MANILA, Philippines — Philippine sports has Manny Pacquiao; theater and entertainment has Lea Salonga and Charice Pempengco; and politics has the late President Corazon Aquino.
These are notable Filipino icons that have made a name for themselves and the country in the global arena through their talents and achievements, bringing pride to the nation through their tireless lifework.
However, among a nation of 100 million, who could be considered as the Philippines’ technology icon?
That was the question posited by members of the local start-up community during a recent forum co-organized by Smart Communications and the IT Journalists Association of the Philippines, also known as CyberPress.
At a time when young Filipino software developers look up to the likes of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin as their idols who inspire them to pursue their technology dreams, industry stalwarts said it is essential that a Filipino name be up on that list as well.
“People like Steve Jobs. His story is really celebrated. He is an inspiration for young techies and it’s important that other stories are celebrated by the media,” said Myla Villanueva, chief executive of Novare Technologies, a Hong Kong-based IT solutions firm.
In January, Villanueva unveiled a P111-million angel fund called “Wireless Wings” to help young Filipinos with big technology ideas get an initial push toward establishing their own start-up firms.
No stranger to founding start-ups as she was the former owner of Meridian Telekoms, and Wolfpac Mobile Inc — which were both sold to Smart for hefty sums — Villanueva stressed that it is important to have a Filipino tech icon who can inspire the youth to take risks in business.
An aptitude for business and technology as well as a risk-taking attitude is essential for Filipino techies to be able to replicate the success of Silicon Valley in the USA, which churns out start-up after start-up every single day.
But with taking risks also comes failure, which, unfortunately, is frowned upon in the perfectionist cultures of Asia, according to Minette Navarrete, president of angel capital firm Kickstart Ventures.
“In Asia, failing is often seen as a shameful thing,” Navarrete reiterated. “But in the world of start-ups, if you haven’t failed yet, it means you haven’t done enough.”
Kickstart Ventures is the Globe Telecom-led incubation hub, which was unveiled in March and has been going around various start-up pitching competitions such as the Startup Weekend Manila and Cebu to discover new talent and great technology ideas.
Navarrete echoed Villanueva’s sentiments about having a renowned Filipino tech icon that could mentor young potential technopreneurs into establishing their own start-up IT firms.
“Start-ups should be given a chance to talk to people that have been on that road before. People that have succeeded in this area. They can help expose a start-up founder to the way a big company thinks,” she stressed.
Mentorship is a non-financial resource being advocated by IdeaSpace Foundation, the non-profit start-up incubator company funded by the Manuel V. Pangilinan group of companies co-founded by Smart’s Earl Martin Valencia and Meralco’s Marthyn Cuan.
According to Valencia, more than the money, there are “other forms of support that we need to make sure start-ups become successful,” mentorship being chief among them.
Also launched in March, the MVP Group’s IdeaSpace initiative boasts of a long list of mentors from within the conglomerate’s subsidiaries in a number of industries, including telecommunications, media, water, power distribution, and road infrastructures.
But more than creating start-up companies, which could potentially be bought by the group, Cuan said what IdeaSpace aims to provide is an alternative to the usual corporate jobs taken by most graduates today.
“You don’t have to work in multi-national corporations to be successful and add value to the country,” Cuan emphasized. “We want to give Filipinos an alternative, and this should not be exclusive to those that come from landed families and can afford expensive educations.”
Starting out and starting big
For start-up firms Hobbymash Pte. Ltd. and By Implication, now could not have been a more appropriate time for young people to venture out on their own and establish their technology companies, especially with the abundance of funding afforded to those with great and big ideas.
Both young firms were products of software development competitions held recently in Manila — the former being the JFDI Bootcamp prizewinner at the Startup Weekend Manila held last October, and the latter being the winner of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in 2010.
Founders of Hobbymash shared that their decision to quit their jobs and focus on establishing their business has changed their lives forever.
“We quit our jobs and moved to Singapore,” Hobbymash co-founder Joshua Liao said. His co-founder Liezl Buenaventura said, “we learned more during our 90 days in Singapore than we could have imagined.”
Hobbymash is now building a new Internet application called Familyko — a video-call service similar to Skype, but adds interactive components such as games.
This will target overseas Filipino workers that want to do more than just talk with their loved ones in the Philippines.
Levi Ong, co-founder of By Implication emphasized the need to maintain a start-up’s corporate culture in order to protect the company’s reputation.
“If you take on a project that you don’t feel confident about and you know you won’t be proud off, it’s your company’s name on the line. And when you’re starting out, your company’s reputation and talent is really all that you have,” Ong said.