PAYONEER Global, Inc., an American financial services company, has opened applications for its incubation program in the Philippines, targeting digital freelancers and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

The Bridge for Billions program aims to support 70 Filipino entrepreneurs with four months of mentorship, sustaining growth in digital industries, including SMEs and the gig economy, the company said on Tuesday.

“The challenge for SMEs is access to support — having a strong business foundation,” said Jenell P. San Antonio, marketing lead for emerging markets at Payoneer APAC, recognizing the rarity of incubation support for SMEs.

“This is open to any startup and freelancer who provides any type of digital service,” she said in an interview with BusinessWorld.

According to Payoneer’s Global Freelancer Insights Report 2023, global demand for freelancers has increased in the fields of programming, marketing, project management, and web design.

The information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) industry has 1.7 million full-time employees, which is up 8.7% from the previous year. It anticipates adding 257,000 full-time workers and generating $5.9 billion in revenues over the next two years.

The program will consist of eight modules on value proposition, competitor mapping, and the formation of a business plan backed by Bridge for Billions best practices.

The Bridge for Billions’ methodology is based on the concept of disciplined entrepreneurship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to the company. It has been used for 270 incubation programs in 134 countries over the past eight years.

Once the four-month incubation has ended, 15-20 participants will be chosen to join a pitch competition where three winners will receive cash prizes of $1,000, $1,500, and $2,000 to kickstart their businesses, Ms. San Antonio said.

“We’re banking on equipping them with business tools, mentors, and a community network of entrepreneurs,” she added.

Impact assessment to monitor the growth of supported entrepreneurs will be conducted post-program.

Participant and mentor applications for the Bridge for Billions program will end in December. The incubation proper will be from March to June.

Ms. San Antonio also noted the need for collaboration between the IT-BPM sector and the gig economy, where freelancing is being acknowledged as competition to BPO companies in terms of business registration and talent acquisition.

Jack Madrid, president of the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines, said that potential investors must accept such competition, and Filipinos must understand the pros and cons of working for an unregistered company, BusinessWorld reported in May.

Both industries must work together and understand each other’s pain points to improve necessary regulatory processes, Ms. San Antonio said. — Miguel Hanz L. Antivola