It was encouraging to see Suphachai Chearavanont, the CEO of CP and the president of the Digital Council of Thailand, talk about seeding funds for startups in universities and even in high schools.
It is a great idea if done properly because what every startup needs is funding and what Thailand needs is more venture capitals that do not only care about making money.
Hopefully, the latter is the case with Suphachai, as most corporate VCs are opportunists that do not accept failure. They only expect fast and large returns on their investment.
At the same time, the Thai billionaire’s comments also remind me of a quote that the late Paul Daniels, an English magician, and a millionaire, said in an interview with the Guardian in 2001: “it is really easy to become rich, you should be taught how at school.”
We all know that in reality, that is not the case.
A matter of schooling
Additionally, Suphachai’s comments that kids should be doing startup while they are still in school in Thailand seems a little out of touch for two reasons.
First, Thai schools do not encourage their students to think outside the box. They also don’t teach kids to learn from their failures because they do not even allow students to express themselves.
Thai teachers expect kids to follow their teachings via rote learning. If they step out of line, they will be branded as mischievous students and then ridiculed or outcasted by fellow students. Hardly grounds for an entrepreneurial undertaking.
Second, even if a gem of an entrepreneur makes it out of the Thai public school system, corporations and conglomerations like the one that Suphachai is the head of makes it impossible for them to succeed.
If anything, large corporations in this country do everything they can to squeeze out the little guy.
If Suphachai is sincere, he might want to look into what is being taught in Thai public schools before trying to copy what is being done in developed countries where the level of education is way better than that of the Thai system.
If Suphachai is sincere, he should tell 7-11 to stop copying products from SMEs and then mass-producing them at a lower cost in order to compete and rid themselves of the competition.
If Suphachai is sincere, he might also want to tell his group and other large corporates to stop stealing all of the government concessions and projects from everyone else, and then maybe give some of them to Thai startups for a change.
You cannot teach someone to take risks when you never had to any for yourself. You can’t ask someone to risk it all without a safety net when your entire life has been coddled and cuddled.
We do not doubt that Suphachai has his heart in the right place. But maybe he should also pause and listen before talking. Then he could listen to the demands and grievances of the high school kids who are calling for a change to the system. It would sound a lot better than when his father took out front-page newspaper advertisements to call for an end to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Again, I do not want to discourage anyone from helping startups and SMEs but I do wish that rich people in this country would keep more in touch with what is going on with the impoverished and disenfranchised people living here.
(Photo Credit: CP GROUP)