NIA supports rural innovation

NIA supports rural innovation

Under the Startup Act, the National Innovation Agency (NIA) plans to provide support to innovation-driven companies in rural areas outside Bangkok while building a workforce skilled in technology, science and research.

The NIA will be under the new Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation.

The move aims to drive Thailand towards becoming an "innovation nation", boosting the country's economic growth and reducing economic inequality.

"The NIA will be a systems integrator for innovation by connecting researchers, innovators, private firms, academics and other partners to bring Thailand towards becoming an innovation nation," said Pun-Arj Chairatana, executive director of the NIA, who is in his second four-year term in the role.

In the next four years, the NIA aims to build and cultivate at least 3,000 innovation-driven firms, ranging from startups and SMEs to SET-listed firms.

The NIA has highly ambitious goals. If the new government and cabinet give the green light, the organisation aims to take Thailand from the 25th-largest economy to among the top 20 and free the country from the middle-income trap.

In order to accelerate innovation, the NIA will focus on three priorities.

First is regionalising innovation to local communities in northern Chiang Mai, three provinces in the south, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and northeastern Buri Ram province, with Bangkok as the centre of the innovation hub.

Second, the NIA plans to pursue a sector-based innovation strategy by embracing innovation in the service sector, mainly in tourism, Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) and food, which together account for 53-57% of GDP.

Third, the NIA will build a workforce with skills for the future, creating at least 20,000 jobs in the process.

The NIA will continue to emphasise and build economic and social innovation. Resources will be granted to boost social innovation that helps increase inclusivity for people with disabilities and LGBTQ people, as well as solving social issues in the middle class such as transport safety and pollution and accommodating the ageing society.

Social innovation aims to respond to challenges in disaster management, urbanisation and micro finance.

Mr Pun-Arj said the NIA will speed up the Startup Act postponed by the previous government. The law will give foreign investors a 60-month grace period to gain a major stake in new companies, which is limited by Thai business laws that require 51% Thai ownership.

The NIA will increase the number of new startups by university grants. Thailand has a great deal of corporate venture capital (CVC) funds, together worth US$1.2 billion (36.8 billion baht), but there is a dearth of new startups to fund.

"We see the amount of CVC investment growing to 100-200 million baht per deal, compared with 50-100 million baht previously," Mr Pun-Arj said.

There are 50-60 startups in the "premier league" that raised Series B and C and 300 startups that are still pre-Series A.

Thai startups need a greater global and regional footprint to grow larger and perhaps reach unicorn status (a valuation of over $1 billion).

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