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PH advances support for startups, opens hub in SFO
In photo (L-R seated): Tess Marin, SSS representative; PTIC-Silicon Valley Trade Representative Celynne Layug ; Dir Pura Molintas (DOT-SF); H.E. Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez; Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr.; Mrs. Mariz Bensurto, and Deputy Consul General Raquel Solano.  Others in photo are Spark, Connect, Empower (SCE) movement partner organizations. Photo from DTI-PTIC Silicon Valley.

The Department of Trade and Industry through its Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) in Silicon Valley advances efforts in promoting the Philippine startup ecosystem development through projects that support the growth of the community.
 
In partnership with the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco (SF PCG), PTIC Silicon Valley recently launched the Spark447, a co-working space and resource center at the Philippine Center’s building in San Francisco that aims to cater to Filipinos and Fil-Am start-up communities in the Bay Area. Ambassador Jose Miguel Romualdez and Consul General Henry Bensurto Jr. led the soft launch last 22 May 2017.
 
“SPARK447 provide avenues for bringing the community in San Francisco closer together. But it doesn’t stop there, it will bring the Filipino tech community in San Francisco closer to our ecosystems in Manila and make change happen,” said PTIC Silicon Valley Trade Representative May Niña Celynne Layug.
 
Spark447 is a shared office space, networking hub, and a place uniquely designed for rising entrepreneurs, freelancers, digital nomads and internet professionals. It is part of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco’s “Spark, Connect, Empower” (SCE) movement that aims to gather Filipino and Fil-American communities and individuals in the United States in building collaboration and partnerships that promote nation building.
 
According to DTI Trade and Investments Promotion Group Undersecretary Nora Terrado, the establishment of Spark447 will be instrumental in showcasing the technology and business opportunities in the Philippines.
 
“This will greatly complement our initiatives in promoting opportunities in the Philippines and the talents that we have particularly in advanced industries including manufacturing and the IT-BPM,” said Terrado.
 
DTI in close partnership with the Departments of Science and Technology (DOST) and Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has been supporting and enabling the development of the Philippine startup ecosystem. The collaboration caters from various stages of startup development from ideation to commercialization.
 
According to PTIC-Silicon Valley, several organizations, companies, and individuals, who share in the vision of the SCE movement have pledged their full support of the movement. These include PLDT, Philippine Airlines, The Filipino Channel, National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), One World Institute and Mama Sita’s.
 
According to the recently released 2018 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, the Philippines startup ecosystem has strong foundations in the areas of Fintech, Enterprise Solutions and AI & Machine Learning.
 
In 2017, the DTI led Slingshot ASEAN, a business event developed by the ASEAN Committee on Business and Investment Promotion that gathered startups, venture capitalists and key players in the ASEAN startup community through learning hubs, pitching competitions, plenary sessions, and exhibitions.♦

PH Start Up Meet

Building on DTI and DOST collaboration in bringing winners of the regional competition of the 2018 Startup World Cup to the final pitching event in San Francisco on May 11 powered by Fenox Venture Capital, the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, the Philippine Trade and Investment Center-Silicon Valley, and the Department of Tourism organized the 2nd IT-oriented “Philippine Startup MeetUp.”

The event was a platform for the six-member startup delegation to network and build partnerships with San Francisco based entrepreneurs. Mr. Earl Valencia, founder of Ideaspace shared his reflections on the developments in the Philippines’ innovation and startup ecosystem, while Georg Fuerlinger of Austria’s Go Silicon Valley provided some practical advise on how to capture the fast changing landscape of technology and innovation in Silicon Valley.

The Philippine Startup MeetUp series is part of the Philippine Consulate General’s push for the SPARK*CONNECT*EMPOWER movement, in close collaboration with PTIC-Silicon Valley and DOT by sparking interest in the country’s fledgling startup ecosystem among the Filipino Americans working in IT, and by connecting them not only with each other but also organizations both in the United States and the Philippines. Through collaboration, the empowered Filipino American community will be able to help bridge the divide between what the Philippines’ startup ecosystem is now, and what it could be; a Filipino American community that, in turn, empowers Kababayans back home.

The Philippine Startup MeetUp is just the beginning. Driven by the strong spirit of collaboration that is characteristic of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, a physical space at the Philippine Center in San Francisco would soon be a home for our FILAM technopreneurs.

