Road to the Winner in Jump Thailand – DDS Student – Theethus Rangkasiri
“As everyone has the right to breathe clean air, no one should be demonized by society.”Theethus Rangkasiri
Founder and CEO at Defire, Thailand
-The heart and purpose behind the development of the Defire platform, a Jump Thailand hackathon winner-
Looking back to the start of the year, I enrolled for a course in my Master’s about using technology to sustainably manage natural resources. The course presented one very interesting finding: the agriculture sector (not just the transportation or energy sector) is responsible for emitting a large amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) of which one culprit is “Crop Residue Burning”.
Crop Residue Burning not only releases large amounts of GHG, it also causes problems regarding air pollution and soil deterioration in the long-term.
In addition, I also personally relate to this issue. Previously, whilst working at the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, I did development work with maize farmers which involved constant Crop Residue Burning. This led me to further research how we can solve the issue in a sustainable manner.
After researching and exchanging with my former farmer colleagues, I found that farmers actually do not want to practice Crop Residue Burning: they are also the ones who have to inhale the smoke and dust from this practice. However, this practice is one of the fastest and cheapest ways of clearing the fields for the next crop cultivation. Considering the economic situation of the farmers who have low yearly earnings, they cannot afford to invest money and time in other methods (such as paying laborers to clear fields or manually clearing it themselves). Thus, Crop Residue Burning is the most cost- and time-effective way of preparing fields for farmers. This situation fits the Thai saying of “Khon hiw pa hai”, or “Hungry mouths lead to disappearing forests”.
In order to stop these farmers from continuing Crop Residue Burning, we then need to “feed” these farmers with enough income and incentives to help them survive and find other alternative practices.
The question is, what incentives will be needed to change the minds of these farmers?
Incentive For Change
Fortunately, I had just learned about Carbon Credit in class, which is a market mechanism to prevent more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. Every year, the global demand for Carbon Credit grows, which gave me the idea that:
“If these rural farmers stop or reduce Crop Residue Burning, that means they are reducing carbon emissions, which may then be used for calculating and selling carbon credit. Could this be the incentive for change?”
Coincidently, whilst this idea was knocking around in my head, the Jump Thailand hackathon was also taking submissions for innovations in sustainably improving air quality. This was like a sign saying “Erk, gotta do it NOW!”, so I signed up for the hackathon and guess what, I was chosen! However, Covid-19 got in the way of things and delayed the hackathon for almost half a year, though this did give me time to refine, focus, and improve my idea further.
As mentioned before, during that half-year delay, my idea really took shape in terms of:
- A clearer Business Model
- Inception of a Proof of Concept
- Technology for scaling the business was prepared
- Formation of a development team
I want to emphasize the importance of my own Avengers team in developing this platform, starting with the two team members who I have partly invited, partly forced to be along on this journey with me since Day 1:
1. Shan (Shan Chan R), a management consultant who has been my friend since high school. He was instrumental in helping me see the bigger picture and plot out my best strategic moves.
2. Patter (Patter Tang), an expert in the field of social entrepreneurship with a great deal of experience in pitching. She was invaluable in designing the business mechanism to solve our social issues.
So far, we’ve seen a strong showing on the business and social sides, but no one yet on the product side. This reminded me of the juniors in my TEDxCharoenkrung days:
– Chal (Chal U-Viengchai), the kind Dev with a growth mindset through the roof. Despite having no experience or knowledge in this field, he was always ready to meet any request (whether for producing a proof of concept, or other Dev requests).
– Jennie (Jennie Rmd), the person behind the Covid tracker website (among many of her projects), who superbly handled the UX/UI side of our product.
Now, the Defire Avenger team is ready for war!
The First Door
Before the hackathon day, our team spent around a month getting everything ready. Though it wasn’t much time, we managed to turn our idea into a concrete prototype worthy of competing in Jump Thailand.
I remember saying to Patter the day before the hackathon, “This work is very, very important to me; I want to give it my best.” While it’s normal that when we enter competitions, we want to win, I also think the more important motivation here is the fact that if our idea passes the scrutiny of two rounds of experts (from VC, UN, NIA, and Founders of various startups), it would really be a crucial step and ticket for Defire to go big.
Finally, the real hackathon day arrives…
Defire managed to shoot through to the final round and was lined up to pitch first. Excitement and anxiety were sky high, but hey, I guess all the better for retellings.
