Thanapong Na Ranong offers startup investments strategies.

Mention the name “Thanapong Na Ranong” in startup circles, and you will find he is well known as a pioneer of venture capital for startups.

He has been involved in telecoms for over 20 years before joining InVent, a Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) unit of the InTouch group seven years ago. This created a network to close over 15 investment deals with big players such as Wongnai, Computerlogy and Playbasis. From his experience in telecommunications, Thanapong moved to finance, stepping up to become managing director of Beacon Venture Capital two years ago.

Thanapong said that Beacon, whose shares are 100% owned by Kasikorn Bank, is KBANK’s investment arm for joint ventures with startups, which will add benefits and value to its banking business.

But the VC also has helped the startup ecosystem to grow, bringing innovation, knowledge and understanding of the startup culture, enabling new businesses to expand into banking.

KBANK’s current structure for investing in startups is comprehensive, starting from the bank’s broad customer base comprising members of the public, small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, and over 8 million online customers, allowing for a complete set of connections for startups to find partners.

The second part is the Kasikorn Business-Technology Group (KBTG), which consults with startups on shaping new ideas and technology to support changes in doing business.

The last part is investing in startups that have definite ideas and innovations, but lack capital or collateral for a loan. Beacon will spend to get the startup off the ground and off mentoring to spur growth while acting as an intermediary enabling the startup, banks and KBTG to work together.

In the first phase, the bank is investing capital of US$30 million (957 million baht), part of which is directly invested in startups and part funded through VCs. Investment has been made in two Singaporean entities, Vertex Ventures and Dymon Asia, with additional investments expected soon.

In Thailand, the emphasis is on direct investment, and there are current investments in three startups, Event Pop, a platform for scheduling, Flowaccount, a system of online accounts, and Ookbee, a digital lifestyle platform. These already account for 25% of the total investment budget.

Startups backed by Beacon are in the group of innovations that primarily help the banking business, such as Fintech, artificial intelligence and Big Data. Investment is in businesses that the bank especially desires, and the investment in each project is a minimum of US$500,000 for a five-10-year period.

“Originally, we stressed the Series A Group, who had products in the market that already had some degree of acceptance. Now, this is starting to fall off, while Pre-Series A has good ideas and innovation that match the bank’s needs, so we have expanded our involvement by sending teams to help develop their businesses,” Thanapong said.

The Beacon managing director reiterated that the investment policy did not specify fixed returns. The fundamental concept was investing to support the bank’s business and cater to customer demand. For instance, Flowaccount could be used with the SME group of customers whose accounts were frequently chaotic resulting in expensive accounting service fees. Flowaccount solved this problem and customers could use it at a special price. This reduced risk of financial difficulties and benefited both customers and the bank.

“In the future, we can analyse data about the market and customer demand obtained by providing the Flowaccount service with AI systems for customers with financial problems. The results can be used by the bank to find an appropriate transaction for each customer.

“Beacon VC reinforces the image of the bank is among the first to offer online banking services now developing new services to upgrade to complete digital banking services. The Beacon team helps to find startups to help develop products for the bank. This reduces the time that the bank needs to develop its products itself, while other business units can use them.”

People-Thanapong

Thanaphong Na Ranong, managing director of Beacon Venture Capital (Beacon VC)