Igniting the flames of innovation

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Photo shows (1st row): Natividad Y. Cheng, Melesa D. Chua, Ma. Estela O. Nievera, Octavia D. Hizon, Cristina Isabelle P. Alejandro, Rissa Mananquil Trillo; (2nd row): Antonio S. Tan, Ricardo F. Lagdameo, Dr. Peter Ira P. Laurel, Samuel L. Po, Lester C. Yu, Charles M. Streegan, Atty. Francis S. Ganzon. 3rd row: Jose R. Soberano III, Lester Mark E. Yee, Levy V. Espiritu, Robert John L. Blancaflor, Rommel T. Juan, and Maynard S. Ngu

By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran

In business, there is no room for complacency. Companies need to continually evolve to keep pace with the speed of a world rapidly being changed by technology. Every entrepreneur knows that the only way to survive and grow in any industry is to embrace change and find opportunity wherever it can be found. With open-mindedness, as well as a healthy dose of hard work and luck, anyone can climb to the top.

With the conclusion of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017, a new contender has risen.

Natividad Y. Cheng, who, with her husband Robert, founded what would be now Multiflex RNC Philippines, Inc. (Uratex) in 1968 and who took to entrepreneurship as a bid to get out of a life of poverty, was named the “Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2017” and will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year awards in Monte Carlo, Monaco, in June 2018.

With seed money of only P4,000, the Chengs started Uratex to capitalize on their familiarity with upholstery and to shake up a virtually non-existent foaming supplier industry.


Through an emphasis on quality, value for money, and continuous innovation, Uratex has become the current local leader in manufacturing not only foam and mattresses, but also microwavable food containers, textiles, mono-block furniture, and automotive original equipment parts such as mufflers, car seats, and radiators. Today, products from the Uratex Group of Companies can be found in showrooms in 20 locations nationwide and over 1,000 retail establishments.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines award recognizes Ms. Cheng’s decades of hard work, determination, and business sense in making Uratex a trusted brand through nearly half a century of operations. She also won the Master Entrepreneur Award for her dedication to quality and for showing outstanding entrepreneurship managing Uratex throughout the years.

The Entrepreneur Of The Year was founded in the United States by professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY) in 1986 to recognize the achievements of the most successful and innovative entrepreneurs worldwide. In 2001, EY expanded the program and launched the World Entrepreneur Of The Year awards.

In the Philippines, SGV Foundation, Inc. established the Entrepreneur Of The Year program in 2003.

J. Carlitos G. Cruz, chairman and president of SGV Foundation, Inc., said: “The Philippines has been demonstrating significant economic growth and progress, validating the strong fundamentals that are underpinning our economy. With the rapid changes in the business ecosystem brought about by technology and disruption, as well as a renewed focus on inclusive and sustainable socio-economic growth, our country needs more entrepreneurs who catalyze creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in others. We applaud business leaders who can ignite innovations that will help improve the quality of life of their families, communities, and society at large.”

In line with this vision, the program also recognized Rissa Mananquil Trillo, co-founder and chief brand officer of Happy Skin Cosmetics; Lester C. Yu, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Fruitas Holdings, Inc.; and Jose R. Soberano III, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Cebu Landmasters, Inc., for their excellent contributions to their respective industries in cosmetics, food and beverage, and real estate.

Ms. Trillo, who has had a successful career in modelling and is a former president of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines, was named Woman Entrepreneur.

Utilizing her personal experience as a professional model, she created Happy Skin Cosmetics with co-founder Jacq Gutierrez to offer a new type of cosmetics brand that combines skin care with make-up specifically tailored to both Filipino skin and tropical weather conditions. Since its launch in 2013, the homegrown Happy Skin Cosmetics company has proven its ability to stand alongside imported brands in an industry dominated by foreign competitors, and has grown from five to 85 counters and 14 stores nationwide.

Lester C. Yu, founder and CEO of Fruitas Holdings, Inc., was named the Emerging Entrepreneur for establishing a market for affordable fresh fruit juices that caters to the mass market.

