Eighteen-year-old college freshman Bea Battung will be representing the Philippines as she takes her startup, Prima Facie, to the international stage at the fifth Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) finals.
Last Saturday, the local leg of GSEA saw five student finalists compete at Shangri-La at the Fort, with Battung winning out with her concept for sustainable footwear.
Through Prima Facie—which she founded in high school—Battung produces shoes made of water hyacinth, an aquatic plant prevalent in rivers and coastal communities infamous for clogging waterways and causing massive flooding.
“Buy a shoe, clean a river,” Battung said, describing her company’s mission.
More than just helping the environment, however, she’s made it a point to give back to the communities that she employs to help build her products. “Every pair of shoes sold, a pair of slippers is donated to the less fortunate.”
Through their lineup of products—two offerings so far, a hybrid sneaker and a slipper—Prima Facie aims to promote local industries, empower communities, and advocate for environmental awareness.
Battung beat out concepts ranging from educational tools for children learning Mandarin Chinese, to blockchain-powered micro-bank branches deployed to remote areas.
One competitor, Popoy Medina, presented his venture, Green Rubber (GRub) another footwear brand creating carbon-neutral sandals out of 100 percent discarded tires (no glue or stitching, whatsoever).
Since launching GRub, Medina’s employed 10 residents of his hometown of New Corella in Davao del Norte, all of whom hail from the local PWD community.
“New Corella is among the 30 poorest communities in the Philippines,” Medina said. “As a student entrepreneur, I want to empower those in my sector, specifically those persons with disabilities.”
Medina’s advocacy is a personal one, stemming from an accident that sent 12,000 volts through his body, leaving him unable to fully use his right hand.
“When I was applying for a job, and I wasn’t accepted because I wasn’t physically fit, I realized I wasn’t alone in being discriminated,” he said. “I am a PWD. This is my second life. I need to do something for my community.”
“Building this business, there were a lot of failures, frustrations, and stress,” he said. “The most challenging thing is how to convince my community to believe in my vision.”
But it’s a struggle Medina says ultimately pays off in the end. “One of my artisans told me, ‘I am proud of what I do right now. It gives me purpose. My self-esteem is back.’”
A cohort of mentors
The tournament, organized by Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) – Philippines, brought together hundreds of student applicants hailing from schools all over the country to find and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs. From this pool, nine were chosen to join an entirely new mentorship program, wherein student entrepreneurs were assigned mentors from among the nation’s leaders in business.
When Jenny Yang took over the tournament’s organizing committee, she took the initiative to turn what was once simply a showcase of student business savvy into a fully-fledged mentorship program, mirroring the peer-based mentorship system of the organization at large. The result was EO’s new Student Entrepreneurs Incubator (SEI).
With an emphasis on reaching out to young entrepreneurs outside the national capital region, SEI fielded a batch of mentees from all over the Philippines, hailing from places like Davao, Cebu, and Batangas.
“I personally approached EO members who I thought would make good mentors and had the passion to mentor and then invited them,” Yang said. “Each of the SEI mentees are paired one-on-one with a mentor who will mentor them for six months.”
This year’s competition, the culmination of nearly a year of planning, was attended primarily by high schoolers and young college students. Yang says it’s all part of EO’s commitment to society—to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“We cannot be a country of just job seekers, we need to create jobs,” she said. “So that’s what we want to do, what we want to inspire. And that’s what today’s event is all about.”
As this year’s winner, Battung will be receiving P200,000 in prize money, as well as continued access to EO’s cohort of more than 160 of the nation’s top entrepreneurs, as well as a larger community of over 13,000 business leaders worldwide.
Already a competition veteran at 18, Battung’s taken her business ideas across the region, bagging runner-up at another tournament in Beijing. In April, she’ll be taking her hyacinth-leather kicks to Macau to compete with 50 other student entrepreneurs in the GSEA global finals.