23 Oct The Ecosystem of Philippine Technology Start-ups
Contemporary society has become so comfortably interwoven with technology that it seems impossible to live a life without it. The past decades bore witness to a constant rise in technology in relation to business and enterprise, with the recent years creating a burgeoning in the field of tech start-ups. A tech start-up is a company with the purpose of bringing technology products and services to the market in new and modern ways. With the age of the smartphone, the development of various apps, software, and other innovative products and services has become one of the most lucrative and profitable businesses all over the world.
The Philippines is no stranger to technology start-ups. In the 22 October 2020 webinar, “The Ecosytem of Philippine Technology Start-ups”, Kat Chan, Executive Director of QBO Innovation Hub Philippines, together with Atty. JJ Disini and Atty. Lars Serzo of Disini Buted Disini, engaged in a broad dialogue on the technology start-ups space in the Philippines.
Atty. JJ Disini, in his introduction, circled back to the early 2000s when the Philippines was considered as the “texting capital of the world”, with citizens sending almost 100 million texts a day. Back then, he reveled in the countless possibilities that could emerge in the Philippine tech industry, particularly in the field of SMS or texting. Many of these tech start-ups, called “value-added service providers”, ended up being bought up by the big telecommunications companies. “A lot of opportunities were lost because we [the Philippines] were number 1 in the world in terms of SMS. I felt like that was an opportunity for Filipino start-ups to understand that space and then export that knowledge elsewhere. It was not until the advent of the smartphone and the app stores that that space again was democratized, and Filipino start-ups started coming in again.”
QBO Innovation Hub Philippines is “a modern space for Filipino startups and other players in our ecosystem to come together and flourish.” Formed in 2016, the role of QBO in the tech start-up industry is to actively support start-ups and develop the start-up space by providing diverse workshops, mentorships, consultations, networking events, and other products and services intended to continuously innovate and revolutionize the start-up ecosystem in the country. Executive Director Kat Chan expounds on what a start-up is by first describing what it is not, which is a traditional SME or small and medium-sized enterprises. “The key thing about start-ups is that it is comparable to a project or is experimental at the time it is created or being offered to the market.”
Start-ups dominate the landscape today. “They aren’t companies which existed hundreds of years ago which still exist today,” Kat explains. Big tech companies like TikTok, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple were once start-ups with “one or two people” at the helm. In Southeast Asia alone, the tech start-up world has already exceeded $100B in value, and it is only expected to grow in that upward trajectory. “There is a fundamental change or paradigm shift in our industry, it is important to note that many of these start-ups are created and not inherited.”
The Philippines itself has caught the bug of tech start-ups. “We are consuming a lot of tech start-ups now,” Kat exclaims, referring to the overwhelming use of e-commerce as well as social media, travel, ride hailing, and financial services by Filipino citizens. “The Filipino start-up ecosystem is young but full of potential and embedded capabilities that make it awesome for start-ups to thrive.” Because of the radical means by which technology is consumed in the Philippines, more and more investors from foreign countries are looking to the Philippines for investments in start-up companies and potential expansion to nearby countries. Even the Philippine government has begun its many initiatives involving tech start-ups, mostly in making sure that the advancements and resources are available not just in Manila but in the provinces as well. This was evident during and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the government made use of several tech start-ups in its contact tracing efforts.
Clearly, both private and public sectors have already shown their investment in the start-up industry in a variety of ways. “In a lot of spaces, there are many interesting things that our local start-ups are doing. They are very active now. It’s [the COVID-19 pandemic] definitely given an opportunity for start-ups especially in tech to see where the problems are, and address those gaps,” Kat said. And just like all technology, start-ups have emerged in all areas of daily life – in transportation, FinTech, HealthTech, education, and even on-demand “essential” services. In closing, Kat reiterates the many reasons why we, as a society, should care about start-ups. “Start-ups make lives and businesses better, and you could make a lot of money out of it, too.”
The Ecosystem of Philippine Technology Start-ups is part of Disini Law’s Digital Transformation Thursdays. Digital Transformation Thursdays is a webinar series which focuses on discussions of issues and problems encountered in the journey towards digital transformation. The free webinar was streamed and may be accessed through the Disini Law Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DisiniLaw/). For upcoming online events of Digital Transformation Thursdays, visit https://dtt.ph/.