by May Nina Celynne Layug
Trade Commissioner, Philippine Trade and Investment Center San Francisco | January 6, 2019

During one week each November, thousands of events and competitions in 170 countries inspire millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors. Powered by the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), the initiative was supported by dozens of world leaders and a network of more than 15,000 partner organizations. This year, GEW was held from November 12-18, 2018.

In support of this initiative, the Philippine Trade and Investment Center-San Francisco (PTIC-SF) partnered with the US Embassy in the Philippines for the first Ecosystem Connect between the Philippines and Silicon Valley held at the facilities of American Spaces Philippines and the Philippine Trade & Investment Center San Francisco.

Through an online platform, startup ecosystem builders from Silicon Valley and Manila participated in a roundtable discussion which was livestreamed to all American Spaces platforms and partner institutions, and through Facebook live.

The San Francisco Panel, led by Celynne Layug of PTIC-SF and Jedd Llona of the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco provided the overall framework for strengthening the Philippines’ Startup Ecosystem by harnessing the Filipino American Tech diaspora in San Francisco through the Spark.Connect.Empower movement and SPARK447. Spark447 is a place that can act as a bridge and accelerator to “Spark” the excitement of Silicon Valley and provide a simple path to the Philippines. It is also a platform for Filipino entrepreneurs to expand their Silicon Valley network, find mentors, and business partners. From the 1st Philippine Startup Meetup in November 2018, the platform has provided a venue for QBO, Philippine Startup World Cup finalists, Make a Difference, Startup Village, and Techshake. The program also recently launched SPARKCHATS – a focused roundtable discussion to tackle emerging issues and opportunities, the 1st of which focused on “AI Implications to the Outsourcing Sector in Emerging Markets” with Senti.

Other San Francisco Panelists included AL Lim, CEO and Founder of Xtrilogy Ventures and General Manager of Spark447; Earl Valencia, a venture advisor for start-ups and corporate innovation and currently a Managing Director at Charles Schwab Company; and Mark Goldenson, multi-million company startup founder. Stephanie Moniot, Economic Officer of the US Embassy in the Philippines, led the Manila panel composed of Manila Angels, Ideaspace, Kickstart, Endeavour, and Ignition.

Together, the panelists have put emphasis on community partnership, mentoring, and importance of policy to encourage startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem development, especially in emerging markets such as the Philippines.

The discussion raised a very important question about the Philippines’ strength and advantage which should be the foundation for the development of the ecosystem -The goal is not to mimic Silicon Valley, but to work on identifying sectors where we have gaps because this is the area where solutions are needed, and opportunities for startups abound.

Having a startup or a niche sector that would put the Philippines on the map could be a game changer. SKYPE, for example, changed the startup ecosystem landscape of Estonia as investors and founders took notice. What are areas that puts the Philippines on the map? BIOTECH harness the Philippines’ rich biodiversity and will have a promising impact on the country’s access to healthcare; DISATER RESILIENCE builds on our foundations in combating the impact of climate change; and AGRICULTURE TECH aligns with our goal of food security and rural development. All these areas will have positive impact on Filipinos and at the same time have the best prospects to scale-up globally.

What types of policies should complement the development of the startup ecosystem?

  1. Ease of Doing Business for startups and the Innovative Startup Act will ensure that startups thrive.
  2. Policy direction on priority sector/s will guide the ecosystem players, the academe, and investors to focus their efforts towards a specific goal. PhD holders in the Philippines abound, particularly in the biotech sector and an environment that foster collaborations with entrepreneurs ensure that their ideas transcend into a viable business rather than just a white paper.
  3. Silicon Valley founder, Mark Goldenson, has put emphasis on retaining talent and any policy that is geared towards pertaining talent in-county is indispensable. All of the US multi-million and billion dollar startups, after all, had immigrant founders.

The SPARK447 program continue to generate interest from Silicon Valley tech community. Through Ecosystem Connect and PH ecosystem partners, we will continue to develop programs that would connect mentors such as Al, Earl, and Mark with Filipino entrepreneurs. ♦