Within only the first few pages of the pitch, I noticed nervous reactions from Shan. I knew something was definitely wrong, and it was. Turns out, my internet was breaking up, and nobody understood a word of my pitch!
I really have to thank Shan for remaining calm and collected, thinking of a solution on the spot to this issue. He knew that if he told me the problem, I would definitely lose focus and flow, but that was still better than no one understanding my pitch, so he promptly spoke up in the middle of the pitch. He said, “Sorry, the presentation will continue from my device” and spun around his computer towards me for me to continue pitching.
There were around 5 seconds of tense dead air whilst my concentration, flow, and script went right out the window, but hey, the show must go on. I thank myself for managing to crawl towards the end of that pitch despite my shaky confidence (heaven-hell difference from the semifinals).
I only recovered my full wits and composure towards the start of the Q&A session, and I must say, we were very lucky there was a Q&A session in the final round or there would not be any chance for us to make-up for the botched pitch. I knew we needed a game-saver because of that pitch, this was shaping up to be the most important Q&A I had ever done in any of my past presentations. Our team pulled out all the stops in answering the questions; we incorporated all of our intensive research, fieldwork, and experience into presenting our platform’s full potential and feasibility to the best of our abilities. In the end, we were rewarded with an outcome worthy of all our spent effort and time.
I have to admit, yesterday was one of my happiest days: I haven’t felt this way in so long. I’m so glad the judges saw the potential and feasibility of our platform in solving the air pollution issue, but on the other hand, I know it’s only a (good) start. A good opportunity like this is really one-of-a-kind, it will never appear again if we let it slip through our hands.
I want to thank AIS and Techsauce for organizing great events like this. We saw various solutions and paths forward to solve the air pollution issue. Many projects can also be said to fit right in with our supply chain; we could even work together on joint projects! I also want to highlight the kind and great organizing staff and those who took care of us event participants, and especially Khun Tai (Ktaya Boonyaratana), the best MC in Startup circles, who never failed to bring out smiles throughout the whole three days of the event.
I would also like to thank the Mentors: Dr. Kannika from Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), Asst. Prof. Chon from SDG Move TH, Khun Amornwan from UNDP who gave us superb mentoring about Carbon Market and environmental policies, and Khun Juice Chuencheewan (Chuen Wongsaeree) from Globish for mentoring and coaching us in order to help improve our pitch as well as make our Q&A perfect and rock-solid.
I want to also thank P’ Kem, P’ Narn, P’ Mint, P’ Champ, and all the farmers who helped give us insights into Crop Residue Burning.
I also extend thanks P’ Oui (Methawee Pakilakhe) from Bang Chak for giving us information about the Carbon Market Club and Thai carbon market.
I would also like to offer special thanks to Professor Nophea, Dr. Takuji and Dr. Manju for their academic support as well as for sparking this idea in me.
I also want to thank the Mae Fah Luang Foundation for implanting the DNA in me to always question “how would this help the people?” in all my endeavors and actions. They were also instrumental in pushing and implanting in me the mindset of “It can be done” no matter what the challenge, nor how difficult.
I would also like to thank my mother (Jiraporn) and father (Attaphong) for always being supportive and believing in me.
Lastly, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude towards my team members, Patter, Shan, Jennie, and Chal, for giving this project their best and for seeing it through with me to the end. Thank you for believing in me and my idea from the start, I’m so blessed and proud to have this opportunity to work with all of you, lots of love
I believe this solution will undergo further improvements and changes as necessary in the future, but our purpose will never change.
Within the next 1-2 years, we promise to push our platform towards Thai farmers’ hands to the best of our abilities, in order to bring better standards of living whilst sustainably solving the air pollution issues.
Theethus (Erk) has also participated in the Sustainability Hackathon 2020 (2nd Event) and the NAREMATech Hackathon 2021 from the course Technovation in Natural Resources Management, winning the HM Prince Prize in Sustainability Hackathon 2020 and NRM Prize in the NAREMA Hackathon 2021. Both events were organized and hosted by the Department of Development and Sustainability (DDS), wherein Erk also worked on his graduation thesis on the Defire platform. It can be said that Erk was well prepared both in terms of academic knowledge and actual experience to win the AIS Jump Thailand Hackathon.
DDS would like to offer encouragement and support to Erk and his team in fulfilling their aims of bringing the platform to Thai farmers and creating the lasting impact they desire.
We hope this story will inspire AIT students: we believe every AIT student has the push, capacity, and potential to achieve “Social impact with Innovation” in the real world.