By Recto Mercene
THE forthcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila this November is a “golden opportunity” for the country’s budding entrepreneurs to show off their talents, attract investors and venture capitalists from a country of 100 million citizens, and Asean’s 600 million inhabitants.
This is the message that “SlingshotMnl” wants to convey as it begins a series of discussions and conferences to demonstrate not just how big the community is in the region but also how high the level of innovation in Asia Pacific is.
“So right now is our time to shine, this is who we are, this is what the world should know, and the media, the Department of Science and Technology, including everybody should all work together in unison to say we have an innovation strategy, which could be [the] next growth sector of the country,” says Michael “Mike’ Ignacio, Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) commercial attaché.
The trade department, he said, has adopted a policy of supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and sees start-ups as an integral component in developing them. Start-ups are now included, for the first time, in the 2014 to 2016 Investment Priorities Plan.
Considered part of SMEs are those in the fields of software, animation and game development. These are now eligible for Board of Investments incentives such as income-tax holidays and duty-free importation of equipment.
Ignacio said that Apec happens every decade in a particular country “and this year is the Philippines’s unique opportunity for the world to be here.”
“Twenty-one economies are coming in different meetings and summits, discussing different relevant issues. We need to take advent of that opportunity and highlight the segment where the Philippines shines, and take advent of the attention right here.”
Ignacio said he hopes that the world in the global start-up community will begin to take note at the start-up community in the Philippines.
He said that the country lags behind in terms of investing for start-ups and that the DTI and Slingshot will help in bringing us up to par over other countries in luring investors from abroad.
“We are very lucky that we have very strong private sector that helps start-up. What could be better is if international investors would come and help support us,” he said at the sidelines of the event, SlingshotMnl, on Thursday at their office in Makati City.
He said holding the Apec in the country is like hitting two birds with one stone: celebrating the Apec summit and highlighting the country’s innovations on the spot.
Minette Navarrete, president of Kickstart Ventures, said one lesson that we have learned from the various Asian crises in 1997 and the global financial crisis in 2008 is that, as they progressed and stressed that “we are more globally integrated, more regionally dependent and the politics can be distanced from the economic, social and political environment.”
“So the economic system as we know them from the 20th century, those are broken [and] I think we need to reinvent the future that includes a more sustainable growth pattern, something inclusive because without inclusive growth, we don’t have social stability.”
She added that SlingshotMnl contributes to this inclusive growth in the global context, which doesn’t require huge amount of capital but will take a lot of hard work and talent.
“If there’s something Filipinos and Asians are known for, it’s their willingness to do the hard work supported by their immense talent,” Navarrete said.
She added that in the Asean context, it is the Philippines’s ability to foster entrepreneurship that is more mass-based, contingent on technology to leverage it for economic growth, for job creation and talent recognition.”
Jojo Flores, cofounder and vice president of Plug and Play Tech Center, when asked if SiliconValley could be replicated in Asia, said that the famed high-tech valley “had ceased to exist. “
“Silicon Valley is from another time, it doesn’t exist in Asia, that was for last century,” he said, adding that the place where the silicon chip innovation started is the wrong historical concept to adopt here as it is a “little bit dillusional.”
“We have to build from scratch, the reality is those of us who invests, we should be the headlines, the focus on the event. “
Flores said start-ups are those who try to make a go of it without funding and the right policy environment and without corporate assistance, compared to Silicon Valley which was a very corporate, government-driven project.
“In the Philippine-Asean context, we should find out our own way for faster, more inclusive growth, and if we begin to recognize that one commodity, the founders would find gold,” he said.
Jay Fajardo, the programs director of Launchgarage, said start-ups are great influence on economics and among other current events all are reflections of challenges to country and society.
He said the conference is a good way to highlight the fact that the start-up movement is looked upon to solve problems, and a lot of the start-up community has notion that they are there to solve the big problems, apply technology to address these challenges, and, hopefully, to come out with best case solutions.
Foreign Trade Service Head Raymond Batac said that SlingshotMnl is aimed to jump-start the flow of technology use toward traditional enterprises.
“We hope that this event will become the spark to light up innovation. We would like to support traditional SMEs through technology because we know it’s something that they need, maybe this will start it off for everyone,” he said.
“It will be an avenue where start-up companies, investment firms and representatives of the government can come together and learn about how the start-up model can drive economies in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world; and an in-person networking activity where these companies can establish ties with supportive, forward-thinking investors.”
The start-up label is currently used to describe young companies with cultures centered on growth, dynamism and innovation, and business models designed to quickly expand their market. Despite the sheen of technology and innovation, start-ups are still small businesses faced by the challenges of other micro, small and medium enterprises.
The two-day conference at the Philippine International Convention Center will feature discussions and workshops, with leading figures in the international start-up community like Startup Chile founder Nicolas Shea; Hugh Mason from leading Asian accelerator JFDI Asia; and Prof. Richard Dasher from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Heads of industry are also slated to attend, alongside start-up incubators, business accelerators, and investment and venture capital firms from the United States, Latin America and Asia.
Successful start-up businesses such as Uber, GrabTaxi, Rags2Riches, AirBnb and Clinica, and global entrepreneur support networks Endeavor and Ashoka will also be present.
The event will also serve as an exhibition for local start-ups to display their products and services. Apart from plenary sessions, workshops, and casual discussions, it will also feature a pitching competition.