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To produce unicorns, PHL startup community needs policy continuity

UNSPLASH

The startup community hopes to weather the uncertainties that accompany the upcoming national elections.  

“It’s not always a matter of new policies, but also of the consistency of policies,” said Carlo C. Calimon, concurrent director of Let’s Go Foundation, a non-profit that advocates entrepreneurship, and local incubator and accelerator StartUp Village. “When the next person comes in, everything is scrapped.”  

Startups need a stable environment to test their ideas, he added. Food trucks, which were all the rage several years ago, are now only seen in parties because of paperwork issues. 

“When you apply for a food truck permit, the LGU [local government unit] will say you can’t apply, because you’re not under any category. You kill the startup before it actually starts,” Mr. Calimon said on Friday at a BusinessWorld Insights webinar.

BUILDING UNICORNS 

Innovation should be a national priority and not “a nice side dish,” said Katrina Rausa Chan, concurrent executive director of QBO Innovation Hub, a platform that supports startups, and IdeaSpace Foundation Inc., a non-profit for early-stage startup founders. “As much as a grassroots approach benefits Filipinos, a top-down approach would be great as well,” she added. 

“Talent is the fuel that drives any startup, and Filipinos have proven their ability to execute in companies around the world,” she said, pointing out several factors working in the country’s favor: a young demographic, a growing economy, its willingness to adopt technologies, and an increase in fundraising this year.  

Total fintech funding in the first half of 2021 amounted to $5.56 billion in the Asia Pacific — more than double the same period last year, and on track to top pre-pandemic levels, per S&P Global Market Intelligence, a provider of financial and industry data and research.  

Among the shining stars of the local innovation landscape is Mynt, the first unicorn born in the Philippines, and the company that powers the e-wallet GCash.  

“Building these unicorns is a long-term game, and GCash was able to innovate and build on top of its product,” said Luis S. Sia, co-founder and chief commercial officer of PayMongo, a payment processing platform. “GCash also speaks to the underserved market. They cater to Filipinos who do not have access to the same financial services as those who are banked.”  

Like GCash, PayMongo was founded when its founders realized that MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) needed a payment product tailored to their needs.  

“I think entrepreneurs should focus on providing value for customer,” Mr. Sia said. “At the end of the day, technology is there to support how people can solve problems.”  

While the coronavirus pandemic was an inflection point for growth, entrepreneurs don’t need global crises to innovate. “Now is the time companies and businesses are embracing technology and innovation… we have to put our creativity into play even without disruptions,” Mr. Calimon said. — Patricia B. Mirasol 

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