Friendships that transcend borders: NUS Enterprise unveils inaugural Winter Programme in Entrepreneurship in the heart of Bangkok

The first NUS Enterprise Winter Programme in Entrepreneurship – Startup Ecosystem Exposure, held from 7 to 14 January 2024 in Bangkok, garnered a cohort of 100 participants comprising 37 students from NUS and 63 students from 13 Thai universities for a one-week exhilarating entrepreneurship boot camp.

In a move toward fostering cross-cultural collaboration and the entrepreneurial spirit, NUS Enterprise partnered Chulalongkorn University to design a boot camp where participants could engage in hands-on activities, develop start-up ideas, refine their entrepreneurship skills and network with like-minded peers within the ASEAN ecosystem.

Sawadee ka, Bangkok!

In his address at the opening ceremony, Professor Chee Yeow Meng, NUS Vice President (Innovation and Enterprise), set out the purpose of the programme, which aims to bring together students from all over the world, particularly in the Southeast Asia region, to equip them with an understanding of each other’s cultures. Through this platform, participants would also be able to “build enduring friendships, through the development of their common interest in innovation and enterprise,” he said.  

Professor Kaywalee Chatdarong, Vice President (Strategic Planning, Innovation and Global Engagement), Chulalongkorn University, also encouraged students to have a “collaborative spirit that transcends borders, laying the foundation for future international partnerships and innovative ventures.”

Navigating Thailand’s start-up ecosystem

The highlight of the boot camp was a panel discussion featuring industry experts who shared key insights on navigating Thailand’s start-up ecosystem. Moderated by Mr Chatchanart Jiratornsirikul, the CEO and Co-founder of SeekONE Holding who is better known as JoeZ, and Ms Krista Arunanondchai, Partner at Expara, the panel discussed challenges faced by local start-ups, such as the dominance of corporate venture capital and the need to attract seed-stage investors. They acknowledged the ecosystem's potential including the importance of government support by agencies like Thailand’s Digital Economy Promotion Agency.

Among the panelists was an alumnus of the 2018 NUS Enterprise Summer Programme in Entrepreneurship, Mr Thanaphat (Bell) Rakpaises, who is currently a Programme Manager at Techsauce, a start-up providing tech and business news content. He shared insights from his personal journey working in the start-up, adding that participating in the Summer Programme in 2018 empowered him to gain self-awareness and an understanding of the requirements for thriving in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The programme not only affirmed his career motivations but also provided a valuable network that proved essential when he eventually entered the dynamic ecosystem. “Keep networking and start networking even when you are a student!” he said, advising those with a passion for the start-up environment.

From ideation to pitching

Participants engaged in an intensive Business Model Innovation workshop, delving into start-up ideas aiming to address the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the importance of having Environmental, Social, and Governance goals in their start-up ideas.

The workshop saw compelling start-up ideas conceived from a good mix of participants, with their diverse backgrounds laying the foundation for a melting pot of innovative ideas with regional and global relevance.

The entrepreneurship boot camp culminated on Demo Day, where participants pitched their innovative start-up ideas to a panel of judges, industry experts, and fellow participants. The pitches showcased a spectrum of creative solutions, reflecting the diverse range of talents and perspectives brought together by the boot camp.

Some winning ideas included Bridge, a platform that revolutionises career growth for musicians by ensuring fair compensation and transparency in gig management; an eco-friendly battery that uses a separable membrane made of sugarcane cellulose; and Studify, a platform that matches students with the right, credible tutors. 

Networking with industry experts

Participants also ventured beyond the classroom and embarked on learning journeys to True Digital Park and Amazon Thailand, gaining valuable first-hand insights from industry experts like Mr Casper Sermsuksan, the founder of SEA Bridge, a venture capital firm focusing on the Southeast Asian market. He shared that Thailand is leading in the global index for crypto ownership and online spending, noting that start-ups will need to align themselves with these trends so as to gain access to the Thai market which possesses great potential.

Mr Sermsuksan also pointed out the extremes in Thailand’s start-up funding where entrepreneurs must balance between seeking early seed funding and late-stage corporate venture capital firms. To survive and thrive, he advised entrepreneurs to create products with a regional and global customer base in mind. This approach ensures scalability and attractiveness to investors at various stages of development, mitigating the early funding challenges faced by start-ups in the region.

Starting with speaking the same language

In the spirit of cross-cultural learning, the boot camp also incorporated language and cultural exchange segments, encouraging participants to immerse themselves in the Thai language and understand the nuances of Thai culture.

To new friendships

As the NUS Enterprise Winter Programme in Entrepreneurship – Startup Ecosystem Exposure in Bangkok wrapped up, participants not only gained a deep understanding of the city's start-up trends and ecosystem but also forged enduring friendships with their peers. The boot camp celebrated diversity and fostered cross-cultural exchanges, emphasising the value of different perspectives in the entrepreneurial landscape.

Echoing the sentiments of fellow participants, Kumaravel Hema Kiruthika, a fourth-year student in Environmental Engineering at NUS College of Design and Engineering, said, “Thailand is an amazing market, and their start-up ecosystem is truly fascinating and interesting to learn about. I’m grateful for the new friends whom I’ve met and the cultural experiences that I’ve gained.”

The journey of the participants was marked by collaborative efforts, shared learning experiences, and cultural immersion. Team-building activities, reminiscent of the camaraderie seen over the course of one week, laid the foundation for lasting connections. The programme facilitated an environment where diverse international backgrounds converged, echoing the sentiment that unity amid diversity is a cornerstone of success.

Rajanand Gambhir, a fourth-year student from the Chulalongkorn School of Integrated Innovation at Chulalongkorn University recounted, “This programme was all that I expected it to be, and more. It was great to connect and collaborate with numerous students from diverse backgrounds and network with start-up business specialists.”


By NUS Enterprise