23 April, 2013
Just like in other countries, the government can play an instrumental role in promoting the technology industry in Thailand. This article reviews some government actions I believe can create enormous impact on the tech industry if carried out effectively.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to jumpstart the tech industry in Thailand is by helping foreign entrepreneurs set up their businesses in Thailand. Currently, Thai law still exhibits the xenophobia mentality dating back to the 1997 financial crisis, forbidding foreigners to hold more than half the equity shares in a company.
Despite this and other labour law restrictions, so many experienced foreign entrepreneurs came here and are keen to set up their businesses here because of the strategic location and good lifestyle in Thailand. By making it easy for them to create a base here, we can become the hub for tech start-ups and industry in Asean overnight because of the natural advantages we possess.
Despite having several government R&D agencies and R&D funding activities, we have yet to see much tangible impact at an industry level. I believe one thing that stands in the way is the trust issue between public and private sectors that result from corruption.
To reduce corruption, a law has been written two decades ago to inhibit wrongdoings related to public private activities. Ironically, corruption does not go down very much. They find ways around it. On the other hand, innocent private companies are hit hard by those laws and the taboo associated with public and private cooperation.
I have personally witnessed countless publicly funded R&D projects that never reach commercialization because appropriate cooperation with private companies cannot be established. If legal and perspective issues still remain, all public funding that goes into R&D cannot reach commercialization and will have little or no impact to industry development.
In addition to the legal issues, we need to refocus government R&D agencies towards industry development and commercialization. We need to make high priority KPIs that lead to industry development, such as intellectual property licensing, commercial spin-offs, etc. We are a small country with a small R&D budget. So, all money that goes into R&D should lead to some form of tangible economic development.
To ensure that the government can make effective decisions that lead to industry development, we need more tech entrepreneurs in decision-making positions in government bodies, at board or management levels, to steer them in the right direction as far as commercialization and industry development goes. So far, the involvement of tech entrepreneurs in this sphere is sporadic and immaterial. Most decision-makers are academic and technical. We need more inputs from the front line to have a government that is relevant in Thai tech industry development.
Posted on The Nation