dtac CEO Lars Norling: Accelerator programme very important

dtac grows its accelerate success; aiming higher with Batch 5

The importance of start-ups for the business world is of such significance that an accelerator initiative by the Norwegian telecommunications giant Telenor’s Thailand arm dtac, is hot news in 2017. As dtac accelerate rolled out its Batch 5 (group of start-ups round five) in early March this incubator programme has grown into a very significant initiative – for dtac, for Thailand and beyond.

Start-up accelerators, are fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.

dtac Accelerate is Thailand’s no.1 accelerator hothouse that empowers early-stage start-ups through mentorship and financial support.

On 2 March the CEO of dtac (Telenor’s Thai telecommunications company) Mr Lars Norling personally attended the event when Batch 5 was declared open for applications.

Having already raised the standard of start-up incubators in Thaland – named third best incubator in Southeast Asia – dtac accelerate also aims higher with Batch 5, in search for heavyweight start-ups with global potential, teaming up with a Google Developers, Facebook, and corporate venture capitals (CVC) Muang Thai Life Insurance and Thai Wah.

The first thing Lars Norling said when he took to the microphone was how exciting the event to launch Batch 5 was to him personally, and in his ending remarks he wished he would be a young entrepreneur so he could himself submit start-up ides to the programme.

“A thriving digital start-up community is key to drive the digital economy in Thailand to deliver on Thailand 4.0. It is very important for Thailand but it’s also very important for Dtac. We have an ambition to be a leading digital brand in Thailand by 2020 and to achieve this we have worked very hard to digitize our core. We work very hard to take a leading online position when it comes to space and service.”

“But engagement with digital products is of course also very important. And at dtac we have been working now with this accelerator programme since 2013.”

“We have the start-ups, the funding, the office space, mentoring, and the marketing. And so far more than a thousand companies or start-ups have applied to participate. We selected 21 of which most have been very successful.”

“And now for batch 5 I’m very excited, because we see with every batch that we have more applications and also better quality in applications. I think that’s a very good sign when it comes to the start-up community in Thailand.”

In this round the CEO said they would be looking at getting more educational tech, fintech, but also agricultural tech.

“But any good ideas for tech companies are always welcome to apply to this programme.”

Batch 5 is open for applications until March 31, 2017.

“We have pretty big ambitions with dtac accelerate going forward,” continued the Swedish CEO. “The target in 2020 is that the aggregated value of all accelerated companies should be five billion baht. Currently their value is 2 billion baht but I think this can really be achieved. We also want the start-ups to solve big problems for customers in Thailand. The vision is that at least ten million Thais will be using the services and applications from those digital start-ups. That’s quite a high ambition.”

dtac has partnered with the start-ups and launched various promotional campaigns to dtac subscribers, such as product and service packages from Skootar, Fastwork, and GizTix for SME clients; special privileges for dtac Rewards and Blue Member customers from Fabbrigade, Piggipo, and Skootar; discounts for tourists using dtac Happy Tourist SIM to book day trips with TakeMeTour; and free investment seminars by Finnomena for dtac Blue Members customers.

And to raise the bar even further the dtac CEO broke the news: “Dtac accelerate’s new super bold ambition is to actually have the first Thailand unicorn from one of the companies that has been through the accelerator programme! That means 1 billion us dollar in valuation. Of course it is a greater goal but I think one of our companies over time will make it!”

“Also, when you think start-up, don’t just think locally; think Uber, think global. And what we can contribute with, since we are part of the Telenor family, is our presence in 13 markets around the world. We have around 214 million subscribers and what we enable is to open all those thirty markets for marketing of the digital start-up services. So you can reach 200 million subscribers all over the world!”

Chief Digital Officer at dtac, Mr Andrew Kvålseth, who continued the presentation, was just as enthusiastic: “It’s incredibly exciting to announce batch five of dtac accelerate! It’s hard to believe we have already done this for four years and invested in 21 start-ups. Those four years have been incredible and we’ve had some great success to date. And I think the single reason for that success is that we have been focused exclusively on the customer – what is it the customer wants?”

“A lot of start-ups end up being competitor-focused and ask what other accelerator and incubators are doing. And I have seen a lot of corporate accelerator programmes around the world that haven’t succeeded. And the major reason for not succeeding is that they ask: ‘What can the start-up do for our company? What can you start-ups help us with? And we have flipped that around to ask: ‘What can Dtac do for the start-ups?’ And actually I think that dtac can do a lot for the start-ups!” he continued.

What dtac do is investing cash directly into start-ups to develop their product, opens up its subscriber base in Thailand to the accelerate start-ups so that these can put their product in front of 25 million people and help grow the number of users (done in a lot of different ways depending on the specifics), and also have “some of the best mentors in Thailand joining their programme each year”.

“And we’re also bringing in some of the best coaches from Silicon Valley, Thailand and around Asia to help our start-ups on key topics. And finally, our relentless focus on what’s best for the start-ups.”

Batch 5 will provide participating teams with quality training on how to become successful start-ups and one-on-one mentoring from a team of world-class start-up gurus and successful and renowned entrepreneurs in the Thai start-up industry.

Andrew Kvålseth also pointed to the incredibly low acceptance rate behind the success of dtac accelerate:  “We take around ten, which means the start-ups that join are really the best of the best, and what that means is that the leading VCs around Asia have started using our accelerator programme as a filter and source of deal flow.”

That in itself also helps dtac getting only the best start-up ideas.

“That has led to our incredible results that we’ve had so far. We have had almost seventy per cent of our start-ups getting follow-on funding, which really exceeded our expectations.”

“Since we are getting the best start-ups in Thailand these are the products and services that are attractive to our customer base and it makes it easier for us to do co-marketing campaigns and to promote these, so that’s exactly what we do. Furthermore, Telenor group has now rolled out this model into a total of seven countries.”

It is also being used as a model for Telenor Group to foster start-up spirit among employees by launching ‘Telenor Ignite Incubator’ – a new intrapreneur program that encourages employees to develop ideas for digital products. Dealstogo, a start-up from Thailand, was one of the winning teams at the demo day of Telenor Ignite Incubator.


About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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