Millennial is ‘microentrepreneur of the year’

In Photo: Citi Microentrepreneur of the Year 2016 awardee Honie Krizia Navor of Iloilo City shows off her products at the company warehouse.

ma. stella f. arnaldoTHE year 2016 is certainly turning out to be the Year of the Millennials.

As they take the lead from us old fogies in technology, electoral exercise and legitimate political dissent, so are they making their way to the forefront of business, as well.

Honie Krizia Navor of Iloilo City may be only 27 years old, but she is this year’s top awardee of the 14th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA), a joint project of Citi Philippines, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines. This is the first time that a young entrepreneur received such a recognition, which includes a cash prize of P200,000, and noncash prizes that include life- and health-insurance coverage for one year; grassroots entrepreneurship training at the Citi Microenterprise Development Center; a laptop and IT training.

Navor’s company, HK Stone Craft Trading, a wholesaler and retailer of granite and tiles, stones and marble slates, was founded in 2008 when she was just 18. “We started out by making lapida [tombstones],” she tells us, with a starting capital of only P1,000. “My parents had exposed us in the construction field, but we were not financially well-off.” They were so hard up that she and her siblings were separated and deposited with several relatives, especially after her father passed away.

The making of tombstones, she said, had a good chance of succeeding because her products had a long shelf life and the demand was consistent. “We would ask for a 50-percent downpayment on these projects, then use that to purchase the materials for the tombstones. Then when we were paid in full, we rolled back the funds into the company to undertake other projects,” Navor says.

No stranger to the difficulties in dealing with informal lenders commonly called “5-6”, Navor decided to partner with Valiant Bank in 2010. She recalls her first loan amounting to P40,000, which was collateral-free, but the repayment was high “because the bank also forced us to set aside money as savings.” In three years, she was able to save P200,000, which she used to buy a family van. The vehicle also doubles as a company car, bringing employees to project sites.

With her mother’s contacts with architects and contractors (“my mom is the general manager of the company”), they were able to get more projects. The biggest was a P3-million to P4-million project to supply granite slabs to the University of San Agustin for its flooring project. “We joined the bid, and when we found out we won, wow! We were so overjoyed, as this gave us another chance for exposure; we had leveled up as a company,” Navor beams. And while she admits she mistakenly submitted a bid price, which was lower than it should’ve been priced, and the company ran into cost overruns later, “we were still thankful because it showed everyone what we could do as a company.”

With 35 regular employees, most of whom are men much older than Navor, the company edges out its rivals in Iloilo not only because of the high-quality materials it uses, some imported from Europe, but also because it charges clients based on exact measurements of the project. “We supply special tiles that people look for, and we don’t charge them per slab, even if they only use a portion for say, their counter tops. We charge based on the exact measurement and make sure the tiles or slabs are expertly installed.”

She has gone into related services such as hauling, and has accepted home- and building-construction projects. Navor’s business has enabled her to send her sisters to school, provide her employees insurance and health coverage and a pension plan, even as she supports the feeding program of her church, where she is a youth leader.

In his keynote address, BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. said: “Our CMA awardees for this year are among the most diverse set of winners, coming from a range of industries. But they have something in common: they indicate how financial inclusion and microfinance unlocked opportunities and served as catalysts for the development of their ventures. Indeed, our efforts to build an inclusive financial system result in better access to financial products and services that empower individuals and enterprises to seize economic opportunities.”

For his part, Citi Philippines CEO Aftab Ahmed said this year’s awardees, once again, substantiated the fact that it takes unwavering perseverance, a lot of hard work and commitment for entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. “This year the 29 participating microfinance institutions and cooperatives submitted a total of 144 nominations highlighting the trials and tribulations faced by the nominees on their journey to success. From the initial submission, a total of 24 semifinalists were picked and from this short list, 15 finalists were chosen.”

Eight entrepreneurs, including Navor, received their awards in ceremonies at the BSP Assembly Hall on December 6, “in acknowledgement of their success as business owners, as well as for the many contributions made by them in creating employment opportunities in their respective communities,” Ahmed said.

Aneth Lim, Citi director for public affairs, explains that what made Navor stand out from the rest of the candidates was her intense business acumen. “She saw opportunities everywhere; like in construction sites where she would deliver her products, she noticed a lot of waste materials. So instead of going home with an empty delivery truck, she started hauling the waste materials, thus creating another business for the company.”

Navor said her long-term plan is to be able to supply her products not only in Western Visayas, but the entire Philippines, as well.