In this era, economic competitiveness has entered the digital world and deep technology is playing a vital role in the industrial sector. As Thailand inevitably embraces the wave of change, the nation must support deep tech applications in industries. However, we must admit that Thailand has only a few varieties of deep tech. How should we deal with this problem? Let us explore the solution and the idea behind U.REKA by Orapong Thien-Ngern, SCB President and Chairman of the Board at Digital Ventures.
Deep technology is moving faster beyond imagination
Orapong got us thinking about the advancement of AI that, today, can naturally interact with passersby in airports. It may sound silly, but in fact, this is a sign that AI is more and more humanized. In the future, we may see them working as nurses and television anchors, or even as call center operators which already exist in the USA.
“Not long, numerous jobs will be at risk. Today’s technology is ready to make the jobs we see today “disappear”.”
At present, Digital Ventures has 3 units. The Corporate Venture Capital which studies and invests in tech funds and startups worldwide. Also, there is a dedicated team solely for investments in China. The Discovery Lab and Digital Products are the developers who build solutions and innovation via deep tech. Their achievement includes a collaboration with SCG, a B2P platform, the first procurement platform in the world. The final unit is the Accelerator which incubates startups and supports innovation. U.REKA belongs to this unit.
Digital Ventures successfully facilitated the Digital Ventures Accelerator (DVA) program. However, amid unstable situations, the project couldn’t provide solutions for Thailand‘s innovation development due to 3 aspects.
- Few deep tech startups. Orapong mentions that Thai startups are efficient and creative but lack deep technology which is a key success factor for startups. Thus, the Thai tech industry is far behind when compared to global startups with greater deep tech development.
- Efficient startups stay with accelerators. At present, Thailand has numerous accelerator programs. We find that startups within the industry are familiar faces who rotate in joining different programs just to acquire the funding support. Additionally, not every startup has deep technology, therefore it doesn’t contribute to the country’s sustainable development.
- Imitable business model. Past accelerators don’t favor the search for deep tech startups. As a result, there is a lack of in-depth knowledge to build inimitable businesses. This leads to models that are easily imitated and repeated.
Orapong stresses the fact that Thailand lacks deep tech startups is a major issue. Today, large enterprises want innovation and turn to startups as they are agile experts. However, at the moment, Thailand lacks deep tech startups that are worth the investment.
This situation not only is unfavorable for the business sector, but it also affects the nation’s economic competitiveness. This is because the digital era has lowered the boundaries, thus, leading entrepreneurs in one territory always have the chance to compete and become leaders in other countries. Thailand’s digital competitiveness rank at 39 out of 63 countries isn’t high enough for the country to compete in the digital era.
With reference to the above reasons, Orapong ponders over the steps required to increase Thai startups’ deep tech performance. He thought about the foundation of research which is the education sector. Leading universities welcomed this initiative and this has brought about U.REKA, U stands for University.
Orapong is mindful of today’s rapid change, especially with businesses that move faster than the academic world that 4-5 years old knowledge from class may not be applicable any longer. This integration of universities and business sectors strive to help the academic sector catch up with actual situations.
Success stories from deep tech support in U.REKA. batch 1
U.REKA batch 1 created an impact since its application announcement until today that the deep tech researchers and professors R&D finalists have been recruited.
This began when the application unexpectedly welcomed 65 teams, this created quite a buzz in the academic sector. Afterward, 33 outstanding teams were selected to attend the Bootcamp. They participated in activities and sharing sessions with partners from the business sector and representatives from Israel. (Learn more about U.REKA batch 1 Bootcamp at Takeaways from Israel’s Success as a “Startup Nation” at U.REKA Open House & Ideation Bootcamp and Retail, Tourism, and Financial Businesses’ Adaption for Disruptive Tech.
After the Bootcamp, 11 teams were selected to join the incubation. All 11 teams received 6 months of training from mentors and partners. Also, they received funding during the period.
After 6 months of incubation, U.REKA selected 5 R&D finalists by choosing the teams with deep tech potentials and business models that complement the country’s industrial development. All 5 R&D finalists are provided an average of 6 million THB per team and support to develop their own deep tech product for 2 years.
Aside from the proper support for the research teams, the academic sector benefits from in-depth knowledge, new technology frontiers, and opportunities to nurture more tech talents. As for the industrial sector, they can access deep tech research that will enhance competitiveness and open new business prospects.
More support for U.REKA batch 2
From the experience in batch 1, great attempts are invested to improve U.REKA batch 2 with better standards. Also, there are more participating partners including universities, businesses, and international deep tech backers.
The 10 academic partners in U.REKA batch 2 are Chulalongkorn University, Kasetsart University, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, Thammasat University, King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, Chiang Mai University, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Mahidol University, Prince of Songkla University, and Khon Kaen University
In terms of partnering industries, this year it is more diverse. Samitivej Hospital from healthcare, Bangchak Corporation from the energy industry, WHA Corporation from logistics and supply chain as well as SCB and Digital Ventures from the financial sector.
Moreover, resources are abundant. This batch welcomes technology support from Microsoft, the location from Knowledge Exchange and Ananda, legal support from Baker McKenzie and 360IP as well as deep tech network support from Hello Tomorrow.
Aside from increased partners, the U.REKA model allows businesses to directly support the R&D finalist teams. Therefore, researchers face real issues from the business industry and gain access to the most applicable resource support for the industry.
A few words from U.REKA R&D finalists
Following the introduction about U.REKA’s background, to gain a complete view of the collaboration, we interviewed all 5 R&D finalists in U.REKA batch 1. What they have acquired from U.REKA and what’s the plan towards success?
PORDEEKUM.ai expresses that joining U.REKA supports every aspect of the IKIGAI working concept. They do what they love, generate income, and work for a cause to uplift society.
QuTE explains that they are quantum computing researchers, a farfetched technology that won’t generate a profit on the spot. However, U.REKA’s full support shows that collaborations with the private sector may not always be profit-oriented.
Video QR researcher for market research and advertising, TinyEpicBrains, discusses that in work, aside from gathering people with similar goals, integrating knowledge from different industries drives success. Nevertheless, flexibility is needed so deep tech can adapt to businesses.
Perception shares that, normally, researchers are passionate about driving their research. U.REKA helps to drive that research to the world. However, researchers must already be confident in their work with partners as a supporter of success.
The final team, Easy Rice, expresses that joining U.REKA assisted them in every aspect. With the support, they were able to successfully turn deep tech research into actual products. Also, patent law supports are provided and this is highly significant for deep tech development.
We hope that everyone realizes the urgency for Thailand’s deep tech startup incubation and acknowledges its outcome from collaborations in the past year. U.REKA batch 2 application welcomes researchers in 6 deep tech industries applicable to Thailand’s key industries. This includes AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, Cloud & Security, AR/VR, and Quantum Computing.
Application is available from now until May 3, 2019. Visit u-reka.co for more details.