The regional winner STORM Technologies, a benefits-based technology company, is representing the Philippines at the Startup Word Cup finals. The Philippines is likewise represented in the Conference by Techshake, a media startup, and regional finalists Ayannah, a financial technology startup which provides digital payment platform for remittance market; Qwikwire, another fintech startup which offers a cross-border billing and invoicing platform for firms to connect clients to international banking facilities with tools to manage clients payment; Zennya, an AI-assisted, on-demand platform that delivers high-touch home and personal care service providers, and BeamAndGo, a platform that allows overseas workers to purchase supermarket gift certificates and send it through mobile for their family in the Philippines to redeem at participating store. DOST representative heads the delegation for the Conference and Finals supported by PTIC-Silicon Valley.♦

By: Babe Romualdez

I am currently in San Francisco, California, having just come from Honolulu where – together with Executive Secretary Bingbong Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año – we had briefings with US Pacific Command (USPACOM) Commander Admiral Harry Harris on issues that are of mutual interest to the Philippines and the United States.

California is home to the biggest population of Filipino-Americans in the US, with a big number of them residing in San Francisco. I was accompanied by Consul General Henry Bensurto Jr. to some meetings, among them a luncheon meeting with the Board of Trustees of the World Affairs Council of Northern California where I spoke before an audience of about 40 people.

World Affairs of Northern California is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1947 following the San Francisco Conference that gave birth to the United Nations. Its mission is to explore issues and opportunities that transcend borders, and it serves as a neutral forum to tackle issues of global concern. The invited speakers coming from many countries are diplomats, heads of state, thought leaders and experts on topics that include economy, security, climate change, technology and many others.

The luncheon meeting was very productive, and it was a very welcome opportunity to share the efforts of the government to make positive and meaningful change for the Filipino people by transforming the economy, creating jobs and ensuring that growth is both equitable and inclusive.

A lot of businessmen are curious to find out what investment opportunities are available and the industries that show promising growth. As I told the WAC audience, the services sector continues to be a leading driver of the Philippine economy, posting a 7.1 percent year-on-year growth. The IT/Business Process Management industry is also projected to generate about $40 billion to $50 billion by 2020, which in turn would generate an estimated 1.3 million to 1.5 million direct and indirect jobs.

The administration of President Duterte, in particular the Economic cluster chaired by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, is working hard to make the Philippines a very attractive investment destination, relentless in the fight against corruption in government, pushing for reforms in domestic regulations and instituting improvements to cut down on red tape and facilitate ease in doing business in the Philippines.

Underpinning the government’s efforts to make growth inclusive and cut down poverty from 21.6 percent to at least 14 percent in 2022 is the “Build, Build, Build” program which is by far the biggest and most ambitious infrastructure program in the country’s history, with the government expected to spend 7.4 percent of GDP by 2022 on infrastructure alone. As the president himself described it, the “Build, Build, Build” program will provide the “solid backbone for growth” as it will upgrade infrastructure, connect more people and communities and create more jobs.

The Philippine economy, which grew by 6.7 percent in 2017, is clearly on an upward trajectory, with international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank all saying that the Philippines is one of the fastest growing economies not only in Asia but the world.

There are so many positive developments that are happening in the Philippines, and these stories must be told especially now with the growing interest among American businessmen, many of whom are supporting a bilateral free trade agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

John Goyer, the US Chamber of Commerce Senior Director for Southeast Asia, noted that “Asia could get the United States back in the game for opening foreign markets, and the Philippines could be the place to start.” The Philippines, with its sizeable market, is “a logical partner,” Goyer said, also pointing to the measures undertaken by the Philippines to open up the market in various industries. He also cited the efforts to improve intellectual property protection and enforcement, and the discussions about constitutional reforms – or Charter change – to allow more foreign investment participation in certain sectors.

The idea of a bilateral free trade agreement between the Philippines and the US actually started during the visit of President Trump to Manila, with both sides agreeing to conduct exploratory talks through the US-Philippines TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement). My first official working day as US Ambassador to the Philippines actually revolved around the TIFA discussions between US and Philippine delegates, and we have been continually working to enhance the exploratory dialogues.

I was with DTI Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo who is also the managing head of the Philippine Board of Investments, and we had roundtable and business discussions in San Francisco with key business representatives from over 20 companies and business organizations that include QB3 Hewlett Packard, the University of California San Francisco and the Port of San Francisco.

A national branding campaign for the Philippines was suggested to encourage more business and investments from the US. A key sector that should be highlighted aside from infrastructure and manufacturing is IT, especially since the Philippines is a top source of talent – primarily engineers and scientists – in the tech workforce of Silicon Valley in California. There has been rapid growth in the startup ecosystem in the Philippines, with the government launching programs to help strengthen the businesses of young entrepreneurs who want to tap into foreign markets like the United States. IT has the potential to support the economic development goals of the Philippines through technology, science and innovation, and we hope to spark greater interest in the startup ecosystem of our country among American businesses and organizations.

The economy of the Philippines is currently growing at above 6.8% (as of latest quarter), one of the highest growth rates in the world. Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) account for 70% of total employment, with millennials venturing into entrepreneurship at an increased rate. Manila is home to an estimated number of 400-450 currently active tech startups, and we see this happening in other regions in the Philippines such as Cebu and Davao.

