After studying environmental engineering in Australia, Peetachi (Neil) Dejkraisak returned to his homeland of Thailand in hopes of doing something that would change and better his country. Upon learning about the rice industry in the southeast Asian nation and how its farmers were among the poorest in the world — earning just 40 cents per day — the idea for Dejkraisak’s company, Siam Organic, was born.
“When I learned about that problem, it fascinated me how this was possible and how this is affecting 70 million people in Thailand,” he shared with Entrepreneur.
Siam Organic aims to help solve farmers’ poverty in Thailand by assisting small scale farmers with seed production, reducing costs and getting organic certification. The company also assists farmer cooperatives in the country with everything from production to exportation.
“We actually help manage their entire value chain from seed to basically consumers’ tables,” Dejkraisak explains.
Asked why this cause is so important to him, Dejkraisak says, “These farmers have become my family. I’ve gotten to know them, slept in their homes, ate their food. We’ve developed an amazing bond. So right now I’m just fighting for my family.”
And lucky for this social entrepreneur — he’s one step closer to his achieving his dreams and changing the world. Dejkraisak is the winner of Chivas Venture, an annual social entrepreneur pitch competition launched by whiskey scotch brand Chivas Regal. With a panel of celebrity judges, the yearly competition seeks to find and support social startups that want to help build a better future for the world, with 30 entrepreneurs pitching and competing to win funding from Chivas Venture.
This year, Dejkraisak’s Siam Organic won first place, receiving $400,000 from Chivas Venture. We caught up with Dejkraisak after his victory to hear some helpful tips for winning a competitive pitch competition as a social entrepreneur.
How did you make sure Siam Organic stood out from the rest of the competition?
The main thing for me was to share a story with the audience in a way that touched them, [and] in a way that inspired them.
My whole objective of pitching was to touch people’s hearts, to share the farmer’s story with them. Because sometimes when we talk about social business, we talk a lot about numbers, [and] we lose sight of the fact that these are real people and real lives. I make sure that, in my presentation, people get to really understand these people’s lives. And I think that [was] obviously effective in terms of the competition.
What was your strategy for pitching?
We had more than 300 people in the live audience last night, and sometimes what I like to do is get a feel of the energy in the room. I don’t like to be too scripted because that can be a little mechanical when you deliver [a] presentation.
I normally leave about 10 to 15 percent of room for some improvisation where I just look at the crowd, [or] look at somebody — they may ask a question or I may ask them a question. I probably only practice about 80 to 85 percent of my presentation. The rest I leave a little room for some interaction with the audience.
Any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs in the early stages of business?
One is you must have a very sustainable business model that can generate sustainable income and revenue to support your company because by nature, when we say social business the only thing that differentiates us from charity or NGO is our ability to earn revenue. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose the pitch competition as long as your business works in real life.
The second is persistence — hard work and persistence. As a social entrepreneur, a lot of people will not take you seriously because they think you’re running a charity. You have to prove to them that you are willing to work harder than everyone else to make this work. And that’s the only way you’re going to be able to help people.
Related: The Secret to Pitching
As a social startup, do you think it’s advantageous to be a part of a pitch competition, as opposed to traditionally pitching investors?
There are definitely pros and cons. I think when the company is in the early stages, you come to [a] competition to get advice. But once you have sufficient advice, you should spend at least one to two years working on the business. And I think in [those] one or two years you shouldn’t pitch — you should just focus on building the foundation of the company. Because even if you win some money, you will not be able to utilize it without the strong foundation.
So I would recommend [pitching] at the beginning to get ideas, to get advice and then spend the next one to two years working on it.