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Venture capitalists step up backing for startups

Feb 23. 2019
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By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation Weekend 

Corporate venture capital funds (CVC) are committing to focus more this year on accelerating Thai startups and their ecosystem, with the aim to help the nation achieve the status of the most significant startup country in the region.

Thai CVCs are playing an active role in accelerating the startup ecosystem in Thailand. Mainly they are focused on inviting in startups who develop services/solutions in line with the corporate’s strategic directions. CVCs provide not only funds, but also importantly offer strategic planning, marketing and business networking.

 InVent by Intouch Holdings is one corporate committed to helping accelerate Thai startups. 

Narongpon Boonsongpaisan, head of InVent, Intouch Holdings Plc, said that this year the company has a Bt200 million budget to invest in startups in areas that the company is focused on, including digital life, digital corporate, and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligent (AI), blockchain and Big Data, as well as 5G related startups. 

In the second quarter of 2019, it will invest in two or three startups, while it now has five startups in the pipeline for investing. 

This year, it will mainly invest in the seeding stage, with an emphasis on overseas startups. In the past, it has focused its investments in the growth stage of startups with series A funding. 

He said there are an increasing number of Thai startups, with around 1,000 now active. But only 10 per cent of these can secure funding between seed and series A. 

“Thai startups are different from global startups – they need more time to scale and to secure fundraising. This is because Thailand is not a large market when compared to Indonesia. Moreover, Thai startups are more localised, and do not perform as well when scaled to the regional market when compared to Singapore.

Up to now, he said, InVent has invested a total Bt500 million in 17 startups. They are together creating total revenue of Bt1.2 billion, with about half of them showing profit.

“We do not focus on investing in venture capital funds. Since we have the Singtel network available in many countries around the world, we can leverage this network to access potential startups anywhere in the world,” said Narongpon.

He added that the role of a CVC is to help create strategic value for CVC owners, while also helping to expand the business and market for startups as well as supporting the back-office work, especially legal and accounting. 

“We also help review business plans and offer business connections for startups. It is not just about money,” said Narongpon. 

Jeerawat Kulsapudom, head of Ecosytem Siri Ventures, said the company is focused this year on investing in mature startups with pre-series A investing. 

In 2019, it will launch the first private-property tech sandbox called SIRI VENTURES Private PropTech Sandbox. It will allows startups to do proof of concept, as well as then test and trial products and services.

“We have property projects nationwide with almost 100,000 customers that can turn to the sandbox for startups to trial and experience their services,” said Jeerawat.

This year it will focus its investing in four areas – property, construction, health and well being, and smart living. 

Siri Ventures has Bt1.5 billion to spread out over three years. In 2018, it invested in eight startups, two of which are Thai, including seed and pre-series A. 

It has also invested in China by partnering with China Renaissance through investing in the Hua Xingg Fund. For 2019, it focuses on pre-series A and series A investment in growth startups. It has prepared a Bt600 budget for investment.

Smart tech and green energy

Arweemas Sirisaengtaksin, venture builder, PTT ExpresSo (PTT Innovation Lab), said this year’s focus is to invest in smart technology and green energy startups, along with blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as energy for mobility such as services around electric vehicles, and EV charging and EV-enabling platforms. 

“In the last three years after starting EspresSo, we have tried small projects that were retail related, and are now more focused on clean technology that creates an impact for the country as well as regional and global problems, especially environmental problems. If we can turn to clean energy, it will be a big contribution to the country,” said Arwemas. 

ExpresSo invests its venture capital in startups with series A and up, along with sustainability funds and new technologies. Its venture platform aims to support the startup ecosystem. 

“We are looking for tech partners and startups to join solutions, for new business according to PTT’s strategy,” said Arweemas. 

It has set budgets of US$450 million (Bt14.11 billion) for investing in startups and funds. Through the last three years, it has invested in six funds and two Thai startups, Bania and SG Robotic.

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