Using his savings to start his business, and even handling various aspects of the business himself, such as driving trucks to deliver fruit on top of his managerial duties, Mr. Yu grew Fruitas from a one-man kiosk to become a successful network of over 850 stores all across the country. In the company’s 15 years, it has acquired numerous different food brands, including Jamaican Pattie, Black Pearl, and La Petite Parisienne. The company recently revealed its intention to debut on the Philippine bourse soon, in addition to its plans of expanding its network abroad.

Jose R. Soberano III, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Cebu Landmasters, Inc. (CLI), received the Industry Entrepreneur award, specifically for the Real Estate industry. Realizing that there were no housing developments in their district in Cebu, Mr. Soberano purchased three hectares of property with the intention of turning it into affordable housing units for Cebuanos. The success of his first project led him to incorporating Cebu Landmasters, Inc. in 2003.

Now, CLI has become one of the top local developers across the Visayas and Mindanao regions. In 14 years, Mr. Soberano has transformed CLI into a local real estate powerhouse, with the company being recognized as the number-one Cebu-based developer in Metro Cebu by the CBRE Group, Inc., the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world. In addition to Cebu, CLI currently has residential, commercial, and mixed-use projects in other key areas of the regions, including Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Davao.

The awardees were chosen from among 19 finalists, all of whom have made outstanding and innovative enterprises in diverse industries across the various regions in the country.

The other finalists were: Robert John L. Blancaflor (Robert Blancaflor Group, Inc.); Melesa D. Chua (CDC Holdings, Inc.); Levy V. Espiritu (DATEM, Inc.); Francis S. Ganzon (Bangko Kabayan, Inc.); Octavia D. Hizon (Hizon’s Restaurant and Catering Services, Inc.); Rommel T. Juan (Binalot Fiesta Foods, Inc.); Ricardo F. Lagdameo (Damosa Land, Inc.); Peter Ira P. Laurel (Lyceum of the Philippines University — Batangas and Laguna campuses); Maynard S. Ngu (Cosmic Technologies, Inc.-Cherry Mobile); Ma. Estela O. Nievera (Cabalen Management Company, Inc.); Cristino L. Panlilio (Balibago Waterworks System, Inc.); Samuel L. Po (JS Unitrade Merchandise, Inc.); Charles M. Streegan (Pacific Traders and Manufacturing Corporation/HCS Management); Antonio S. Tan’s (Lion Commercial Corp.); and Lester Mark E. Yee (Esprutingkle Food Corp.).

All nominees for the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines went through a strict financial data ranking system used by all Entrepreneur Of The Year participating countries. Afterward, the finalists were evaluated by an independent panel of jurors composed of distinguished business personalities.

The panel was chaired by former Philippine Prime Minister Cesar E. A. Virata, now corporate vice-chairman of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. The other panel members were Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV; Synergeia CEO Milwida M. Guevara; Securities and Exchange Commission Chairperson Teresita J. Herbosa; Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Zenaida C. Maglaya; Philippine Stock Exchange President and CEO Ramon S. Monzon; and Xurpas Inc. Chairman and CEO Nico Jose S. Nolledo, who is also the 2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines.

Jollibee Foods Corp. Chairman and CEO Tony Tan Caktiong was the first-ever Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines, and he eventually went on to win as World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2004 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Socorro Cancio-Ramos, founder of National Book Store, was named Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines the year after, followed by Lance Y. Gokongwei, president and CEO of Cebu Air, Inc.; Senen C. Bacani, chairman and president of La Frutera, Inc.; Wilfred Steven Uytengsu, Jr., president and CEO of Alaska Milk Corp.; Jesus Tambunting, former chairman and president of Planters Development Bank; Tennyson G. Chen, president of Bounty Fresh Foods, Inc.; Erramon I. Aboitiz, president and CEO of AboitizPower Corp.; Jaime I. Ayala, founder and CEO of Hybrid Social Solutions; Inc.; Ben Chan, chairman of Suyen Corp. and Xurpas’ Mr. Nolledo.

Since its foundation, the Entrepreneur Of The Year awards has been highlighting the achievements of the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit. As the Philippines continues to rise to economic prominence, challenges to its businesses and industries will only come more frequently as new competition and disruptive technologies emerge to shake their foundations. Only through the constant triumphs of dedicated, creative, and competent entrepreneurs will the country be able to keep its upward momentum. Innovation will drive progress, and the rest will follow.