What do startups need to grow? A conducive and supportive environment where one can learn and flourish - an ecosystem as we call it. The major hue and cry revolves around the immature startup ecosystem, especially when it countries or regions where startups have just started to bloom. Philippines, is one such region and the capital city – Manila – is taking the center stage of all the startup action happening in the country.
Next up in line catching up with the startup action and starting to bloom is the city of Cebu. While Manila is already a home to two main incubators – Ideaspace and Kickstart which are making some decent noise in the startup ecosystem, Cebu is embracing startups and gearing up too. Many startups get started in Cebu but it becomes hard for the entrepreneurs to pursue their passion because of no formal support structure. One woman who believes in and is trying to help and nurture Cebu’s entrepreneurial potential in her full capacity is Tina Amper.
Tina is the founder of TechTalks.ph, a non-profit, independent community of business, technology, and startup enthusiasts. TechTalks host meetups & events to facilitate networking and organize workshops to foster innovative ideas and acquire better skills once or twice every month. It is a community of 1100+ people today in Cebu, Bohol, Davao, Iloilo and will soon reach to other cities of Philippines as well.. The number shows that the community is nascent, however in Tina’s words it is only bound to scale up from here.A roundtrip from Cebu to SanFrancisco that led to TechTalks
Tina was born and brought up in Cebu. Right after she finished her engineering, she moved to the U.S. so she never got a chance to work in the Philippines. She was based in San Francisco when all the buzz around startup ecosystem was starting to happen in Philippines. She first got introduced to the startup community in the U.S. by Jojo Flores, co-founder of Plug and Play Tech Center in Silicon Valley, and got interested in the startup ecosystem instantaneously.
3 years ago, when she started becoming interested in returning to Philippines, she started catching up with her Filipino friends about the developments happening in her homeland. She formed TechTalks.ph as a way to get to know the community. Tina was quite surprised to know that a whole lot of startup movement was happening in Philippines. She wanted to stay connected with the startup community and when she came finally moved back to Cebu in late 2012, she found an exciting opportunity to build up a community of startups here. With a vision to create strong bonds in startup ecosystem - the entrepreneurs, startup founders, software developers, designers, investors, media, marketers etc- she started TechTalks.ph
Slowly and steadily, a group of few people grew into a 1100+ member community. As the number of members were increasing, suggestions started coming in to do a startup weekend. To keep each other updated about the latest happenings and learn from each other’s experiences and attempts in entrepreneurship, TechTalks started regular meetups for the community and TechTalks has not looked back since that day.
What is happening at TechTalks and in Cebu
When Tina had come back to Cebu, she realized that startups needed an organized community. She says that her role was to just organize the community and she is trying to do the same with TechTalks. The largest membership is in Cebu City but TechTalks.ph also has smaller chapters in Bohol, Davao, Iliolo and is in the process of opening chapters in other areas. In Cebu, speakers are members from the community itself or members from visiting tech startups. People from Manila who come for business prospects to Cebu also reach out to TechTalks as they want to reach out to the community here and TechTalks helps in the same.
Tina says, “what we do is propagate what Ideaspace and Kickstart and similar startup organizations are doing. We make sure people outside Manila are aware and in sync with the developments in Manila. There is one incubator in Cebu at the University of Philippines, connected to the Dept of Science and Technology, but we need more.” Startup enthusiasts and entrepreneurs attend TechTalks meetups, some startup weekend sessions, learn how to build products, then go ahead and join startup competition in Manila, Singapore and elsewhere. “There are geeks and techies in other parts of Philippines as well apart from Manila and my role is just to connect them to where all the activity is happening.”
Tina tells us that there have been three startup weekends in Cebu so far and one in Davao close to 30 teams working on startup projects. Not many of them gain a lot of traction, as everything is in a very early stage but there are a handful of startups that have won some great competitions and have funding support etc.
Philippines needs one case-study to change the traditional mindset
Talking of 3 major cities, Tina shares that Manila and Davao in the north and Cebu in the mid region have startups coming up. Both Cebu and Davao are cosmopolitan cities and both have some world class companies. The startup community is just an year old here, so the larger traditional companies are just waking up to what is a startup in both these cities. Cebu is a progressive city and it is milking much business in outsourcing. There are call centers in Cebu that employ lots of young Filipinos and they earn good money. So, the businesses are catering to this segment - there are lot of new restaurants and fashion stores coming up - and the supporting businesses are what the traditional community people are making money from.
Tina shares that there are investors like NarraVC and ICCP who have been around for a long time. They are not angel investors but more like institutional investors. She says, “Many investors have said that they want to invest in startups but I have not seen any substantial action. What we need here are angel investors.”
“It is easier and more profitable to invest in traditional businesses right now as returns can be yielded sooner. But in the case of startups, one might invest and not make any money for months/years and this is a foreign concept,” says Tina. There are a good number of people who want to startup but the traditional business owners are skeptical about investing in them. Tina feels that Philippines needs one case-study which tells that if you invest in startups you can make money.
Startups that are making noise always have some international connection
Startups making some noise in Philippines are mostly founded by Filipino Americans or Canadians. Tina says, “They are the ones who have lived in the U.S or Canada and understand the pace needed, otherwise a traditional Filipino doing business is generally more easy going as compared to those abroad. There are a few hungry developers, but almost always they have some experience working with the international tech industry that makes them competitive.”
The ones that are making waves right now are Payroll Hero, Kalibrr, twitmusic are hot players right now, shares Tina.
Tina is currently planning her dream event, called Geeks on a Beach on September 26-27 in Boracay Island, Philippines. GeeksOnABeach.com is a new conference for everyone who is passionate about startups, technology, design, and making the world a better place.The event will feature the closing ceremonies of Bowei Gai’s World Startup Report tour.
More about Tina’s community here. Reach out to her if you are interested in setting up operations in Philippines or just want to understand the market better.