Agnes Bicomong, together with NC Business Counselor Arianne Rose C. Alinios, presenting her product.

The COVID-19 pandemic displaced millions of families from their livelihood. This includes Agnes Bicomong, a resident of Brgy. San Cristobal, San Pablo City, Laguna. Just like other low-income families, Agnes’ financial struggles have increased when the pandemic started in 2020. Due to imposed lockdown and quarantine measures that restrict and/or limit the movement of people, her family’s income became unstable.

Agnes was stressed and anxious on how to keep putting food on the table. She was struggling to make ends meet, but she did not give up. As she looked at their unfinished house, she was reminded to endure hardships and overcome setbacks. As she gazed across their backyard, she became determined to use available resources to navigate the new normal.

Backyard garden sprouts hope

Brgy. San Cristobal lies in the foothills of Mt. Banahaw and Mt. San Cristobal. The soil in the area is suitable for agriculture due to its richness and fertility. Agnes knew this and used it to her advantage. With the support of her husband, she developed a small backyard garden. At first, the goal was to ensure food supply. However, when she accidentally came across a vlog on Youtube encouraging people to do urban gardening and make an income out of it, the idea of starting a business became an option.

Initially, Agnes focused on growing ginger because it does not require a lot of space to grow. Moreover, she believed it has good market as it is widely used in cooking. Unfortunately, her expectations were different from reality. The profit is a bit low to sustain her family’s living. Nevertheless, she viewed challenges as opportunities to improve. She devoted her time to learn how to add value to ginger. Eventually, she came up with coconut ginger tea.

When Agnes realized that it is better to sell value-added products, she decided to focus on product development. She utilized the coconut trees in their backyard and developed coconut-based products such as coconut turmeric tea, coconut jam, and buko pandan spread. She marketed these products to her relatives, friends, neighbors, and nearby neighborhoods.

Assistance from government

Despite generating income, Agnes was not satisfied. She thought that she could do more, and her business could grow more if she had adequate resources and connections. Fortunately, the universe aligned in her favor.

In January 2023, Agnes was invited by the City Government of San Pablo to participate in the 28th Coconut Festival: Coco Trade Fair 2023. The event marks the return of the city’s week-long festival held every January in celebration and honor of Patron Saint Paul the First Hermit. Along with other exhibitors, Agnes was given the platform to display and sell her products. This led to new opportunities for her and her business.

In line with San Pablo City’s Coconut Festival, the Office of Senator Mark Villar wanted to feature micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in his vlog series #MARKabuhayan. The vlog series aims to help promote MSMEs by showcasing their products online. The Office of Senator Mark Villar tapped the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to identify MSMEs with potential to scale up.

With the help of Negosyo Center San Pablo City (NC San Pablo), an extension office of DTI Laguna located at San Pablo City Capitol Compound, Agnes was selected to be featured on the vlog. Additionally, NC San Pablo helped her transition from informal to formal sector by registering “Manang Agnes Food Products” as the enterprise’s official business name. It was also registered as a Barangay Micro Business Enterprise (BMBE).

In February 2023, Senator Villar personally visited Agnes to conduct the interview and facilitate video shooting and documentation. He was accompanied by his team as well as representatives from DTI Laguna and DTI Region 4A. During the site visit, Senator Villar saw Agnes’ passion and determination to improve her business. Accordingly, she was granted with equipment to help boost production.

In March 2023, Agnes reached out to NC San Pablo for financial support. At that time, her working capital was insufficient so it was difficult to maximize the equipment awarded to her. Since Agnes was not yet eligible to avail the loan services of Small Business Corporation, she was endorsed to the Office of the City Mayor. Thankfully, she was granted with Php15,000.00 for additional working capital.

In the same month, NC San Pablo also endorsed Agnes to the City Tourism Office for local market support. The introduction coincided with the selection of exhibitors for the Anilag Festival Trade Fair and Exhibit 2023. Later on, Agnes participated as an exhibitor and generated good sales from March 11 to 18, 2023.

Continuous learning and development

In April 2023, Agnes was selected as a beneficiary of DTI Laguna’s Pangkabuhayan sa Pagbangon at Ginhawa (PPG) Program. It is a livelihood seeding and entrepreneurship development program which aims to assist individuals and families affected by fire incidents and other calamities, including health disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic, to recover and/or start their businesses. In this program, Agnes was provided with further knowledge on growing her business. Specifically, NC San Pablo coached her on the topics of entrepreneurial mindset and workplan creation. She will receive the livelihood kit worth Php15,000.00 sometime in the second half of 2023.

Currently, Agnes is enrolled in DTI Laguna’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) Next Gen Program wherein she participated in Assessment, Consultation, and Triage Session (ACT Session) for product development. She also attended Food Compliance Training-Seminar under the program. She is expected to attend other capability-building seminars on marketability, production capability, brand development, and many more.

Thankful for interventions

Malayo pa, pero malayo na.

This is how Agnes describes her entrepreneurship journey for the past three years. She is grateful for the assistance and interventions given to her and is looking forward to a brighter future.

When asked for a message for aspiring entrepreneurs, Agnes says, “Do not be afraid to ask for help. Look for support. Search for reinforcement. Opportunities can be created, and it should be seized by taking chances.”

Date of Release: 19 July 2023