Along Katipunan, a hub for social entrepreneurs

Cover Art Erka Capili Inciong

Words by

Digital Reporter

Where do you go if you want to start a socially responsible business?

If you live near the Katipunan area or study in Ateneo, Roots Katipunan wants to be that place for you. The entrepreneur’s hub serves as a co‑working space, retail space, gig venue and more to its fellows—startups and creatives who have found a comfy and welcoming community just across the Ateneo de Manila campus. Roots celebrated its first year anniversary last September 9, and the party was attended by many young entrepreneurs whose businesses grew under its care. The food was sponsored by some of their fellows, with craft beers from Nipa Brew, tapuey cocktails from Proudly Promdi, and delicious vegan meals from Green Light.

Before everyone moved to one of the many Katipunan watering holes for the after party, SparkUp spoke to Melinda Gabuya, one of the many co‑founders of Roots. Turns out that it’ no coincidence that the businesses that chose Roots as their home were all passionate about giving back to the Philippines. From the very start, the co‑founders of Roots wanted to foster an environment where social entrepreneurship can flourish.

“We’re a group of friends, close friends of Janine Chiong of Habi Footwear,” Ms. Gabuya said. “She already had a space here in this building where people were also consigning for space. Meanwhile, I wanted a pub where I can sell craft beers. So we said why not create a space where we can enjoy all these products whenever we want? We started pitching the idea to other people, and we grew until we had seven co‑founders from different backgrounds—most of us involved in development work.” Ms. Gabuya herself has a dayjob as a consultant for non‑government organizations (NGOs), foundations and development projects. Ms. Chiong’s Habi Footwear on the other hand sells locally‑made modern footwear from recycled material.

Eventually seven friends pulled together their funds, plus some investments and loans from other organizations like the Social Enterprise Development Partnerships, Inc (SEDPI), to rent the space at the ground floor of FBR Arcade. With a few tables and chairs and a bike chain for a lock (don’t worry, they have proper security now), they started Roots Katipunan. “It took a while to figure out our main income stream or how many income streams we needed to be sustainable,” Ms. Gabuya said. “We figured out we needed to have multiple income streams. Aside from the product shelves, we have a co‑working space, and we also have food merchants. It was really learn as you go. But taking from our own experiences in entrepreneurship, we used that knowledge to make sound business decisions that we can use.”

Soon, Roots became a veritable collective of “fellows,” as they like to call each other—not just startups but creatives as well. “It became a space for innovation and collaboration,” said Ms. Gabuya. “We have people coming into this space saying ‘Hey, I have an idea, can we do it here? Hey, I want to launch a collective, can we launch it here? Can we have a fund‑raising gig here?’ And we are able to provide that platform for these people.”

Roots Katipunan is open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. For ₱180, you can stay at their co‑working space for three hours, inclusive of Fiber internet connection, coffee, and printing services. For ₱350, you can stay the whole day! And if you plan on co-working for an entire month, a month pass costs ₱3,500, which is a lot cheaper than buying day passes every visit. Rates for availing shelf spaces to display and sell your products at Roots can range from ₱1,500 to ₱2,500 per month, depending on the size of your shelf. This also comes with passes to use their co-working space. “People ask for these entrepreneurs,” Ms. Gabuya explained, pointing at the many shelves filled with products from coffees to shirts, flasks to makeups. “Before they have to meet up to buy their products which are displayed on instagram lang. But if they’re here, people have a place to go to buy them. So we’re not just providing storage, it’s also a marketing for them. It’s important that these small entrepreneurs have a place to display their products.”

“These are premium products. We want to prove here that Filipino‑made products can actually be competitive.”

This is where being located in Katipunan works in Roots’ favor. Their startups are right where they need to be, near Ateneo and Miriam, and families who can afford to pay the tuition fees to those schools. “We’re also working with [Ateneo] faculty, like for social entrepreneurship. It’s becoming popular.This can be a learning hub for students who want to pursue social entrepreneurship. This is where you can start your business and you can see how it can grow with us.”

What’s the future for Roots now that they’ve hurdled their first year of operations? Ms. Gabuya hopes they can provide their services to other places in the Philippines. “I think that’s the way to go, having hubs not only in Quezon City but in Baguio, wherever, bringing it to different places and of course growing the networks.”

“In the future we want to be known as THE hub. If you’re a startup entrepreneur, where can you go to help you boost your business? Where can you have access to suppliers, resources, etc? We want Roots to be the name that people will say.”