If there’s one thing speakers and people from the tech ecosystem agree on in the Philippines, it’s that “two years ago, there was nothing here”. While attending the second edition of local tech conference Geeks on a Beach, it was pretty obvious a lot of things had happened in just two years.
A positive economic and political context
The Philippines recently hit two symbolic milestones which helps to understand why it is on a positive trend: first, with the 100 millionth Filipino born a few weeks ago, and then with the title of the second-fastest growing GDP in Asia for the last quarter of 2013, just behind China.
Politically, things are moving too, in particular with the initiatives taken by Senator Bam Aquino, a former entrepreneur and Co-founder of successful social enterprises Rags2Riches and Hapinoy.
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Among the different bills passed or in the pipeline, is the setup of a network of Neogosyo centres in the Philippines’ main cities, acting as one-stop shops for entrepreneurs in their relationship with the government, and, more expected, a bill with a two-years’ tax break for startups (which so far have been paying both corporate and income tax).
All levels of the ecosystem are in place and ready to grow
As our research on tech ecosystems across the world shows, several components are needed to create, manage or push forward a startup scene. The Philippines seems to have it all in place.
First, with world-class startup institutions at the base of the ecosystem. Startup Weekend and AngelHack are two examples of renowned ideation and prototyping environment which help to convene wantrepreneurs and gather the ecosystem with mentors, judges and often big companies.
Then, with Ideaspace and Kickstart Ventures, the Philippines has the next layer of the ecosystem for startups ready to be accelerated, which means if they are given a first small funding, mentors, and a room to try out to transform the idea into a minimum viable product. Alternately, an organisation like the Founders Institute helps to train the founders.
Typically, Geeks on a Beach is the most visible part of the ecosystem when it gathers a big part of it with conferences, speed-dating and free time for meetings. For this second year, the conference recorded about 400 participants, with, from what we’ve seen, a solid quarter of foreigners, increasing the diversity within the ecosystem. Top speakers like Dave McClure or globetrotter-in-residence Bowei Gai give just the good level of shine to the whole thing.
Top startups from the Philippines
As a result, the local startups have quite good traction and some of them are among Southeast Asia’s most promising, according to e27′s CEO and Co-founder Mohan Belani, as he was asked which were in his mind regionally.
To name a few:
Payroll Hero is a facial recognition tool for employee time management for businesses. It got about a million dollars in funding from 500 Startups, and as of last year, already had 500,000 captures of employees’ faces using the app to time in and out of the job.
Coins.ph is another very promising Bitcoin exchange, founded and run by Ron Hose, who has set up a VC fund with Google’s Eric Schmidt. His mission to empower the unbanked in the Philippines through digital currencies is well on its way. The figures can’t be disclosed, but are pretty amazing.
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Last but not least, Kalibrr is an assessment-driven applicant tracking system in the cloud. Its Founder, Paul Riviera, is also active in the social enterprise space as he took part in a panel to discuss the position of the Philippines as a future hub for social business. The company’s guesstimated valuation is around US$10 million.
The two hot fields: Bitcoins and social enterprise
Talking with the people from the tech scene, both in Cebu and Manila, it became clear that the Philippines could lead the way in two fields.
First, with Bitcoins and digital currencies. The country with the third highest level of remittance in the world is also 75 per cent unbanked, and, as Ron Hose stressed many times, “these guys will not be banked; it’s too expensive for banks to do so”. As usual with Bitcoins, it’s a matter of time, as the technology needs to be more easily usable by the masses.
Second, with social enterprises. With 25 per cent population living with less than a dollar per day, natural disasters, and a lot of issues on education, women empowerment and environment, “the ingredients are there”. Successful social ventures help to create role models, with Gawad Kalinga being the most famous.
The ecosystem is young and probably at a tipping point where it’s still easy to explore it, but it won’t last!
The legendary friendliness of Filipinos, combined with a wealth of issues to solve, and a comprehensive and quick set-up of a tech ecosystem, make the place a must-visit for any startuper with regional ambitions.