Entrepreneurs reconnect and build networks at Thailand summit

Gather 80 entrepreneurs in one place, present them with thought-provoking challenges, and one thing is certain: a wealth of innovative ideas will emerge. Such was the case during the Foundation's Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI) Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, where fruitful discussions and valuable connections took place over four inspiring days in May.

Watch this video to hear from some of the entrepreneurs who participated in the summit

The event brought together 60 entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia and 20 from New Zealand, including a delegation of nine Māori food and beverage business leaders exploring industry connections and gaining insights into regional business practices on a Foundation-led visit to Singapore and Thailand.

The majority of the entrepreneurs attending the Hua Hin summit were past participants of the Foundation's YBLI programme, which facilitates trade and fosters connections between business leaders and entrepreneurs in New Zealand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After three long years that saw many plans scuppered or put on hold and connections strained by a lack of international travel and in-person contact, the summit provided a chance for past YBLI participants to reconnect with the Foundation and fellow entrepreneurs, says the Foundation’s director business Nick Siu.

"The purpose of the summit was to kickstart the programme - to reconnect with our alumni and strengthen bonds frayed by the Covid years.

"You can hold as many Zoom meetings as you like, but it's not quite the same of getting together in-person to re-establish friendships." 

A participant listening to a fellow participant speak

In breakout sessions the YBLIs tackled some universal challenges facing entrepreneurs

Objectives of the summit included providing a platform for delegates to tackle business challenges, gain insights from industry experts, and most importantly, make connections and expand their professional networks.

Discussions covered a wide range of topics, such as strategies for building resilience and retaining talent in the post-Covid era, as well as a case study looking at ways to support an indigenous tribe in the Philippines in their resistance against land exploitation by developers. However, fostering stronger business ties between New Zealand and the nations of Southeast Asia was at the forefront of discussions.

Nick says, it's amazing what businesspeople of this calibre can come up with when you put them together in one room and set them a task.

“The conference served as a catalyst for deep conversations, fresh perspectives and collective growth, reminding us of the transformative impact we can achieve when we face difficult issues together."

A shot taking in an entrire conference room with people sitting in chairs around its edge

Southeast Asia is a thriving region teeming with entrepreneurial spirit, and New Zealand must seize the opportunity to engage more actively with this dynamic market, Nick says.

"With its educated population, growing middle class, and youthful dynamism, Southeast Asia holds significant potential for New Zealand.

"It is incumbent upon us to proactively cultivate relationships in the region, and the most effective approach is to nurture genuine connections among the emerging generation of business leaders."

Cherrie Atilano, the CEO of AGREA Agricultural Systems, emphasised the importance of the summit providing time for participants to truly get to know one another.

“I never attended a summit where you’re asked to do team building…playing games with people in the middle of the day. But it all fostered comradery, it all fostered trust…

“We’re all here to be encouraged to create transformational businesses and for us to create transformational businesses it all boils down to creating this core trust.”

People playing a game where they have to transfer a tennis ball between each other by rolling it along plastic pipes and eventually getting it to a bucket

Despite the heat, participants threw themselves into a series of team building activities

For the New Zealanders attending, the summit was an invaluable opportunity to meet with potential business partners in Southeast Asia and learn about how the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the region.

Tangible business relationships will undoubtedly emerge from the conversations and discussions at the summit, says Thai entrepreneur Karanvir Singh Thakral.

He emphasised that having got to know some of the entrepreneurs and their businesses he was sure he would be able to connect a number of them with potential business partners in Thailand or Asia.

“This [summit] is the place that you actually build core value to your business. It may come to me as a connection tomorrow, but it’s not just an exchange of name cards.”

Jason Leong, CEO and co-founder of Dunedin-based fintech company Pocketsmith, says the summit provided an occasion to "see entrepreneurship from a range of different angles."

Jason has had a long association with the Foundation, partaking in his first YBLI experience as part of a 2015 Thailand visit for tech entrepreneurs. 

For him, having the chance to talk shop with 80 people who understood the rewards and challenges of being an entrepreneur was an important part of what made the summit special.

" One of the most important things I'll take away from the event is that all of us entrepreneurs share many of the same challenges, and it's so easy to be cocooned in the role of being a founder, being a CEO of a company, that it's really great to take a step back and look at the bigger picture..."

A girl in traditional costume displaying her muay Thai skills

A group of young muay Thai exponents put on an impressive display of their skills

Outside of the conference room, participants were able to experience Thai culture during a tour of local shrines as well as visits to local night markets, where the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well.

In Phetchaburi (a town neighbouring Hua Hin), the group were entertained with a display of Muay Thai by a team of local children as well as performances of traditional dance and music.

Sharing in experiences away from the conference room helped bring people together, Nick says.

"My guess is that perhaps as many connections were made on the steps of a shrine or while taking in the sights and sounds of a night market as were made during the more formal summit activities.

"It was great to see the lightbulb moments when two delegates realised they could work together on a project," he says.

"I'm sure this summit will be the genesis of a number of productive business relationships that will bear fruit in the months and years ahead." 

The Foundation organised the summit as part of the Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI), which facilitates trade and builds connections between business leaders and entrepreneurs in New Zealand and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The Foundation has been delivering the programme on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade since 2012.