Ambassador Jose Miguel Romualdez and Consul General Henry Bensurto Jr. at the blessing and soft launch of SPARK447 on 22 May 2017.

As highlighted in the 2018 Global Ecosystem Report, the Philippines ecosystem has very good foundations on FINTECH, Enterprise Solutions, AI & Machine Learning. Having said this, our ecosystem is nascent compared to other global ecosystems. We have a lot of catching-up to do. We, therefore, welcome the senate approval of the Innovative Startup Act, bringing it closer to law. DTI and DOST continue to strengthen their collaboration for a seamless transition from ideation to commercialization with the Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy or the I3S. DTI also continue to implement the Startup Ecosystem Development Program.

Beyond this, I believe the Philippines has a “special sauce” that will ensure that our startup ecosystem will thrive - that is the Filipino talent in San Francisco and in various cities in the US and around the globe. Filipino talent that is further cultivated through the SPARK-CONNECT-EMPOWER movement “SCE”. The SCE aims to bring together various Filipino-American organizations and individuals with the aim of sparking love of country among the 2nd and 3rd and 4th generation Filipino Americans, connecting them among each other through various networking platforms and ultimately empowering them to organize various activities and programs that contribute to nation building.

It takes a village to raise a startup” - For an ecosystem to be successful, the members of that ecosystem need to have a strong sense of community; foster local relationships; generate collisions (or serendipitously running into others from the startup community); and generate density (how closely startups work with other startups).

The SCE movement allows us to rediscover our heritage and our innate fervor to reach out – the Filipino’s bayanihan spirit. This makes for a strong sense of community and facilitate local relationships. SPARK447, a co-working space at the Philippine Center in San Francisco, provide avenues for collision and density bringing the community in San Francisco closer together. But it doesn’t stop there, it will bring the Filipino tech community in San Francisco closer to our ecosystems in Manila and make change happen.

I will end with another quote I am borrowing from the startup ecosystem jargon “One connection… endless possibilities”. Imagine what we Filipinos can do together.

FoodPhilippines, the country’s signature brand for food items under the Department of Trade and Industry’s Center for International Trade Exhibitions and Missions (DTI-CITEM), surprised buyers and attendees of the recently concluded Winter Fancy Food Show (WFFS) held in San Francisco, USA from 21 to 23 January 2018.

Organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) in partnership with the Philippine Trade and Investment Center (PTIC) in San Francisco, FoodPHILIPPINES’ showcased variety of specialty food product offerings by seventeen (17) of the best and biggest Philippine food exporters.

According to Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter panel, FILIPINO CUISINE is among the top food trends anticipated at the 43rd WFFS. Other top trends are Plant-based foods, Upcycled products, Goth food, Alt-Sweet, Product labeling 2.0, Root to stem, Cannabis cuisine, a (deeper) feast from the Middle East, and the rise of traditional bread.

The country’s participation at the said food show is among DTI’s major efforts for 2018 in advancing the promotion of Philippine specialty food products in overseas trade shows. The participation attracted support from many Philippine exporters including Arko Foods, Bethany Sales, Inc. (Tamcor Mexim USA), Century Pacific Food, Inc., Hacienda Macalauan, Inc., Islamic Da'wah Council of the Philippines, JNRM Corporation, Magical Blend Marketing International, Magic Melt Foods, Inc., Mama Sita's (Marigold Manufacturing Corporation), Monde M.Y. San Corporation, Pasciolco Agri Ventures, Profood International Corporation, Sagrex Food Incorporation, San Miguel Pure Foods, Inc., Seabest Food Beverage Corporation, Subic Superfood, Inc., and Super Q.

Philippine Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr., welcomed the delegation in their respective booths in the pavilion during the show opening on 21 January following a discussion with his economic diplomacy team about expanding trade opportunities between the West Coast and the Philippines on 22 January. He also hosted the delegates and their prospective business partners in a welcome reception providing an opportunity for Philippine companies to deepen their discussions with importers and buyers.

WFFS is the US West Coast’s largest specialty and food beverage event, with an estimated 20,000 visitors annually, 1,500 exhibitors and showcases more than 80,000 different specialty food products and beverages from the US and across the globe.

During its 2017 participation in WFF, the delegation secured a total of US$ 48.73 million negotiated sales in 463 inquiries from trade buyers, exceeding targets and recording its highest sales in its four years of participation in the WFFS.

The US is one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines and the country’s third-largest trading partner. The Philippines has been among the largest beneficiaries of the US’ Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) scheme for developing countries, which provides preferential duty-free access to the U.S. market.♦

 FoodPhilippines at WFFS, SF, USA
In photo: Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr. with the Philippine food delegation at the 2018 Winter Fancy Food Show, Moscone Center, San Francisco.

 

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