The startup-business landscape in the country has never been more exciting than it is now. Filipinos are becoming more creative and resourceful in coming up with unconventional business models and solutions to cater to unique market needs.
This new breed of entrepreneurs is beginning to offer technology-based services and products that address underserviced and unforeseen needs. Be it digital stores, mobile apps, or social enterprises, Filipinos are now more open in exploring diverse business opportunities rather than simply depending on regular employment as a source of income.
The government has taken note of this growing trend, with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) taking a vigorous approach toward nurturing outstanding startup founders in the country. Instrumental in providing leadership for all scientific and technological initiatives, policies, and programs to sustain national development, the DOST recently partnered with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) to build a topnotch incubator program for early-stage startups.
Dr. Jikyeong Kang, AIM president and dean, explains the rationale behind the undertaking: “The AIM planned the project in collaboration with Dado Banatao and the DOST Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development [DOST-PCIEERD], with the objective that it helps stimulate economic development. The AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator is meant to provide guidance and expertise to technical professionals, entrepreneurs and startup founders, so that they can work to accelerate inclusive growth, and create wealth for business and society, as well as for themselves.”
Successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist and foremost Filipino technopreneur Dado Banatao lent his name to the project because he shares that vision. “Science and technology, translated into innovation and entrepreneurship, are keys to economic growth. What our startups are attempting to do is to create inclusive businesses that can help bridge the gap between the rich and poor, as well as to develop technologies that will benefit much of the population.”
What distinguishes AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator from the rest is that it is a hybrid— acting as both an incubator and an accelerator program—that targets innovation-driven entrepreneurs whose businesses have the potential to impact all sectors of society.
Spearheading AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator’s efforts is Executive Director, Prim Paypon. Prim is a Filipino “dreamagineer” who founded The Dream Project PH, a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that helps build the nation by shaping and enabling collective Filipino dreams among underserved and underprivileged communities through creative education, social design innovation, youth “voluntraining” and community collaboration. Since its launch in June 24, 2013, The Dream Project PH has already collaborated with more than 400 institutions and organizations, and created more than 300 projects, including sustainable programs, innovative technologies and community heritage-based enterprises in 10 regions across the country, with only “superior strategies and zero to inferior resources.” He has brought his background and expertise on working with innovative enterprises into the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator to hone today’s most innovative Filipino startups.
“Since our initial development was funded by The DOST-PCIEERD, technically we cannot give any financial grants as an incubator, and that in itself is a challenge. However, our program package is far more substantial than by simply handing over funds. Our goal here is to drive startups with alternative solutions for the Philippine context, and we do so through entrepreneurial training and innovation. We want our startups to be a vital part of a problem-solving ecosystem. Because of that, we look for startups with a high potential to provide solutions to current, prevalent and emerging problems, create jobs and distribute wealth in a dispersed manner.”
Deep technology-based startups tend to be very lean in terms of organization as they only hire people with specialized expertise. Because of that, Prim thinks that being an inclusive startup can compel more job creation.
From March to April the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator invited and scouted 50 startups from all over the country, but only 20 were selected to go through the rigorous process of pitch presentations and interviews. Industry leaders participated as judges and mentors along the way, and eight Filipino startups have gained entry into the first cohort program.
The AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator selection process considers startups in its early stages, particularly in existence for more than a year. “Most of the startups we have scouted, reviewed and engaged with are those that have been creating revenue for some months or years, and have been bootstrapping from competition grants they’ve won here and abroad. We require startups to have a sufficient financial runway before they can get in here,” Prim says.
There is also an emphasis on supporting technology-science-and engineering-oriented startups that have been designed to offer alternative solutions to existing and prevalent challenges. “Because the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator is positioned to be a nation-building platform, we also require and mentor our startups to address a strong, defined need—it can be a social need that seeks to address or eliminate poverty. It could also be a very specialized market need that they were able to identify and understand, and because of their solution, as well as new processes, mechanisms, and technology tools, their services and products can actually address current and emerging problems within the local and perhaps, even regional environment.”
Those chosen must have very good execution plans, which is one of the many parameters that allows the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator to gauge if a startup really knows their industry, their capability, technology and their target market.
Prim adds “We are particular about this, simply because there are startup founders who talk about having a solution catering to education needs, but they are not even specialists in that field or worse never had a direct experience in that industry. Whether you talk of artificial intelligence, retail or aviation, we expect founders to have a strong background in their chosen industry in terms of experience and competence.”
