Insight into Thailand’s “Startup Industry” Head of True Incube’s Plan at the Time Thai Market is No Longer Exciting

02 February 2024

In the past decade, “startups” had represented a phenomenon on business scenes. They had also shaken the landscape of business, economic and technological sectors to the point that people started changing their ways of life. While some of these startups have since transformed into “unicorns”, some others have gone out of business. True Blog thus sat down with “Jutamard Ngamwattana”, Head of True Incube or True Corporation’s startup incubation center, to learn more about her path, True Incube’s direction, and Thai as well as global startup trends.


Jutamard has dealt with financial figures ever since she entered the Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy. After her graduation, she started her career at a bank where she was assigned to handle special projects. Thanks to her job, she had acquired a lot of knowledge about China and became interested in furthering her education at the Xi’an Jiaotong University. Backed by a scholarship from H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, she enrolled into the graduate program in Management and Engineering (English Program). E-Commerce and Social Commerce was her major.


While in China, Jutamard found her life gradually leaned towards the tech field. Although Xi’an is not a big city like Beijing or Shanghai, it is a cradle of Chinese civilization. Even back in 2012, Jutamard noticed how technologies and innovations brought culture to the next level. This Chinese city’s technologies had also been evolving real fast especially in terms of social-media app and electric motorcycles.


After Jutamard received her master’s degree, she returned to Thailand. Her new job was again related to financial figures. But because of her familiarity with China, she had also often been on work trips to the country. Every time she revisited China, she felt her horizons expanded. Shenzhen and Guangzhou, to her, became amazingly advanced.


“Seeing that China had continuously sowed the seeds of innovations and technologies, I felt inspired to work in the field of digital transformation and technology to change Thailand for the better,” she said.


Fortunately, Jutamard later landed a job at a bank as a strategist for China. At the bank, she oversaw overseas branches, prepared China strategies, and coordinated with startup-related agencies that were at that time interested in the Chinese market. Jutamard, as a result, got swept into the startup field. She directly engaged in the search for promising startups and invested in them via startup funds. Her career path then switched to startup circles, where she was in charge of corporate venture capital (CVC) and strategic partnerships with startups.

Strategic Partnerships

After accumulating extensive experience in the region’s startup and technology industries, Jutamard has risen to the helm of True Incube or True Corporation’s CVC. Her duties are to find startups that look set to have “shared value” and “synergy” with True. The identification process includes Pilot Test or Proof of Concept, which helps determine synergy potential. If targeted startups present really good technology, True Incube may invest in them.


True Incube has now set its sight on becoming Thailand’s Leading Startup Incubator and Accelerator so as to grow the country’s startup ecosystem. For Thai startups, True Incube will look for interesting choices in Seed Funds stage. Eligible Thai startups, so far, must have already developed their products or services. As for foreign startups, True Incube will explore choices in Series A up only because such stage reflects a lot about their viability in their country of origin. True Incube expects chosen foreign startups to connect their businesses with True. So, selection criteria will also depend on True’s business direction. For example, True may choose to pursue Machine Learning, Metaverse, Digital, or HealthTech startups.


On top of identifying promising startups and forging strategic partnerships, True Incube has also “made investments”. After putting in money, it has constantly reviewed its portfolio too. Currently, True Incube has been considering between 24 and 25 deals. Most deals are related to Software as a service (SaaS) startups. In addition, True Incube has invested via startup funds such as the 500 Startups of the United States and China’s Fund of Funds in pursuit of financial returns. Current investment amount has already reached 200 million US dollars. But True Incube has still had 85 million US dollars more to spend. These investments have already provided some unrealized gains. Aside, True Incube has already received some dividends from 500 Startups.

Pulse of Thai, Global Startups

During the past few years, startup industry across the world – including Thailand – has experienced significant changes with both positive and negative impacts. In the face of growing challenges especially from the economic crisis, startups found it harder than ever before to raise funds. The collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank was also a big blow to startups around the world. Yet, there are always opportunities in every crisis. Look at what the COVID-19 crisis brought. It accelerated the transition into the digital age and hugely spurred the adoption and use of digital technologies. Thailand’s Health Tech industry, for example, has since expanded significantly. True Incube thus invested in Chiiwii app, acquiring 70 per cent of its shares. The app is now known as “Mordee”.


Yet, Thailand’s startup industry is still far different from that of advanced markets like the United States, China, and Israel. The advanced countries have keenly pursued Deep Tech development with AI and Machine Learning at its core. Chinese government mandated its AI development through Open Innovation National Development Plan, co-creating with its private sector, such as Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent and Baiu, to compete with its rival, becoming the global AI leader by 2030. In Southeast Asia, most startups are still involved in Digital Tech though. They have hardly touched Deep Tech because most of their developments are about Marketplace, E-commerce platform, SaaS, etc. Competition in the field is thus fierce as it is quite easy to copy their invention. In such situation, some startups failed to raise funds and had to go out of business.

Thai startups are now facing bigger challenges. Their market is relatively small when compared with Indonesia, a neighboring country. Worse still, as free trade is expanding in the world, even regional or global players become their competitors. It is therefore extremely necessary that Thai startups find a good team and solid backup while developing the right products for the market and inventing truly practical technology.


“In fact, many talents have worked for Thai Deep Tech startups. But they are still unable to commercialize their ideas, which now exist in research papers only,” Jutamard pointed out.


Today, True Incube is conducting a feasibility study on how to apply AI9’s NLP technology for the development True Robotics’ home appliances-control robots. AI9 ranks among startups that have received funding from the National Science and Technology Development Agency.

Thai Startups “Lack Appeal”

As Thai startup landscape has been changing, True Incube believes it needs to look beyond Thailand to fulfill its goal of becoming the region’s top CVC. To tell the truth, its focus is now outside Southeast as it intends to pursue Deep Tech. In Jutamard’s view, Thai market “is not exciting anymore because it does not have interesting newcomers”.  


“Many Thai CVCs and venture capitals (VCs) remain active. But their movement does not make news headlines these days because fewer projects have entered their pipeline. Interesting startups in their portfolios are simply old faces. Without any appealing new players, True even decided to set up True Lab for the missions of promoting and incubating startups by tapping talents at the university-student level,” the female top chief of True Incube said.


Pursuing its goal of becoming a Telcom-Tech Company, True has a crucial role to play now. It needs to function as a backbone for the digital transformation across Thailand by providing funding, mentorship, facilities like True Digital Park, economy of scale support, and world-class sponsors like True, CP Group and Telenor.


“Undeniably, technology and people are crucial to Thailand’s sustainable growth. Tech-enabled startups will be key warriors for the country as it competes on the global stage. Hence, co-creation between startup and big corporate is required for knowledge exchange and innovative products that truly meets market’s demand. To illustrate, big corporates should provide startups opportunity to co-create products, while people can learn from each other,” Jutamard concluded.