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Turning potential into prospects
19 May 2022
Top Thai startup issues and how to resolve them
Have you heard about a recycling vending machine for households to sort their waste? Or an AI that analyzes businesses’ production systems to identify where they can reduce waste? These are just some of the ideas from entrepreneurs who are looking for solutions to combat the severe plastic waste issue in Thailand.
This year, The Incubation Network has been working more closely with startups in Thailand through our accelerator, training and mentorship programs. So far, we have supported 31 startups and SMEs. During our expansion here, we dove deep into the local plastic ecosystem, from which we understood not only the gaps in the waste management infrastructure, but also the many opportunities to tackle these issues and leverage the economic value of plastic as a raw material.
Thailand is a nation of creative people, ingenious solutions and passionate startups. However, ideas by themselves are not enough. Startups require support to bring their innovations to commercial scale — some do not know where to start, or where to go for support, which can significantly hinder their business progress. Many entrepreneurs face several issues that prevent them from realizing their potential, including a lack of capital, R&D infrastructure, and access to the innovation ecosystem to test and validate their ideas and products.
Here are some of the top issues entrepreneurs in Thailand face and the solutions we believe can address these issues.
#1: Lack of research and development (R&D) infrastructure
The issue of plastic waste is gaining currency in Thailand, but innovation takes time. Not only can innovation lead to solutions for individual companies, research and development (R&D) uplifts the whole industry by providing new knowledge, technologies and productive possibilities for all firms and people to benefit. Yet, currently, there is a low focus on R&D among companies, research institutes and the government.
One solution to tackle this would be to work directly with universities and institutions and provide students, lecturers and researchers with technical support, including bridging the gap between academia and companies. At The Incubation Network, we leverage our relationships with strategic partners to break down silos and share insights to advance knowledge on reducing plastic pollution. Our position across the region enables us to have better understanding from a bird eye’s view and create resources that we work with partners to implement on-ground.
For example, our Ocean Plastics Mapping Toolkit can be used in workshops to tackle ocean plastic waste, including a ‘journey map’ template to map the waste flow of plastics, a template for experts in plastics production, and prompts for different interventions that may solve the problems identified. This toolkit is used in workshops with governments, producers and consumers to help them connect with each other, and better understand plastic waste flows and how to build locally relevant capabilities.
#2: Lack of financial planning
Many startups cite running out of cash as the reason for lack of success, especially in a competitive environment where peers can be backed by wealthy investors or institutional partnerships. Startups often face challenges trying to find suitable sources of funding, going beyond seed stage and scaling up to Series A level or further.
While investor interest is growing in the plastic waste landscape, entrepreneurs who can perform robust financial planning during early stages will go a long way towards efficiency of operations and greater financial sustainability. It is also important for startups to work out a business model that can bring their solution to scale for profit.
One solution to lack of funding opportunities is to create a strong network to connect startups to key stakeholders who can become potential investors and funders. This can map the investors and areas of financial support across Thailand and the international markets.
#3: Greater investment in the innovation ecosystem
The issue of plastic waste is receiving more attention, and we are seeing more investment into the innovation ecosystem. However, more can be done to create a more permissive regulatory environment, financial incentives and innovation acceleration.
The Incubation Network is working closely with entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) whose role is to nurture startups in varying stages of growth with training, mentoring and access to resources. For example, we are organizing The SUP Challenge which connects startups across the region with partners in the food and beverage (F&B) industry. Entrepreneurs are partnered with support organizations such as Seedstars and RISE IMPACT and work with restaurants, small eateries and food delivery services to establish pilot projects across Thailand. They are also connected with investors who can help finance their ventures.
It is also important to align with the government agenda. Thailand’s focus on the bio-, circular and green (BCG) economy model is good news for entrepreneurs. Orienting their solutions to the strategic areas of this policy (including food and agriculture; medical and wellness; energy, material and biochemicals; and tourism and creative economy) will help startups to gain access to a whole new range of resources and opportunities.
Understanding your needs
Whenever we work with a startup, the first thing we do is conduct a needs survey, so that we can understand the type of support the organization needs, before we start connecting them with mentors, technical experts or potential partners.
Every startup is unique and at a different point in their journey. It is our mission at The Incubation Network to better connect the plastic circular economy across Thailand and the region, so that we can improve the ecosystem, reduce waste, and help improve people’s lives.
Join our network for access to more insights and opportunities to support innovative solutions against ocean plastic pollution here.