After hurdling the intensive online learning labs and virtual pitch days, and successfully presenting their business proposals to a distinguished panel of judges, four women-led businesses won a total of P2 million cash grants from the InLife Negosyo Challenge.
Declared the grand winner of the Challenge was Panublix Innovations, Inc., a social enterprise that connects designers to regenerative fabrics and artisan craft for a more sustainable lifestyle. They received a cash grant of P1 million.
Empath Corporation, a women-led business that provides online mental health services, was declared the first runner-up and was awarded P500,000 worth of cash grant.
Two social enterprises, meanwhile, tied for second-runner up. They were HeySuccess Virtual Assistance Services and MAGWAI. HeySuccess is an enterprise that provides training, mentoring and coaching for would-be digital professionals and virtual assistants for IP communities in Benguet and Baguio City. MAGWAI, on the other hand, is a sustainable personal care company pioneering marine-friendly personal care products that are both effective and sustainable. They received a cash grant of P250,000 each.
Apart from the cash grants, the top four businesses were awarded a 6-month long in-depth & needs-based mentoring and technical assistance, and access to structured peer learning support as part of their prizes.
The InLife Negosyo Challenge was presented by Insular Foundation as part of its social and economic mobility advocacy through enterprise growth and women empowerment. It was held in partnership with the InLife Sheroes Advocacy and Movement (InLife Sheroes), which is committed to empowering women so they could be self reliant and financially independent; and Villgro Philippines, a women-owned and led gender-smart incubator that funds, mentors, and supports impact enterprises. The contest was supported by InBEST Ventures, a local impact investment firm that has preference for women-owned or women-led small and growing businesses.
Supporting Enterprises That Create Long-Lasting Change
Ms. Nina D. Aguas, Executive Chairperson of InLife, said that the Challenge is a natural progression of InLife Sheroes.
“The InLife Negosyo Challenge was designed to find start-up social enterprises whose purpose is to give women and the marginalized sectors economic opportunities to earn enough income in order to reach a decent standard of living that every human being deserves. We believe that once a person achieves economic independence, dignity is restored. And when dignity is restored, the person finds a sense of purpose and is inspired to do good for the bigger community,” she said.
Ms. Aguas noted that the pandemic has created widespread economic disruption that mostly affected micro and small enterprises.
“Women comprised a big majority of these enterprises, and they are the ones who are disproportionately affected as workers and as business owners,” she pointed out and encouraged everyone to help start rebuilding women’s careers and businesses.
She added that when women generate their own income, “they invest more in their families and their communities.”
“Women economic empowerment is a powerful catalyst for progress,” Ms. Aguas reiterated.
Women Helping Women
Panublix CEO and co-founder Noreen Bautista said that all the contestants are social entrepreneurs and female founders that she looks up to.
“What I’ve learned about this program is you have a support system. It’s really about women supporting women and I’m thankful for the enablers, the organizers of this program who make up our support system. I know that they will help us in the ups and downs of this journey. The fact that you put up this program is very empowering for us women. We really felt the support. As we say in Hiligaynon, madamo gid nga salamat,”she said.
Steph Naval, CEO and founder of Empath, shared that the company is a “personal passion” as she struggled as a 14-year-old.
“To young girls, always have hope. Don’t give up even if it seems as if everything is too difficult. There were many times when I seriously wanted to give up. When you give up, it guarantees you not pursuing the life that you want and guarantees all the fears that you had. If you keep on fighting, you increase your chances of success. That’s what I learned,” she said.
“Apart from the funding that the program is giving, the support, the training, because we don’t have enough funds, are very much appreciated. I am really privileged to live at a time when we have institutions like Insular Life to support these amazing enterprises,” she said.
Czarina Carbonell, CEO and COO of MAGWAI, shared that MAGWAI’s win is a victory over the struggles of keeping the business afloat during the pandemic.
“The theme of this whole competition is how the courage (we’ve gained) will propel us forward. There were a lot of failures we’ve experienced…the hardships during COVID, when we had 6 months of zero sales because our products are travel-related. We were really hit hard. But now we’re here and we’re growing year on year. We’re also part of the top 4 of the InLife Negosyo Challenge so I am just so happy,” she said.
Thanking InLife, she said that the company sees the importance of nurturing micro, small, and medium enterprises, especially those that are led by women entrepreneurs.
“As Ms. Nina Aguas said, the whole community benefits if the women have more purchasing power and are leading businesses, and that’s so true,” Carbonell said.
For Paula Bayao, founder of HeySuccess Virtual Assistance Services, their win is like a new lease on life, a much-needed push to continue the business that she started, with her late brother helping.
“In business, success doesn’t happen overnight, and we don’t come from a place of abundance. My brother and I talked last year that we would give the business time to flourish when suddenly, in the first month of 2022, he passed away. The business was a little shaky. There were a lot of adjustments. In the third quarter of the year, we decided to join the InLife Negosyo Challenge. Out of 70, we made it to the top 20, then to the top 10. We were not expecting anything but here we are,” she shared.
Bayao added that the funding will help propel their business to the next stage.
Helping MSMEs Move Forward and Overcome Challenges
MSMEs generate 62% of the jobs in the Philippines and comprise 99% of the business community. “The basic need of an entrepreneur must be access to mentors, money and market. An entrepreneur would not be successful without doing well in these three areas,” said GoNegosyo Founder and ASEAN Business Advisory Council Philippines Chair Jose “Joey” Concepcion III in his keynote message.
He emphasized the importance of the support, especially mentoring, that big businesses give MSMEs. “They, too, were once micro entrepreneurs who faced challenges and this is one way of paying back. If big business and successful mentors have done it and are willing to share their secret to success and the way forward, it gives a better chance for us to help our MSMEs scale up. If we scale up a micro into a small and a small into a medium (enterprise), you can imagine the economic growth that this country will have. If we really want to scale up the economy in this country and create greater prosperity for all people, this is the way forward.”
Priya Thachadi, co-founder and CEO of Villgro, meanwhile, reminded the social enterprises that failures and mistakes are a huge part of success.
“Failures and mistakes are a huge part of success. Without those failures and mistakes, you’re never going to go forward… As social entrepreneurs, you’re going to face so many challenges. All of your failures and setbacks have brought you here, and the mistakes that you’re going to have ahead of you will keep propelling you forward. When you feel you’ve hit rock bottom, remember that you have what it takes to rise back up. There are many of us who want to support you hoping to build a safety net for you but ultimately, you have to define what your success metric is.”