When big businesses meet small start ups

Cover Art Erka Capili Inciong

Words by

Digital Reporter

Start‑ups. Disruption. Innovation. With small tech‑driven businesses having the potential to turn into hugely profitable enterprises like in the example of transport network vehicle service apps Grab and Uber, how are old businesses dealing with these new developments?

For Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Erramon I. Aboitiz, the internet is a game changer. “Your generation intuitively understands technology as it has always been a part of your life, growing up in an electronics‑filled environment that enables online and social media communication with anyone, anywhere in the globe, 24/7,” the CEO of his family’s multifaceted conglomerate said in his key speech at the 12th Aboitiz Future Leaders Business Summit (AFLBS) last November.

AFLBS is Aboitiz’s yearly summit for students from all over the Philippines and from different fields like Accountancy, Engineering, Economics and Psychology, to show them what opportunities they might have in their company.

“The vast information on the Internet also fundamentally changes the way you learn things about our world,” Mr. Aboitiz said. “You millennials are also acknowledged as being able to present far more creative and innovative solutions to problems than any other generation before you. You are the most ethnically diverse generation and therefore tend to be tolerant of difference.”

Ana Aboitiz‑Delgado, a fifth‑generation Aboitiz and chief user experience officer of Union Bank, said the company is trying to develop an environment that better suits the millennial work force. Millennials, after all, make up approximately a third of the Philippines’ total population.

“The old way of working is that you’re stuck to a desk, and you have to show up in this particular office,” Delgado told SparkUp. “Now we’re experimenting with agile workspaces where you don’t have a fixed desk, and you can work from different places.”

“And I think more and more we espouse the need to be aligned with a purpose,” Delgado added. “I think that they appreciate that we can recognize that they might not be attracted to us so we also have to convince them that we are the right employer.”

Insular Life Assurance Company, Ltd. is also reaqcuainting itself and its employees with the values of innovation. The 107‑year old coverage provider held a seminar, IKNOWVATE, on Nov. 29 for its employees and officers and invited several speakers to talk about what innovation can bring to a traditional company. Insular Life also held a pitching session with technology startups, with products that could bring some needed innovation to Insular’s services.

“We will be very passionate about innovation. It is a way to survive,” said Insular Life CEO Nina Aguas. “Of course Insular has survived all these years. In terms of durability, it is a company that has survived 107 years. We’re just ensuring that it will be here for another century for the next generation. And hopefully when it happens our great‑great‑grandchildren will be a part of Insular Life.”

“I’m very excited about innovation,” Aguas added. “We’re looking forward to what it holds.”

Among the speakers invited to IKNOWVATE was head of Ayala Innovation Vince Tobias. Ayala Innovation is Ayala Corporation’s think tank for developing innovation within another of the Philippines’ corporate giants.

“We were very happy with how we were doing,” Tobias said about how Ayala Corporation learned to embrace the importance of innovation. “So to bother people to think about innovation was very difficult. It took our Chair and CEO to say `You know what, we’re going to have an organization and it’s going to be here on a permanent basis.”

And they soon learned the importance of startups, which can reach customers with more ease than Ayala can. “Startups are more agile, they’re closer to the market. They’re quicker to adjust to what they see.”

“We’re big, Ayala is huge and that causes some distance to the customer,” Tobias explained. “We leverage on our access to finance and our people, so there’s not so much pressure to look at the finer details which the startups might be able to see. They’re leaner, they don’t have your resources so they’re more attuned to market needs and intricacies.”

Is this a sign for a future where startups and large companies can work together and benefit from one another? With these corporate giants seeking to adapt to the changing economic climate, signs point to yes.