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Thailand’s Startup Ecosystem: A Case of Arrested Development?

Because Thailand has long seen itself as a leader in Indochina, it is perhaps a bit troublesome for Thais to see Vietnam overtake our country in terms of economic opportunity

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Because Thailand has long seen itself as a leader in Indochina, it is perhaps a bit troublesome for Thais to see Vietnam overtake our country in terms of economic opportunity.

Or in this instance, global innovation & competitiveness, as per the latest Global Innovation Index (https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2017-report) assembled by Cornell’s Johnson School, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

It’s not surprising, really. As a government and citizenry, Vietnam has been making the more focused investments and decisions necessary to propel their ecosystem forward, while Thailand engages in activities of mixed and sometimes questionable value.

Today, we dip in a ranking, but the longer term danger is that we as a country continue to fall behind other stalking horse ecosystems that are hungrier and more agile than we are.

What can we do to reverse this downward trend? I have a few ideas:

1. Less talk, more action

I hear a lot of fancy proposals and initiatives on how to boost our ecosystem, but government officials and ecosystem builders spend so much time developing them in a vacuum, they end up as white elephants that a) never materialize because they are always under study or under development, and b) no one wants because there was little to no validation with key constituents.

2. Less PR, more blunt honesty

Turn off the cameras. The more press at a conference, workshop, seminar, or fireside chat, the more fluffy and useless the conversation will be. Have closed door sessions where everyone is expected to check their emotions and thin skins at the door and instead bring their honest opinions and hard prescriptions.

3. Treat the wound, not just the symptoms

We in Thailand have a tendency to think very short term, with quick band aid fixes that look great in the newspapers, but do a piss-poor job at treating the endemic problems that hold our ecosystem back (i.e. education, among many).

Let’s tackle the short term problems, the low hanging fruit, but let’s also spend time on the long term problems, the ones that won’t result in quick wins or Instagrammable selfie moments but are vital to the long term sustainable development of the ecosystem.

4. Be inclusive

I recently pointed out to some fellow CVCs that the one commonality that sets the ecosystems in Silicon Valley, Israel, London and Singapore apart from the rest of the pack is the amazing level of diversity woven throughout their ecosystems, in terms of gender identities, nationalities, ethnicities, and experiences.

The problem with our ecosystem in Thailand is that we are extremely binary. Look at most startups, go to most industry association meetings, go to most local workshops, and you will either see nearly all Thais, or nearly all foreigners. And a whole lotta dudes. Heterogeneous ecosystems rise to the top; homogeneous ones are also-rans. Mingle, people!

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