When it comes to innovation-based solutions, the first images that pop up in our mind might be those of startups that employ big data or new cool software to tackle our day-to-day problems. However, beyond the inconveniences in our daily life, large and complex industrial operations also need innovations and fresh ideas to solve the problems they are facing and improve their efficiency.
As an innovative organization, SCG seeks to foster an all-encompassing ecosystem that promotes innovation in all areas in order to discover as many new alternatives and solutions as possible to deliver to its clients. In addition to the continuous support of its internal R&D and innovation co-development with partners across the world, SCG has co-founded SPRINT Accelerator Thailand to serve as an ecosystem that supports deep tech startups in Thailand and helps equip them for business, accelerate their growth, and provide hands-on practices before commercialization. Through its partnership with experts who are ready to provide know-how, financial support, and networking opportunities, this incubator has already produced three batches of deep tech ventures.
Deep technologies or deep tech for short, refer to tangible innovations with vast potential to enhance industrial production and business operations. The development of deep tech requires tremendous resources, advanced technological knowledge, and scientific advances.
While regular startups are small ventures that seek repeatable and scalable business models and deliver either some form of existing or newly created digital technology such as software as their core product, deep tech startups will characteristically have tangible hardware components in the products or services they offer. As such, their main challenge lies in the resources they need to invest in research as well as laboratory and field tests, not to mention the long waiting time for test results.
Pongsakorn Kantichaimongkol, CEO of Qvatec Co., Ltd. and first batch SPRINT alumnus, elaborated on deep tech as follows:
“Deep tech startups often have to develop new technology or equipment to address a new set of problems. As a result, the production development trajectory shares very little similarity with software development, and each product improvement entails costs. A case in point is GalvaX, which was the product we submitted to SPRINT. To meet the industrial standards, the corrosion protection coating had to pass a 2,000-hour corrosion resistance test. This translated to a massive testing cost and enormous amount of time.”
“After the preliminary performance test, the coating had to be field-tested in actual environments, such as at an oil rig in the ocean. It was also difficult to estimate the testing time, as it could take anywhere from one year to until the product expired. For such a completely new product without prescribed testing standards, an added challenge was to foster confidence in customers, and this could entail extra steps to acquire certifications in accordance with industrial laws. Therefore, time and resources, including investment and working teams, required during the product development phase leading up to commercialization are factors that deep tech startups need to prepare for.”
Another challenge for a deep tech venture that Pongsakorn learned about from SPRINT Accelerator Thailand involves business and marketing thinking. As customer needs naturally vary at each stage of the business, it is vital to plan out each milestone accordingly – an area that the program has helped each participating startup team.
“Our team now has a clearer picture and can determine which stage of the project we’re at and what we need to do, which is absolutely critical. For instance, at the Idea Stage, the priority would be to prove the feasibility of the technological development and push the product out into the market. At the Market Stage, we should talk to our customers in person to acquire feedback and improve both the business plan and the technology. At the Scale-up Stage, we would have to accelerate sale growth, which might involve investing more in manufacturing to meet market demand. These lessons have prevented us from skipping important steps or working in the wrong order and saved us a lot of time.”
Pongsakorn said that the startups were also given opportunities to meet potential customers, so that they could understand their needs. The training also touched upon how to simplify and deliver their pitches in a way that would captivate customers’ attention in under three minutes. In addition, as a by-product, the incubation program has helped the participating deep tech ventures develop a network through which they can help, refer customers to each other, and exchange experience. This has resulted in an atmosphere of self-improvement and mutual development, marking the beginning of a small deep tech ecosystem that will keep growing stronger.
In the view of Dr. Suracha Udomsak, Vice President and CTO – Innovation and Technology, Chemicals Business, SCG and the person behind the program, SPRINT Accelerator Thailand represents another endeavor of SCG to pursue R&D and develop innovations for the company. Partnering up with experts across various areas, the program seeks to translate deep tech know-how into products that meet the needs of the business and industrial sectors in a sustainable manner. Dr. Suracha believes that one of the common goals that all sectors across the world are working towards is environmental sustainability, and innovations can help solve environmental issues on a larger scale and in a more impactful and sustainable way. That is why SCG is determined to support independent scholars, scientists, and engineers and enable them to launch deep tech startups dedicated to developing innovations in response of new problems.
After three years of operation, Dr. Suracha has identified a challenge in the deep tech industry in Thailand: the examples of successful ventures are still far and few between compared to developed countries like the U.S. or the U.K. In addition, there is also a lack of angel investors or venture capitals specialized in deep tech investment. Therefore, he believes that the program is only the beginning and there is much more to be done to create a complete deep tech ecosystem in Thailand. However, he believes that Thailand has what it takes to put itself in the forefront of the industry in Southeast Asia thanks to the diversity of industrial bases in the country.
“It is not easy to start something new, but it’s fun because you get to keep your brain sharp. Our program seeks people who like to sharpen their mind constantly. Among the seven billion people in the world, these people are out there. The question is how we can support them so that they can use the innovation they have to develop society at large and how to connect them and customers who are looking to solve their problems,” added Dr. Suracha.
As long as humanity exists in this world, there will always be problems to tackle and improvements to be made, from the environment and energy to medicine and quality of life. Therefore, SCG is committed to creating a deep tech ecosystem in Thailand, so that startups can use scientific and technological advances to develop innovations and address these issues as well as grow sustainably as a competitive business.
The four deep tech categories that SPRINT Accelerator Thailand supports are as follows:
Advance Materials: High-performance materials for applications in infrastructure, construction, automotive and packaging
Healthcare and Medical Devices: Advanced devices or platforms that will improve diagnosis and medical care or offer better quality of life, especially for the elderly.
Industrial IoT: AI and sensors that improve energy efficiency or enable predictive maintenance in manufacturing processes.
Sustainable and Green Technologies: Technology for reduction of CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions as well as technology for plastic waste recycling and water treatment
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