demand by the private sector for innovative solutions.

The agency aims to create market access for Singapore tech companies through the two MOUs, and will continue to work to help Thai conglomerates grow their business using technology through the capabilities of Singapore tech companies.

To tackle the language barrier, the Thai government is working with universities and learning centres to support startups, as well as encourage universities to set up VC funds and entrepreneurship centres.

IE Singapore also encourages startups to consider hiring local staff to overcome local cultural and language barriers, and will link companies to recruitment agencies that have a network of English-speaking Thais.

Insufficient talent is also a key challenge for the Thai tech scene, with 10,000 computer science graduates in Thailand each year highly sought after by MNCs and other companies.

Tan Soon Kim, assistant chief executive officer of IE Singapore, said: "Lack of talent can be seen as an opportunity for us. What they lack in talent, Singapore can make up for. With us providing the solutions and Thailand providing the market, together we can bridge a gap in the market."

Thailand continues to be an important investment market for Singapore companies, with Singapore's investments in Thailand amounting to S$20.67 billion in 2015, a 7 per cent increase from the previous year.