On Sept 19, TechNode kicked off its 3rd edition of ORIGIN in Thailand, during True Digital Park Grand Opening 2019. A great lineup of tech leaders and industry elites from ASEAN and China gathered to discuss the latest developments in ASEAN-China’s tech and startup scene. Topics covered included food & agriculture innovation, payment solutions, future of work, photo-editing trends, and Thailand’s tech ecosystem.
Here are some highlights from the event:
True Digital Park announces TechNode as go-to China partner
On September 19, 2019, True Digital Park officially announced its strategic partnership with TechNode as their “Go-To China Partner”.
As strategic partners, TechNode and True Digital Park will collaborate to promote the integration of science and technology innovation between China and Southeast Asia, opening up more opportunities and interactions between the tech startups in both regions. As both parties have a vast network and resources in the technology and innovation industry, this partnership will further enhance the startup ecosystems between China and Southeast Asia.
Building Thailand as the next digital hub in Southeast Asia
“In recent years, Thailand has witnessed a significant growth in the funding size and the number of local startups getting funded,” said Thanasorn Jaidee, the president of True Digital Park, Thailand’s first and largest startup hub, TechSauce’s Co-founder Oranuch Lerdsuwankij (Mimee), and Poompong Tancharoenphol, Investment Manager at AddVentures by Siam Cement Group. More Thai startups have received funding in 2018 as compared to the year before, with the food tech industry in the lead, as reported by TechSauce.
“In order to reach the unicorn stage, Thai startups need to think beyond Thailand. They need to think of ways to expand regionally (in Southeast Asia) to attract global investors from other regions such as China, India, or even the US to come in (to Thailand) and actually build the unicorn up,” said Tancharoenphol.
“Startups related to e-commerce, logistic, supply chain, food, and agriculture have huge potential to grow in Thailand,” said Mimee. “Thailand is strong in these industries and we can reach a one billion valuation if we integrate technology vertically,” added Tancharoenphol.
Emerging Southeast Asian economies are seen, by many, to be the winners from the US-China trade war. However, although our speakers recognize the economic gains shifts due to the political situation, they believe that a strong infrastructure has to be in place in order to truly benefit from it.
Bringing innovation to food and agriculture
“Food is one important aspect, and I believe this can be a huge technology playing field that can be expanded regionally and localize successfully,” said Dr. John Jiang, the chief digital officer at a Thailand-based conglomerate CP Group. Howard Tang, CTO at SmartAHC, a smart farming startup, said, “Agriculture can be made sustainable with digital nutrition, which is a new way of optimizing farmers’ performance through digitalization by using the same amount of materials to achieve higher productivity.”
Startups in the upstream with the majority of them in the deep tech sector, typically take a longer time to achieve commercialization. “Investors will have to widen their portfolios with a combination of upstream and downstream startups,” said Sapprasert. While it seems that downstream startups such as food delivery companies generate higher and faster ROI, Sapprasert encouraged investors to also look into upstream startups which will be emerging as the next big thing, albeit the longer rate of return.
In a survey conducted in the United States, people above 40 years old were less likely to try cultured meat (also known as lab meat), as reported by The Conversation. “It is just a matter of time where cultured meat will be the future of food, and education on its safety and health concerns has to begin now,” said Sapprasert. The majority of cultured meat producers are from startup backgrounds, which intrinsically lack credibility and trust from the consumers due to weak track record. “Education and awareness can be built up collaboratively by government bodies and corporates,” she added, noting that consumers are more likely to trust such organizations due to their strong credibility.
The future of work through intrapreneurship, innovation, and collaboration
“The key in digital transformation is to identify the disruptive threats, and study the characteristics of organizations that have survived the past century,” said Djoann Fal, the CEO of GetLinks, a tech-hiring marketplace, at the ORIGIN Thailand conference by TechNode, held during the True Digital Park Grand Opening on September 19, 2019.
“A phenomena of innovate-or-die has emerged, and it is now a race of who can digitize faster,” said David Zhang, CTO of Eko, during a panel discussion moderated by Chalermyuth Boonma,
the Head of Bootcamp and Community at dtac Accelerate.
“Corporates have to be clear on their long-term strategy and set the right framework as to how they want to collaborate with startups,” said Nattapat Thanesvorakul, the head of strategy and new ventures at corporate innovation accelerator RISE, adding that in-house innovation is the way to go for creating a long-term value within the company. “Corporates should also look beyond their in-house innovation team as some innovations are readily available in the market,” said Thanesvorakul.
The staffing issue has always been an urgent and critical business issue. The need for strong leadership is a perennial challenge. “There is a big leadership skill gap and organizations have to acknowledge this in order to grow and produce great leaders,” said Fal. “Job hoppers are exhibiting strong innovator characteristics with a strong mindset and agility,” emphasizing that employers should not steer clear of job hoppers.
Camera360 on photo filters, data privacy, and monetization
“All users are seeking ways to enhance their photos aesthetically. For example, users from China prefer natural and aesthetic filters while users from Southeast Asia prefer sparkly and glittery filters,” said Hu. Camera360 has more than one billion global users and has passed 20 million monthly active users in Thailand.
“As an app developer, we believe protecting users’ data and privacy are equally important to us as they are to users, and we always pay great attention to this area,” emphasized Hu. He added that users’ behavior data collected can be used in an effective manner for product improvisation, resulting in better UI, and better user experience.
When asked how they stand out from many other photo-editing apps, Hu emphasized that continuous innovation is key. “Having an efficient monetization strategy is of paramount importance, especially for such a free app that has invested heavily in R&D innovation to better serve huge user base,” added Dr. Gang Lu, Founder & CEO of TechNode.
“Wealth inequality is the key reason contributing to the high unbanked population,” said Monsinee Nakapanant, the co-president of Ascent Money, a Thailand-based fintech company. “Financial institutions traditionally focus on providing services and account for the top-tier segment, with minimal resources allocated to serve the unbanked,” she added, noting that close to 80% of Thailand’s wealth is controlled by 1% of the people.
Leon Chua, the executive director & head of business development APAC at Airwallex, a cross-border payment solution, said, “Banking solutions targeted at SMEs in the market proved to be costly and startups without a track record face difficulties in applying certain financial services.” “The unbanked SMEs traditionally trade gold as a wealth management strategy,” added Andy Li, CEO of Silot, a Singapore-based fintech company.
However, our speakers believe that this situation is changing rapidly with the growing adoption of digital banking, the proliferation of mobile devices and affordable internet, reducing the cost of customer services. “This poses a huge opportunity for fintech companies to serve the up and rising startups and SMEs,” said Chua.
We are humbled to have such great minds joining us here at ORIGIN by TechNode and we’d like to thank our speakers, partners, and audiences who have helped in making this conference a success. With the vision to continue increasing Southeast Asia’s knowledge about China’s tech and startup ecosystem, we will be bringing ORIGIN by TechNode to Indonesia this coming November, in collaboration with Wild Digital. We hope to see you there and stay tuned for more updates on origin.technode.com