This first day of Geeks on a Beach 2 provided a lot of insights on the state of the Philippines startup ecosystem. Several panels addressed the topic of the country itself, and its position in the broader ASEAN region.
Overall, speakers and discussions in the audience agree that it’s the right place and the right moment, the quality of this second big tech event for the Philippines being a clear sign of this trend.
With the 2nd fastest growing economy of Asia after China, a growing population, and an already surprising share of exports in IT products and services, the Philippines are yet another country under the radar that we discover with an immense pleasure.
An entrepreneurial “island frontier”
To introduce the roots of the Philippines startup ecosystem, Oliver Segovia, who worked for corporates as well as his own businesses in Asia and in the US, talks of “an island frontier”.
From the early times of the archipelago and its different kingdoms, to the engineering prowess of rice terrasses, up to the resistance in front of the Spanish invaders, the Filipinos have more often than not taken the lead.
Later on, they also founded Asia’s first University in 1611. The diaspora – one of the biggest in the world today – can be found in Asia, the Middle-East, as well as in the United States.
The Filipono history is, in a nutshell, full of startup stories, and the latest initiatives of the government should strengthen this trend – talks of a startup visa similar to the one of Startup Chile are quite advanced.
More recently, the inflow of both entrepreneurs from overseas and more local students interested into startups have revived the ecosystem. Events abound, from Startup Weekend to AngelHack.
5 reasons why the Philippines startup ecosystem rocks
Earl Valencia is the founder of Ideaspace, both a community builder and investor in science and technology ideas, with $12m funding for the next 5 years. His vision of why now, in 2014, the Philippines startup ecosystem is hot is based on five items
- The Philippines is a melting pot of cultures. They “party like Latins, do business like Americans, and have the entrepreneurial spirit of Asians!”. We can’t agree more to put the diversity topic on top of the list.
- Growth! The Philippines is the 2nd fastest growing GDP in Asia after China. Its stockmarket also gained +61% in the last 2 years. Exports in 2012 were topped by a lot of Electronic integrated circuits (23%), followed by Automatic data processing machines (10%)
- The Philippines can lead emerging markets innovations. Mobile-only solutions and social entrepreneurship to solve emerging markets issues are two keys of specialisation of the Philippines tech scene.
- The funding is flowing to the Philippines, at all levels of the ecosystems, from early-stage to seed and Series A, as shown in Earl’s slides. Investors include Kickstart Ventures, HatchD, and Ideaspace.
- Last but not least, the tech ecosystem is healthy, with recurring events such as Geeks on a Beach or AngelHack, training and mentoring organisations like Founders Institute and Startup Grind, and a lots of sub-communities.
When most agree than two years ago, “there was nothing here”, it’s obvious the Philippines not only is developing fast, but is clearly becoming a competitor on the regional scene, which makes it even more interesting.
To give you an idea of some figures, Ideaspace in 2 years recorded 1320 submissions reviews, 28 investments, 6 patents, 100 jobs created, and about 150 000 students and professionals reached through events.
The ASEAN effort to become a startup region
More broadly, the whole South-East Asia tech scene is in fusion. By 2020, the 600m population area will have 56% households in the middle-class, and 190m new Internet users.
Regionally, the ASEAN is pushing for its masterplan 2015 to leapfrog landlines and offer more free Wifi in the region. The idea is to create a high-speed corridor between all the countries – and numerous islands – of South-East Asia.
Other countries in Asean are known to be among the most socially active on internet. The most Instagramed place is in Bangkok, 15% of the world’s tweets come from Indonesia, and Singapore boasts the highest smartphone penetration in the world.
What’s next stage for the Philippines tech scene?
To conclude the analysis of the Philippines when it comes to startups, the panellists suggested a few key points to focus on, including a smarter government, more help on regulations, more money for funding, better training of engineers.
The whole idea is to “increase the denominator”, as Oliver Segoya told us. “The question is not so much how to create the next Google from the Philippines, but rather how to increase the denominator of startups overall. If 5% of a large denominator are a big success, then it’s already a lot of jobs and value generated”.
In any case, a visit in Cebu or Manila and the easiness of connections between people should make you take the next flight there.
For the most comprehensive information on the topic, do check the World Startup Wiki Philippines page!