Bridging the startup gap

By Lionell Go Macahilig
It is hard to track back when the rise of tech startups actually began in the Philippines, but looking at several definitions, there is a clear consensus that the growth of startups is typically associated with a dynamic technologically driven landscape.
Without a doubt, the United States is far ahead of us with the Silicon Valley being the cradle of many successful tech startups which are now the tech giants of today, namely Apple and Microsoft. However, in recent years, the adoption of technologies in the Philippines has further hastened with the increased accessibility of the general public to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, faster Internet connection, social media, and the steady growth of the technologically-driven industries like business process outsourcing (BPO). These factors are crucial in building a healthy startup ecosystem.
“I came from the Inclusive Innovation Summit which was held in Sofitel hosted by DTI, DOST, and DICT with the support of World Bank, USAID, and JICA. I think that the event was a testament to the fact that the startup ecosystem here in the Philippines is emerging and growing,” said Carlo Calimon, President of StartUp Village and Let’s Go Foundation.
Calimon, along with Professor Jay Bernardo, Founding Chairman of StartUp Village and Founder of Let’s Go Foundation, has been into entrepreneurship development advocacy in the Philippines for the past 17 years. Through their organizations, the two helped in integrating entrepreneurship into the national high school curriculum. They have experiences collaborating with old and traditional businesses. But in today’s landscape, Calimon and Bernardo see that technology is an enabler that will speed up even non-technology startups, bringing to the table efficiency, connectivity, and reach.
From traditional to digital
“Although we are heavy in technology, we do have a lot of startups in food and service industries. We help different major investors and groups and we make ecosystems wherein they can actually pitch,” said Bernardo. “One example is what we did with Mercato. We have created a training program with them so that when a startup wants to qualify to Mercato, they will be trained to become a better entrepreneur. They will be able to manage the data; not just merely selling in the tents, but being able to organize and analyze what is needed. Once they become successful in Mercato, they will be doing a pitch to different investors.”
With a cozy and spacious headquarters located at The City Club in Alphaland Makati Place, StartUp Village is helping startups by providing them with a co-working space where entrepreneurs and investors can discuss and collaborate in future possibilities. But beyond that, the group has a greater vision that aims to further spur the growing tech startup ecosystem in the country.
“We are trying to be the bridge of the whole Philippine startup community to the world. The difference is that we are doing tieups all over the world that can hasten a startup in technology in the Philippines by partnering with Google Launchpad in Silicon Valley. We did a recent partnership with the San Francisco consulate, the Philippine Trade and Investment Center, and the Philippine consulate in San Francisco in order to make our startups be able to put up a US-based company by being in a co-working space that is based in San Francisco. We're also establishing some partnerships with Facebook and others. We're also working on putting up a startup village in Singapore and Australia as well,” said Bernardo.
“We are also doing partnerships with our local counterparts. Months ago we actually put together people from the government to have a forum here on how to push the ecosystem for startups here in the Philippines. It was attended by some lawmakers and Senator Bam Aquino was there,” he added.

StartUp Village Founding Chairman and Let's Go Foundation Founder Professor Jay Bernardo (far left), and StartUp Village and Let's Go Foundation President Carlo Calimon (far right). StartUp Village Founding Chairman and Let's Go Foundation Founder Professor Jay Bernardo (far left), and StartUp Village and Let's Go Foundation President Carlo Calimon (far right).

Funding and educating startups
In spite of the dynamism, Calimon believes that is still a lot of things to be done in order to support startups from the ecosystem development perspective. Among these are issues that ensure that the landscape is ready to support them, allowing them to get contacts or connections to funds whether they are angel investments or loans. While funding is a crucial aspect, Calimon also sees other concerns.
“A lot of them, based on our own experience, are looking for mentors to support them. Some of them will come up with an idea, but they don't have a background in business, so they are looking for mentoring and support. In terms of funding, yes, we can definitely help them. But the question is, are they ready? What we're trying to do here is we try to prepare the business idea and the person itself with the hopes of he or she will get invested,” said Calimon.
“If you talk to the investor side, there seems to be a lot of them but they're saying that there are not enough great business idea and quality people to run them, while the startup side complains that there are not enough investors. There must be something in between that can be done in order to bridge the trust of the investors and to see the potential of the entrepreneurs, and preparing the entrepreneurs to meet the demands of the investors,” Bernardo added.
Anchoring on how they’ve been instrumental in incorporating entrepreneurship into the education system, Calimon and Bernardo, a professor himself, believe in the crucial role of education in encouraging the startup ecosystem in the Philippines.
“There is a need to educate the next-generation and it starts with the teacher and with the school programs. If you look at the roadmap that DTI and DOST developed and presented, it gears toward that, preparing the foundation in order to be able to support the startups moving forward. Admittedly, we're lagging behind our neighbors. But there are opportunities to grow further and level up,” Calimon concluded.