There is a window to create real value for more people – but it is closing.
I’m often asked about my thoughts on the Philippine venture and startup ecosystem. My first thought is usually, “What ecosystem?” An ecosystem is a group of independent organisms interacting with each other in a specific environment, and I can’t really say the collective acts of the different ventures and startups in the Philippines contribute to a unique organized relationship that provides greater advantages to the ventures and generates greater value in general.
Having said that, I still believe the potential for a thriving venture ecosystem exists, but the development of this potential, like most progress, is an achievement, not a fate.
We may never achieve our potential.
For me, other than the usual legal, infrastructural, and financial hurdles commonly identified as in the way of a thriving startup ecosystem, I think the Philippine ecosystem needs an original focus, something more than just a theme, but a differentiated value generated by its local ventures. For me, that differentiated value can be found, will be found, in attacking social issues, particularly the issues of inclusion and inequality.
Unlock the Potential of Every Person
I’m a committed optimist. I truly believe in a more beautiful future, not because I think it’s a sure thing, but because I know there are people out there who are working towards something better for themselves and others. I hope to be able to contribute to their efforts in my own way. But if we really want to see massive value generation, we need to be committed to building a bigger and more equitable pie for everyone, not just ourselves. I believe the best venture opportunities in the Philippines will not be a global e-commerce giant, or global ride-hailing company, or a global social media company, (those are already spoken and the most likely exit for new ventures in this space is a sale to one of the big boys ), but will be the ventures that unlock the abilities of the countries most precious resource: its people.
You see, what’s been holding our ecosystem back is mainly our small and needlessly “sophisticated” thinking. We’ve tried to copy the successful models and concepts of other countries and other companies yet we’ve failed to appreciate what’s in front of us. This is the invisible obvious gold mine in the Philippines: 100 million Filipinos, all wanting to be included, all wanting a better life, and all, like every other life, having the potential to generate all kinds of value.
Whoever unlocks that, whoever unlocks them, by empowering them to generate greater and greater value for themselves and others, will reap the greatest rewards.
The Philippine venture scene is at a crossroads: will the local ventures differentiate themselves and focus on unlocking the human potential of every Filipino and so create an even bigger pie? Or will our ventures just be “the Philippine version” of the current sexy startup? Will our ventures become just another asset class for the local elite who will eventually sell a large stake, if not exit the whole thing, to the highest (probably foreign) bidder? In this scenario, the Philippines, as a country, will continue to lack a FAANG like company listed on its own exchange, will not own its own data, and will not be able to provide the highest-value jobs to its people.
But a few people will get rich and stay rich while most of the country stays poor. And what good is innovation then if nothing has changed?
Photo: Krisia Vinzon