Growing startups has grown as a big topic this year in Thailand when the Thai government announced a new US$570 venture fund in April to fund and grow local startups to number 10,000 by 2018.

But before these developments, DTAC Accelerate was already on the scene investing and incubating startups.

Created in 2013, the program recently doubled its investment and incubation budget to Bt100 million (US$2.9m) from between Bt50 million and Bt60 million (US$1.5m-US$1.8m) in 2015.

11 startups have gone through the program from 2013-2015 with 70% of the 11 startups, raising funds from overseas surpassing Bt 175 million (US$5 million).

No surprise that the total valuation of its startups is now above Bt1.2 billion (US$34.2 million)!

Investors are taking notice with 2 of the 11 startups in the 2016 batch raising funding ahead of the Demo Day that happened on 19 August.

We visited Sompoat Chansomboon (“Meng”), Director of Business Innovation at DTAC Accelerate to learn more!

IEV: Super cool space you have at the Hangar, could you tell us how did the DTAC Accelerate program start?

Meng: DTAC Accelerate basically started with an app contest in 2012 to tap into a talent pool and to give a reason for people to use the internet. But seeing the success of the idea, 2014 was when the accelerator was first launched. Since then, DTAC Accelerate has grown into one of the biggest accelerators in Thailand. This year for the fourth batch of our program, we had 500 teams apply but only accepted 11 startups for the 4-month bootcamp.

dtac-accelerate   DTAC Co-working Space

IEV: So how is the DTAC Accelerate program structured?

Meng: The model that we adopt right now is to offer assistance via capital injection, namely pre-seed funding of between $20,000 to $50,000 as well as fully-diluted shares. Startups in our program then undergo the incubation process for four months as part of the bootcamp. Afterwards, our main focus for the startups is the commercialization aspect so we offer another 12-14 months at the Hangar.

IEV: So how do startups get into your program?

Meng: We currently accept startups in a wide range of areas (Clean-Tech, Cloud Services, Education, Enterprise, Entertainment, Financial Services, Gaming, Hardware, Healthcare, IoT, Mobile Apps, Mobile Commerce, Payments and Social Enterprise) but we would like to focus more on Fintech, Health-Tech, Agri-Tech, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. I think that our way of selecting startups like on The Voice by their future mentors, such as LINE Thailand’s CEO Ariya Banomyong, enables them to support startups that they are passionate about to succeed.

IEV: Where can we see the DTAC Accelerate Program develop?

Meng: We are expanding the model to other Telenor markets next year, which is potentially 13 other locations. Also underway is our focus on intrapreneurship to create a sense of ownership and develop innovation within the organisation – called the Ignite Incubator. Together with Telenor, we want to allow employees to pitch their ideas. We have since screened 500 ideas! Right now, 8 teams, with 3 teams from Thailand, have won the right to take 3 months off while being paid to create their idea and get investment from the company. For the startups, after Thailand, they usually aim for Malaysia and Myanmar as the next markets to grow in. Piggipo, for example, collaborated with the Maybank Innovation Lab in Malaysia to launch itself as Credit Mavin to help Malaysian consumers manage their finances in a simple yet enjoyable way.

IEV: How do you see the Thai startup ecosystem developing?

Meng: More trial and error would be a good way to help the ecosystem grow better. For ourselves at DTAC Accelerate, we are always challenging ourselves to improve every year and experiment with different ways and means of helping the startups in our bootcamp test and learn. There is a lot of potential for startups in Southeast Asia as they are largely undervalued, US$8.9 billion in invested funds compared to other ecosystems. However for startups in places like Thailand to grow, they have to scale and conquer the local market first.