“Sustainability is not a tech problem, it is a human weakness.”
A fireside chat about Thailand’s competitive advantage at Echelon Thailand 2017 revealed a few more interesting tidbits regarding startup up growth, government involvement, and investment best practices shared by industry expert Dr. Alex Lin, Head of Ecosystem Development at SGInnovate, an establishment that connects over 7,000 regional and global corporates.
Let’s dive in.
The government, the corporation & the startup
“Governments love corporations because they bring jobs and money. Startups hate corporations because they are so rigid. It’s all love and hate,” says Alex.
“The moment you build a lot of startups, corporations will move in because very simply, they cannot innovate. Innovation threatens the CEO, he doesn’t want anything to come in and ‘kill’ his job.”
So how should businesses go about innovation?
“What’s the definition of innovation? It’s looking at the status quo and changing it.”
“What is the job of the government? It is to uphold the law – follow the rules that they created. They aren’t able to change the law, only the top dogs, so are they innovative?” explains Alex.
Governments need startups to innovate, they need the corporates to provide the customer base, domain knowledge and infrastructure and they themselves need to push initiatives – all three units need to work together to create a healthy ecosystem for growth. But unfortunately, this doesn’t always end up being the case – why?
“A strong opportunity for Thailand is fintech because there is a large chunk of the population not being served, they are the unbanked,” says Alex. “If they don’t have a lot access to finances, per unit cost is higher and they can’t buy in bulk.”
So why are there still so many unbanked (approximately 72% of Southeast Asia to be precise)? Banks simply aren’t interested in them.
And if fintech startups are being mentored by a bank, they end up becoming products of the bank to serve their agendas.
“Over 600 startups that were mentored by a bank and none of them ended up serving the unbanked.”
What other business opportunities exist in Thailand?
“Digital healthcare is a good market for Thailand because the country is a very homogenous market, i.e. everyone wants to be whiter, while in Singapore you have a mix of tan is good, white is good,” says Alex. “Thais are also willing to experiment with treatments.”
“What about not-for-profits startups?” asks an audience member.
Dr. Alex Lin here pulled a Donald Trump (in his own words).
“Global warming is a great cause and I would gladly donate or attend fundraisers for these charities but I would never invest in them because there is no ROI.”
“If you are a startup, you need to think about who is going to pay you and if you can’t survive, you have to figure that part out first.”
‘Solve people’s problems first. Don’t build technology and try to fit it in somewhere.’