Celia Pajel was once a successful career woman, but she gave it all up to be with her family in the Philippines. The transition from busy professional to stay-at-home mother who focused on her children was not an easy one, and Celia quickly became restless.

Drawing on her background as a chemist, Celia started her own business venture. The road to success was filled with ups and downs, but Celia is a strong woman who persevered. What started as a backyard business became a booming enterprise, and this is the story of how it all happened.

How it All Began

Celia was motivated to start her own dishwashing liquid business when she saw that many housewives could not afford the branded products that dominated the market. With this in mind, Celia set out to manufacture a quality product at a more affordable price.

Celia started by producing dishwashing liquid in her backyard with just PVC pipes and plastic pails as tools. She achieved her goal of producing quality dishwashing products that were at par with the branded ones.

However, selling the product was another challenge. Except for a handful of friends and family who patronized her product, her neighbors were brand conscious and hesitant to shift, she had to find another way to sell her products.

When Celia sought the help of her neighbor who owned three grocery stores, she had no idea that her simple proposal would result in a partnership. Upon learning of Celia’s background as a chemist, the neighbor immediately saw the potential for a new business venture. And so, in November of 2008, AC Innov8 Manufacturing Co. was born.

In this partnership, Celia handled the manufacturing side while her neighbor took charge of the marketing. Her partner was very enthusiastic and utilized aggressive marketing tactics. They also applied for a loan with the Small Business Corporation (SB Corp) and the Foundation for a Sustainable Society, Inc. (FSSI) with the help of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Her partner hired sales managers, bought delivery vans, rented warehouses in provinces, and financed advertisements on local radio stations. The sales managers were offered various incentives, including new vehicles and some bonuses upon reaching the sales quota.

Apparently, their sales managers weren’t working as expected and made-up false orders while their actual products were left to expire. The cost of the marketing was higher than the actual sales, and debts were starting to pile up.

So after only three years in the business, Celia’s business partner decided to leave after losing at least P10 million. Celia was left with unpaid loans and uncollected sales.

From the Ground Up

With over PhP2 million in outstanding loans, and without a partner to work out the marketing side of the business, Celia struggled to keep things afloat. Faced with the dilemma of whether to continue or give up on her business, Celia chose to persevere despite the challenges.

Thankfully, a friend from the US whom Celia reached out to was kind enough to send her USD $2,000 to help her get back on her feet.

The company became a beneficiary of the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program and the One Town, One Product (OTOP) Next Generation Program, which were instrumental in helping Celia expand her understanding of the different aspects of business.

With some money and more knowledge at her disposal, Celia decided to shift her focus. Instead of competing with branded products in the retail market, she developed her own line of consumer products, including all-purpose cleaners, wax-based air fresheners, bleach, hand soaps, disinfectant, and detergents.

This decision proved to be successful and helped her get the business back on track. Celia was blown away when their client base increased over just three months.

They went from working with small businesses like janitorial and custodial service companies, commissaries, laundries, hospitals, and farms to partnering with distributors for car care services, hotels, resorts, and schools. But the moneymaker was the monthly disinfectants supply to slaughterhouses and poultry farms.

As demand for her products grew, she developed new formulations to meet the needs of a diverse range of clients. This eventually led to her filing a SEC withdrawal of partnership with her former business partner and changing the name to Prime Innov8 Manufacturing Company. Celia was finally achieving the success she has always hoped for.

Facing the Pandemic Head-on with the Help of DTI

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the community was locked down, and workers could only report to work if they had special permits. Prices increased, and suppliers stopped delivering raw materials to the factory.

The company’s senior citizens, including Celia, her husband, her brother, and the quality control chemist, had to work from home. Most of the company’s clients shut down their operations, car care, janitorial, or hotel industries.

To deal with these challenges, the company identified its products as essentials and requested special permits from IATF and DTI that would allow them to continue operating.

Only 50% of employees were allowed to work, but the company concentrated its operation on manufacturing disinfectants, alcohols, sanitizers, and sanitizing hand soaps.

As hospitals and government agencies scrambled to find ways to disinfect public areas and protect people from the virus, Prime Innov8’s products became essential.

Fortunately, Celia was able to obtain the supplies the company needed, particularly alcohol, to meet the increased demand. While prices for these raw materials were high, so were the sales. In fact, the company registered its highest number of sales during the pandemic!

As a show of gratitude, Celia took steps to support her employees, providing them with rice and canned goods to help ensure that they could weather the crisis. Additionally, the company donated

disinfectants to local government agencies for use in sanitizing public areas. Finally, they donated empty drums to the Rotary Club so that they could be used in hand-washing stations in crowded areas.

The DTI has been instrumental in the success of Prime Innov8 Manufacturing Company. Through its endorsement to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Prime Innov8 was able to avail of the set-up loan to purchase a fully automated machine amounting to PhP2 million.

The agency also helped them get their FDA License to Operate (LTO), for both cosmetics and household/urban hazardous substances (HUHS). Just recently, DTI facilitated the IPO approval of their brand name. DTI is also promoting their products through the Tindahan ng Rizalenyo.

From the End of the Crisis and Beyond

Celia Pajel’s journey is one of enduring courage in the face of daunting odds. She has made significant sacrifices along the way, but her biggest triumph has been her willingness to start anew each time her business has faltered.

Celia is an inspiration to all who dream of starting their own business. She is a shining example of what is possible if you never give up on your dreams. Her story is proof that even the darkest of days can eventually give way to a bright and prosperous future.

Truly, Celia’s willpower is legendary! ♦