NIA targets Thai unicorns in 5 years

The National Innovation Agency (NIA) is overhauling its support programme for startups to accelerate their progress, facilitating access to 44 billion baht in funding from various sources and targeting 1-2 unicorns in five years.

According to Pun-Arj Chairatana, executive director of the NIA, the strategy aims to build 3,000 innovation-based enterprises in the next 10 years.

Instead of offering grants to each innovation project, NIA will act as “system integrator” to bridge and facilitate startups, venture capital (VC) firms or corporate VCs. With its new role, NIA can thoroughly support innovation-based business.

The funding of overseas and local investors for the local startup community stands at 44 billion baht at present, 5-6 times growth during the past two years. There will be big deals in Thailand this year, especially conglomerates or large enterprises through a merger and acquisition.

However, the acquisition mainly is the investment in foreign startups such as Central’s purchase of a stake in Grab Thailand, or Beacon VC investing in Grab for GrabPay service.

“NIA expects at least 1-2 Thai unicorns at worth of US$1 billion within five years,” he said, adding that the growth of startups is very limited because they don’t have a global or regional perspective.

Mr Pun-Arj said NIA’s partners has 2-3 financial sources with a worth of 3.5 billion baht for supporting local startups. The new strategy will cover “grooming, granting and growth” schemes, with NIA’s 300 million baht of financial support.

At the stage of grooming, university students will be trained to become new startups. Some 40,000 students in the past three years have networked with NIA, but only 40 registered new companies.

The programme will train and network with master’s and doctorate students to help build deep tech entrepreneurs.

In the grant stage, the scheme offers funds supporting two groups: thematic innovation and open innovation.

The first group targets a maximum of 5 million baht through six areas that use Internet of Things technology — healthcare, food, herbs for chronic non-communicable diseases, national defence, travel, and smart logistics/manufacturing industry. The NIA is open for project proposals from today to the end of March this year.

The open innovation targets a maximum 1.5 million baht in environmental preservation through the integration of food, water, energy, education, finance, employment, social welfare, sustainable agriculture, urbanization, healthcare, tourism, culture, and disaster management.