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Teen entrepreneur making Phuket proud with charity start-up

Founder and CEO of Sandee for Good, Asia’s Regional Director & Club President at LaunchX, Alumni at Quarter Zero, Co-founder of KétoPlants. This might read like the LinkedIn profile of a successful busi­nessperson at the peak of their adult career, but it is in fact the CV of Irawadee Thawornbut, known as Bai-Dteuy, an accomplished Phuketian entrepreneur of just 16 years old.

Community
By Amy Bryant

Sunday 30 June 2019, 10:00AM


To do justice to her successes, infec­tious enthusiasm and enterprising spirit would require much of the Life section – a Bai-Dteuy special. Perhaps her great­est achievement, though, is Sandee for Good, an online marketplace that allows users to purchase goods for non-profits in need across Thailand, picking from each organisation’s tailored wish list.

“I found that so many people are willing to help and donate to communi­ties, but they don’t know where to. So they tend to donate in places near their houses, or to places that are well known. This leaves non-profits in rural areas unnoticed, thus receiving less support,” says Bai-Dteuy. “So I wanted to create this platform where distance is not a barrier for non-profits anywhere and where they all have equal voices.”

Sandee for Good currently supports five carefully chosen charities – Child Watch in Phuket; the Duang Prateep Foundation and forOldy in Bangkok; the Umphang Hospital Foundation in Tak; and The Orphanage Foundation of the Southern Thailand – changing the lives of children at risk, stateless refugees and the elderly. The platform’s name is wonderfully apt, ‘sandee’ meaning ‘pro­tector of mankind’.

“We really stress transparency to know where the money and goods go and how they’re being used,” explains Bai-Dteuy. “Non-profits take photos when they’ve received the goods and then when they’re being used too. It’s really refreshing and heartwarming for the donors to see.”

Sandee for Good breaks away from the often faceless donation systems and instead connects charities closely with their donors, and its success is marked by the B68,000+ in goods donated since its launch in December 2018. So how does a full-time student create such a successful platform, nurturing it from a concept to launch in just six months?

Bai-Dteuy discovered her entrepre­neurial spark in 2017 after the LaunchX young entrepreneurs programme came to British International School, Phuket – BISP where she studies. The pro­gramme helps students leverage their talents and build start-ups that solve real-world problems. Bai-Dteuy and her three teammates responded to that year’s theme of ‘environmental sus­tainability’ with KétoPlants, a vertical farming venture for hotels which they pitched at LaunchX’s annual regional event in Shenzhen, China – which, as LaunchX Regional Director for Asia, she now helps organise – in February 2018 and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology two months later.

With the bug for entrepreneurship caught and her mind abuzz with ideas, Bai-Dteuy then secured a scholarship for Quarter Zero’s Catapult Incubator summer programme in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. It was here, in a community of like-minded, inspir­ing high school entrepreneurs, that the idea for Sandee for Good started to take shape and become a tangible reality.

“Quarter Zero helped me with the hands-on part of creating a company. We learnt how to do market research and how to build a team and a company cul­ture,” Bai-Dteuy explains. “I learnt that a company should always consider social impact. That should be the direction of every company in the world.”

On return to Thailand, fate, or per­haps Facebook algorithms, presented Bai-Dteuy with an opportunity to take Sandee for Good forward when an ad appeared on her newsfeed for Win Win WAR Thailand auditions, a TV compe­tition she describes as “like The Voice but for business”.

Chosen from over a thousand appli­cants, Bai-Dteuy competed on the show between September and December last year under the mentorship of Pawoot Pongvitayapanu – CEO and Founder of TARAD.com, the first and biggest e-commerce service in Thailand – fight­ing her way to the final five where she received the Creative Innovation Award, the show’s only accolade after winner.

“I was the only child in the competi­tion. At first, I was kind of scared. I didn’t have the experience everyone had. They were all accomplished in their fields,” Bai-Dteuy says. “But the whole experience really taught me to just be on your own level, improve where you are and be happy with that. Don’t bring yourself down.”

Bai-Dteuy echoed this advice in her confident and empowering TEDx talk about her roller coaster entrepreneur­ship journey, encouraging adults and children to put doubt aside and pursue their passions as there are lessons to be learned in both success and failure.

Despite balancing school and a work­load that would have high-flying city managers pining for an early retirement, Bai-Dteuy continues to strive for more, citing her mother’s proclivity for plan­ning, the support of her family, friends and teachers, and the tenacity of Elon Musk as her inspiration. While they say never meet your heroes, encountering Musk at the 2018 Hyperloop competition only served to fuel her determination.

“He really inspired me to continue doing what I’m doing. What I really like about him is he has no limits set to himself. He started PayPal. Normal people would have stopped there, but he went on to Tesla and SpaceX. It doesn’t mean you have to put pressure on yourself, it’s just knowing that you can improve and do more.”

With this in mind, Bai-Dteuy heads to Harvard Summer School to embark on a new area of study: Modern Data in Stellar Astrophysics. Each new venture comes with a degree of unpre­dictability, which entrepreneurship helps her navigate, but what’s certain is that as long as she keeps reaching for the stars, Bai-Dteuy is going to be a name Phuket remembers.

Bai-Dteuy’s TEDx talk is available here. Visit her plat­form at www.sandeeforgood.com

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