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UOB-backed business accelerator forays into Thailand, eyes helping SMEs digitalise

SINGAPORE business accelerator The FinLab has ventured into Thailand and is ready to fork out at least 10 million baht (S$425,900) on Thai small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them go digital.

The FinLab will select 10 to 15 SMEs through a pre-programme workshop. Over 400 companies have signed up so far, according to Felix Tan, the accelerator's managing director, in a phone interview. 

Selected SMEs will undergo a three-month "smart business transformation programme", comprising workshops on areas such as digital marketing and change management. The SMEs will also be able to pilot and implement digital solutions relevant to their needs, guided by The FinLab's specialists.

The accelerator is targeting companies in food and beverage, fast-moving consumer goods, construction, logistics, retail, wholesale and travel – industries which Mr Tan said are facing disruption the most. The companies should also have regional growth plans and an annual turnover of 25 million baht to one billion baht.

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Thailand is The FinLab's first stop in its plans to extend the programme to the rest of South-east Asia in future.

Mr Tan also shared that the accelerator is fully funded by United Overseas Bank (UOB), in line with the lender's "regional aspirations to help SMEs, in each of the countries the bank is strong in, level up".

"The idea behind this is if we can help SMEs start to use digital technologies and improve their work processes, revenues and margins, they become bigger and stronger.

"More importantly, their books will also look a lot better and that will encourage banks to extend more financial services to help them grow." 

Just last week, UOB and OctoRocket.asia signed a memorandum of understanding to enable small businesses in South-east Asia to apply quickly for financing through OctoRocket's platform.

Under the agreement, UOB will enable small businesses that use OctoRocket for at least six months to apply for financing directly via the online platform. Instead of relying on company financial statements as per traditional business loans, the bank will assess the applicant’s creditworthiness based on its transactional data on OctoRocket.

The FinLab chose to foray into Thailand first for a few reasons. They initially considered Malaysia, but saw elections taking place and "weren't really clear as to what the impact might be if the Opposition won", said Mr Tan. 

Furthermore, Thailand was one of the first in the region to approach The FinLab to bring its programme over, he said. It was also "perfect timing" that Singapore's Global Innovation Alliance launched its Bangkok office last April.

In Thailand, the programme will be run in collaboration with UOB (Thai), the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (depa), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Office of SMEs Promotion (OSMEP).

Each of the selected SMEs has to pay 150,000 baht for the programme, but the cost will be waived if the SME has a bank account with UOB (Thai), or a written or email endorsement from either depa, NSTDA or OSMEP.

Applications for the SMEs are open until April 2019.