Programs at Software Park Thailand target specific applications and entrepreneurs at different stages of their career. In the Mobile Developers Apprentice Program, for example, professionals from a specific industry come in and talk about the industry and issues that entrepreneurs need to address. Students in the program choose the platform (IoS, Android, Windows) that they want to work on, and they come back with an app-based solution.
"Last year, we had 100 people take this class and participate in a competition for the best idea," Tuchinda said. "Five or six of them ultimately moved on from the idea to the next stage of the business."
In 2013, 136 business ideas came out of Software Park Thailand's Technopreneurs program. Fifty-seven of those ideas moved forward into business incubation and ultimately brought a product to market. The economic impact was on the order of $40 million, Tuchinda said.
One example is the INNO-Vein, a biometric sensor technology that uses an individual's unique palm vein pattern to perform high-level security authentication. Its developers say that it is more accurate than other techniques, such as fingerprint and iris scanning, and that it can be used for a variety of identification purposes, from time and attendance checks to ATMs.
Another Software Park Thailand success is LMB (which translates as "Angel Shop"), which was started by three entrepreneurs who were thinking about starting a business while they were still in school. After going through the Software Park Thailand program, they launched an online shopping website that is generating close to $1.5 million in annual revenue.
Recognizing the importance of universities, which are a well-regarded incubator themselves of potential startups, Software Park Thailand has formed partnerships with many of the country's leading universities and talking to potential entrepreneurs while they are still in school.
Ironically, it may be Thailand's shortage of engineers, computer science majors, and technically trained professionals that could derail its plans for fueling growth through software startups. Only 20% of university students there are science and engineering majors; compared with twice that number in Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea. Worse yet, only about 15% of Thailand's 30,000 annual science and engineering graduates go into the field in which they earned their degree "Yes, the top two or three hundred go on to start companies, and 100 or so will get investment from VCs, but that’s not enough," said SIPA's Chatkaew.
SIPA is working with universities and vocational schools to address the issue and improve the quality of education, but Chatkaew expressed frustration over the situation. "Young people today, they have their own style of living that's different from out generation. They need happiness, but they don't seem to need money, and so they sit at home and don't work. We need to understand better what it is they do want to do and the role they play in Thailand's economy."
— Karen Field, Director of Content at EE Live and EE Times, is on a week-long trip to Thailand sponsored by the Thailand Board of Investment.