Thai startups received a record total of over $120 million in funding in 2017, helped by a pick-up in dealmaking towards the end of the year.
For comparison, startups in the country raised $9.7 million in 2013, which jumped to $43 million in 2014 before slightly declining to $32 million in 2015. Strengthened by the government and commercial banks launching their corporate venture capital funds, and active VC funding, the year 2016 saw over $86 million being invested in startups.
Laphat Tantiphipop, an investment analyst at Cento Ventures, points out that the first half of 2017 saw lower venture investments into Thailand than the first half of 2016. The country attracted less than $20 million in venture investment in the first six months, equivalent to 4 per cent of the total venture investment volume in Southeast Asia, compared to 8 per cent in 2016 and 14 per cent in 2015.
The second half of the year saw startups bagging plush investments, including aCommerce, which raised $65 million in a Series B round led by KKR-backed Emerald Media in November, Zilingo ($17 million) and Pomelo ($19 million), thereby pushing the total deal value over $100 million.
Despite accounting for less than 10 per cent of overall venture investments in the region, Thailand is one of the core sources of revenue (over 30 per cent of total revenue) for most regional digital companies. “One of the reasons why the market hasn’t yet corrected for this discrepancy, we believe, is that the attention of global investment community, as far as Southeast Asia is concerned, is still predominantly focused on Indonesia,” Tantiphipop explained.
Pahrada (Mameaw) Sapprasert, director at 500 Tuktuks, the most active VC fund in Thailand, says the size of funding rounds has grown noticeably larger than previous years, and 2017 also saw more M&A among Thai startups.
She believes Thailand is gradually becoming the centre of the regional ecosystem as Thai startups expand in the region, and more foreign founders approach the country to build their startups.
“Given the growth we saw in 2017, we expect to see more Series A, B, C, and M&A coming from both Thai and international corporates, VCs, and startups this year. The year 2018 will bring more opportunities to Thai startups but the market will be more competitive as well,” she said.
Sompoat Chansomboon, managing director of DTAC Accelerate, believes that there are two main reasons for the surge in investments in Thai startups. “First, investors have started looking for the deals in emerging countries including Thailand because the valuation of startups in big countries is too high, sometimes even beyond reality. Second, Thai startups are more capable and gain more attention from both local and foreign funds,” he said.
Trends in 2018
Chansomboon says big Thai corporates, particularly in the financial and property development sectors, are expected to continue investing in startups in 2018 but the new rising stars would be health tech, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Last year saw some significant cross-border deals such as the e-commerce joint venture between JD.com and Central Group, and Sansiri’s $86-million investments in six global startups.
“I believe we will see more of such significant investments from large-sized international companies this year, and we will probably see the first IPO from Thai startups within one-two years,” he said.
He also has a word of caution for local startups as they face increasing competition from foreign players, including Chinese corporate giants.
“The competition in 2018 will be much fiercer than previous years because both local and foreign investors will focus more on Thai startups, particularly in e-commerce, which accounts for 12 per cent of the whole retail business. My suggestion for Thai startups is that they had better find the right partners who can help them grow internationally. Don’t compete with them alone,” he added.