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Startups

Thai bank and Vietnam incubator partner to grow regional startups

Tie-up will spur cross-border expansion of fintech and e-commerce ventures

Hang Nguyen, second from left, deputy director of Vietnam's Business Startup Support Center, says her organization will help Thai startups understand Vietnamese traditions, politics and business practices. (Photo cortesy of Kasikornbank)

BANGKOK -- Kasikornbank, Thailand's second-largest lender, is partnering with Vietnam's Business Startup Support Center to help Thai and Vietnamese startups with their regional expansion plans.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed in May, the government-backed BSSC will promote Thai companies' expansion into Vietnam, where startups are booming, particularly in fintech and e-commerce.

"We will help Thai startups understand Vietnamese traditions, politics and business practices," said Hang Nguyen, deputy director of the BSSC.

She added that the center would support in other areas, including finding local partners and navigating the legal landscape. "BSSC is ready to help create new Thai and Vietnamese unicorns," she said.

Thailand has yet to conceive its first unicorn, while Vietnam has only one, online game operator and e-tailer VNG Corporation.

Pattarapong Kanhasuwan, chairman of Kasikornbank subsidiary KVision, said his company had earmarked $245 million to invest in Thai and foreign startups, particularly those in Vietnam.

"We plan not only to invest in Thai and Vietnamese startups, but also want to use this framework as another step to find partners in Vietnam willing to invest in other businesses there," said Pattarapong.

Since 2016, Vietnam has been aggressively nurturing its startup ecosystem, with the government pouring money into building out the country's communications infrastructure and welcoming foreign investment in high tech.

This has increased the country's internet penetration rate to 52% -- well above Thailand's 42% -- providing a welcoming environment for Vietnamese startups in fintech and other technologies.

In 2018, investment in Vietnamese startups reached $889 million, nearly triple the $291 million in 2017, according to a report by Topica Founder Institute, a startup accelerator.

Hang Nguyen of the BSSC said it is too early to name the Thai or Vietnamese startups with cross-border expansion plans. However, there are companies that look like good candidates due to strong demand in certain sectors, she said.

"At this stage we see strong potential in fintech, e-commerce, traveltech and edutech, as demand in these sectors is quite strong," she said.

Along with the BSSC, the Vietnamese government has established a project aptly named Silicon Valley Ecosystem, which is tasked with nurturing development of other technology startups.

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