Impact Shakers City Guide: Chiang Mai with Lily Bruns
Since travel isn’t what it used to be, we decided to travel the world through our Impact Shakers City Guides, in which a member of our community shares some of the highlights of their city’s impact ecosystem.
We’re meeting ecosystem builder Lily Bruns in the wonderful Chiang Mai, Thailand. She works with Draper Startup House, is the founder of the Chiang Mai Entrepreneurship Association & Startup Chiang Mai
Lily: Draper Startup House was originally founded as Tribe Theory in 2018. Our first hostel was in Singapore, but we quickly expanded to Bali, Bangalore, Tallinn, Lisbon and beyond. Chiang Mai is our 9th location.
It exists to connect, inspire and empower the world’s entrepreneurs. By bringing creators together in our spaces and acting as city ambassadors for prospective entrepreneurs, we provide a global to local, local to global network. We work with a network of venture funds to help them invest in exciting startups in emerging markets so we’re also helping to spread the wealth and impact of Silicon Valley. Whether it’s through our events, consulting services, and Academy or Venture programs, or through serendipitous meetings that occur in our cafes and hostels, we serve as a nexus of talent and resources within up and coming startup ecosystems.
I joined the company in February to launch the space, but have been working to develop the city’s ecosystem for several years through the Chiang Mai Entrepreneurship Association which I cofounded, and the Startup Chiang Mai blog and directory.
In founding the Chiang Mai Entrepreneurship Association, our goal was to better connect local, expat and digital nomad entrepreneurs. For foreigners operating in Thailand, it can feel like an uphill battle, so having the right network is really make or break. Thailand has strong SMEs but few are well-positioned to expand to a regional or global market without bringing much-needed international perspective into their business.
Startup Chiang Mai was kind of a hobby borne out of my own frustrations with how hard it is to find information about the city’s startup activities in English. My hope is that greater visibility into the ecosystem can make it a more attractive prospect for founders and investors alike.
Chiang Mai is my hometown where I grew up and while I’ve traveled all over the world, the city has always stayed near and dear to my heart. I’m driven to help local businesses to succeed and to put Chiang Mai on the map as the go-to destination for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Chiang Mai is a really welcoming city for entrepreneurs, the expat community is diverse and inclusive. The new generation of Thai entrepreneurs are hungry for international opportunities and keen to play with emerging tech. Because we are so close to farms as well as nature, food, agriculture, and sustainability are top of mind for many.
Chiang Mai has a wealth of initiatives supporting entrepreneurs and startups, though their impact can be hit or miss. Creative Chiang Mai is one of the most well established, responsible for maintaining a great IT Services Directory as well as being the force behind the city’s annual Design Week and other keystone events. Chiang Mai University’s tech incubator, STeP is also fantastic, operating a popular coworking space as well as the the most established incubator program in Northern Thailand. Chiangmai&co, a public-private entity supported by the National Innovation Agency provides mentorship and resources to founders. For a more detailed rundown of Thai government entities supporting startups, I have a detailed guide available at StartupChiangMai.com. Iglu and Artisan Digital are both great software consultancies that serve both local and international clients, Artisan in particular is well known for supporting the local tech/dev community.
We also have some badass social enterprises serving the community, Freebird Cafe and Chai Lai Orchid Ecolodge are hospitality businesses that provide training and employment opportunities to marginalized communities. The Little Urban Farm runs kid’s camps, a community farm and works in an advisory capacity with some cool agrotech businesses. Makerspace Thailand has a really great tool library and teaches people to do CAD design and 3D printing.
There are some pretty amazing entrepreneurs and businesses here with a lot of heart!
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