Thai telco True Corporation is known for its phone business. Many consumers don’t realize that it also supports the Thai startup ecosystem by hosting its True Incube incubator program. That has been boosted by True’s recent investment in 500 Startups. The investment news got our attention and makes us wonder why a telco would invest in this Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator.
Tech in Asia got to sit down with Punnamart Vichitkulwongsa, True Incube’s managing director, and talked more about the investment plan. Punnamart explains:
The main benefit for True investing in 500 Startups is that all the participants in the True Incube program will get to experience pitching their ideas to the world-class accelerator firm. True wants to be part of helping the Thai startup ecosystem to grow.
Ready for the global market?
Punnamart says that of the True Incubator finalists, 500 Startups already has it eye on at least three out of six for investment, regardless of whether they win or not. In addition, True will pick the most “ready” Incube-inducted team to go to Silicon Valley for a workshop for two weeks. There will be no “winning” team. Instead, True will focus on which is the most ready to compete in the world market. However, the team(s) that 500 Startups picks will get to be there and train with the accelerator for three months.
True Incube is unique in that it adds value to entrepreneurs. True doesn’t only give money but asks them to work together with True full time for 99 days to make sure the chosen startup team has the skills needed. “Think global but execute locally” is what True wants all entrepreneurs to focus on.
Of course, there’s more to it than partnerships.
Nearly $8 million set aside for a VC firm
True Incube is looking beyond being an incubator. Yes, the mentorship program will continue next year, but True also has its eye on becoming a VC. Next year True will be considering investing in companies that don’t need the bootcamp, instead just investing as a VC firm. We’ve seen similar in the region with SingTel’s Innov8 program and SK Telecom Ventures.
In the early stage, True is looking to fund at seed stage and series A input, which is generally $1 million to $5 million per team.
Punnamart shared that the budget for this program next year will be around 250 million baht ($7.78 million). The KPIs that Punnamart will use to judge these new VC ideas are:
- The return of investment from holding stock from startups
- The value that the company can add to True Corporation in general, which means if you want True to invest in your startup, make sure you check out its website and think of how you can add more money for this telco
True will consider VC funds for startups engaged in e-commerce, payment systems, content, and digital mobile platforms that help small- and medium-sized businesses.
When asked about the percentage that True expects to get out of each company that it will invest in, Punnamart answered:
Founders will still be the main key stockholders, but True holds at least 10 percent of each company.
Punnamart believes that giving too much money might not be a good thing as that can decrease the passion of the founders.
With the 500 Startup investment and True’s plans as a VC, Punnamart expects more people to be interested in the True Incube program next year. In addition, True expects to have at least eight to 15 finalists next time as the company will also offer greater investment.
(Editing by Steven Millward and Paul Bischoff)