HONING WORLD-CLASS STARTUPS
An important aspect of the program involves helping startups scale into full-fledged enterprises. “We provide our Incubator locators with world-class mentorship from both AIM and non-AIM community-members, as we are fortunate enough to get the commitment of many industry leaders here in the Philippines and abroad to be our mentors. We provide hands-on and customized management, training, and mentorship. Even before they actually set foot in here, we have already been profiling and understanding their actual startup mentorship and training needs. So, we are able to craft and create more need-responsive and solution-centered guidance,“ Prim says with pride.
The package also includes participation in a startup management program run by AIM School of Executive Education, on top of the rent-free dedicated office spaces and facilities at the entire second floor of the AIM Conference Center Manila. Incubator locators work on a Monday-to-Friday schedule, but turn up on weekends if they need to organize or run a specific output. Prim mentions that the best part of being an AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator locator is being welcomed as an official member of the AIM community. “Because Incubator locators are given special AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator identification cards, they can access facilities and services usually offered and given only to students and employees, from our extensive library journals to our very affordable cafeteria. In fact, they are also given official AIM e-mail addresses.”
They even get valuable assistance from other organizations that AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator has commissioned in order to provide an integrated support system. Works of Heart, an award-winning design studio for impact-driven organizations that counts the Office of the Vice President of the Philippines and the World Health Organization as clients, helps Incubator locators with its brand development. They walk them through crafting their brand and visual identity, going from brand audit all the way to brand architecture, strategy and manual.
Incubator locators also benefit from having access to AIM’s alumni network. Prim invites AIM alumni and their networks to be potential investors. “We hope that all our Incubator locators are investment-ready by the end of the six-month incubation cycle. Everyone is evaluated in terms of investment-readiness.”
An open mentorship program has also been developed for startups that are not yet ready to be part of the cohort program. Currently, the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator is finalizing the list of startups that will be part of the program this month. Startups under the open mentorship can also avail of rent-free space, as well as weekly consultation and mentorship sessions.
The AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator has also contracted the accounting firm of Punongbayan and Araullo to audit and vouch for the rigorous selection process and its results. The firm likewise extends financial, business and advisory services to the startups through workshops and consultation sessions.
CREAM OF THE CROP
THE AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator’s chosen startups are fairly diverse in terms of industry as well as technology type.
One of the big winners at the Techtonic Summit 2018, Antipara is an underwater mapping and assessment service that lets you visualize and understand your undersea assets through 3D visual maps, automated assessments and reports. Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprises (FAME) is a startup that aims to make air and sea travels safer through its easily deployable and affordable general aviation and maritime vessel transponders.
Invested is a student loan program that empowers low-income students to finish their degree, and succeed in employment and repayment. They are also the grand winner of the Dubai “World Expo 2018 Innovation Grant, dubbed as the Olympics for startups.”
Payruler is poised to create human resource visionaries and strategists with its comprehensive end-to-end solution. It streamlines, automates and integrates a company’s HR and payroll processes in a full-suite system that covers the entire employee life cycle from recruitment to retirement. Its platform currently works for 14 out of 18 industry types in the country.
Aiming to provide clean water, PodX Technologies’ potable water filtration system for disasters and emergencies are research-designed and built for clean water-anytime, anywhere.
Retailgate is a tech startup geared toward harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, automation and analytics to help brick-and-mortar retailers gain the competitive intelligence to stay ahead through data-driven strategies.
Rurok Industries is a performance bike design brand built on true innovation and engineering with a strong focus on customer experience. It is the first of its kind in the Philippines.
Stylegenie is a fashiontech company focused on providing software as service to retail brand, and data-driven styling subscription services to consumers. Founder, Abigail Joyce Victorino Mendoza, is the first female Filipina technopreneur chosen to join Jack Ma’s Alibaba Summer Camp in China this year.
As the most recent DOST-Technology Business Incubator, the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator is committed to documenting all the working and replicable innovated processes and programs that have allowed it to create results and achieve milestones. “We hope to create an operations manual that can be used by Filipino incubator programs across the country,” Prim says. “More than anything else, we strongly feel that it is our social responsibility to ensure that AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator is a smart, investment-returning and paying-forward use of our taxpayers’ money.”
Without a doubt, the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator aspires to develop the country’s most progressive, innovative and impact-driven startups that can be at par with the world’s leading business organizations. Judging from its program components and initial lineup, it’s a very promising beginning.
For more information on the AIM-Dado Banatao Incubator, visit: https://aim.edu/dado-banatao-incubator.