Singapore and Thailand have inked two deals to deepen links between their technology ecosystems and help Singapore start-ups gain a foothold in the kingdom.
Trade agency IE Singapore has signed two memoranda of understanding (MOUs). The first is with Thai Beverage unit C asean - the social enterprise unit of the conglomerate - which runs a programme helping foreign start-ups set up in Thailand, as well as local start-ups venturing abroad.
The second MOU was signed with Thai co-working space and ecosystem builder Hubba, with the aim of giving Singapore start-ups access to their spaces.
The MOUs were signed at The 5th Singapore-Thailand Enhanced Economic Relationship (Steer) Ministerial Meeting held here yesterday.
Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade), Mr Lim Hng Kiang, co-chaired the meeting with Thailand's Minister of Commerce, Mrs Apiradi Tantraporn.
The meeting noted the growing bilateral economic ties between the countries. In particular, officials discussed deepening cooperation in agriculture and food, information and communication technology, investment, trade facilitation, tourism, air connectivity and intellectual property cooperation.
While Singapore start-ups have yet to start venturing into Thailand in a big way, IE Singapore said the kingdom is on track to become the region's next booming tech hub.
Thailand might not be an intuitive market for start-ups, but we have to look at the country's potential trajectory.
IE SINGAPORE ASSISTANT CHIEF EXECUTIVE TAN SOON KIM, on how Thailand holds opportunities for start-ups to grow and succeed.
Thailand was tricky because of language barriers, cultural differences and regulatory issues. We were also not familiar with the way users think - the majority of people make online purchases through social channels.
SHOPBACK HEAD OF MARKET EXPANSION JOSEPHINE CHOW, on how the company is teaming up with bigger brands to raise its profile in Thailand.
Thailand is now home to about 1,000 start-ups, making it South-east Asia's third-largest start-up ecosystem after Singapore and Indonesia.
Only three start-ups in Thailand received funding in 2012. Since then, a total of 75 start-ups have cumulatively raised US$170 million (S$231.5 million).
"Thailand might not be an intuitive market for start-ups, but we have to look at the country's potential trajectory," said IE Singapore assistant chief executive Tan Soon Kim.
An estimated two-thirds of Thais are social media users and the majority access social media through their mobile phones - reflecting strong prospects for the country's digital economy.
In addition, start-ups in Thailand are getting strong support from the government as well as private companies keen to tap on new technologies for growth, IE noted.
"Thai conglomerates are looking out for technologies that can address their core traditional businesses, and this is where Singapore companies can come in to fill a need," said Mr Tan.
These companies also have strong regional expansion ambitions. "If (Singapore companies) are able to latch on to these conglomerates, they can go regional into Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (the CLMV region)," he added.
Promising sectors for Singapore start-ups include e-commerce, fintech, urban solutions, health tech and agritech, among others.
E-commerce marketing platform ShopBack is among the pioneering Singapore start-ups to venture into Thailand.
The company launched its cashback portal in the kingdom in July and is working with about 120 merchants there.
ShopBack head of market expansion Josephine Chow said the decision to expand into Thailand was an easy one but execution was challenging.
"Thailand was tricky because of language barriers, cultural differences and regulatory issues. We were also not familiar with the way users think - the majority of people make online purchases through social channels," she noted.
ShopBack is teaming up with bigger brands - for instance, offering incentives to users of payment platform Line Pay - to raise its profile in Thailand.
"We wanted to work with larger names to boost credibility and help elevate our brand," added Ms Chow, who has been based in Bangkok since January.