WHEN 28-year-old Katrina Chan returned to the Philippines in 2012 after finishing her studies in the US, the local tech start-up community was just in the “awareness and capacity building” stage, a stark contrast to where she came from.
“Everyone in the US was working or was aspiring to work in Silicon Valley,” she recounted. “When I came to the Philippines, I wondered where the tech scene was, who the start-up guys were, and I quickly found out that there was almost no scene.”
Ms. Chan, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in materials science and engineering, with additional major in business administration, said she even struggled to find events organized for start-ups.
But a lot has changed since then. Fast forward to 2014, the country has witnessed the unprecedented rise in the number of new and innovative b u s i n e s s e s , mostly led by ambitious young entrepreneurs. The current count, according to a study by PwC Isla Lipana and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), is at around 300.
Along with this is the growing interest of the private sector to support or invest in these startups, paving the way for the establishment of organizations that support through mentorship and seed funding, among others.
Ms. Chan, for instance, began volunteering before heading the growth division of business incubator IdeaSpace, where she mentored early-stage start-ups. From there, she founded and now directs QBO Philippines, a partnership between government agencies such as the DTI and Department of Science and Technology and JPMorgan Philippines. Launched in 2016, QBO aims to support and grow the country’s startup ecosystem by providing forums, seminars, and even business incubation to local start-ups.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth across Southeast Asia,” she said. “More people being bullish that start-ups can actually compete in the global stage.”
But while Filipino startup founders already have ideas bright enough to conquer the global market, Ms. Chan observed they lack one more thing — angst.
“What I see missing a lot here is ambition and confidence in their idea,” she said. Relative to foreign founders whose startups command the level of funding, development and traction, Filipino founders, she observed, are “shy.” Instead, she says, founders should have “the grit to go through the initial pains.”
“What matters is who does it faster, who executes it better, and a lot of that is driven by the team or the founders,” she added.
“It’s not about the solution, it’s about the problem you’re solving,” she concluded. “If the problem exists, then your product will make sense.” — Robert A. Vergara, Jr.