Seven Filipinas who are proof of the thriving Philippine startup ecosystem


As the Philippines continues to top charts for economic development and other growth indices around the world, it has also emerged as an agent of change for women entering the business sphere. Ranked 10th in the WEF’s The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, Philippines is the highest placed Asian country on the list.

“More Filipinas are becoming leaders of their respective industries, contributing significantly to their institutions and making remarkable, major strides that uplift the living conditions of their families and communities,” said Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte at the Go Negosyo’s Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs ceremony this year.

But the going was never easy, and there are still margins of improvement that the Philippine government needs to work upon. Female entrepreneurs still continue to face immense difficulties in receiving funds for ventures, and even workplace discrimination is an area of concern.

Here's a look at the women who have shaped the path to entrepreneurship in the country and also aspiring entrepreneurs who have received the proverbial baton of female entrepreneurship.

Maria Ressa, Rappler

With an illustrious career spanning three decades in journalism, Maria Ressa has been in the thick of many major reporting breakthroughs in Asia – she led CNN’s coverage of terrorist networks. She began her career at CNN in 1988, while still pursuing her Fulbright Scholarship at the age of 21. Soon, Maria was assigned the role of Manila Bureau Chief (from 1988–1995) and then Jakarta Bureau Chief from 1995-2005. From 2004 to 2010, she was with ABS-CBN heading the Philippine-based news agency’s Current Affairs Department. In 2012, she decided to set up Rappler, a social news network which combines traditional journalism with social media, crowdsourcing, and big data.

Owing to her fearlessness in pursuing hard-hitting stories and leading investigation teams into the hub of terror networks, Esquire named her as Philippines’ “sexiest woman alive” in 2010. The Filipina has had a very illustrious career winning laurels and accolades from all corners, including an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Investigative Journalism (2003), the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Documentary, and The National Headliner Award for Investigative Journalism, to name a few.

Natasha Bautista, QBO

Though all the other women on this list are founders or co-founders, Natasha Bautista’s does deserve a special mention owing to her meteoric rise in the business world. The model who started off as an intern at Grab (then called GrabTaxi) in 2013 was running the show as the General Manager of the cab aggregator’s Philippines wing in a year’s time. While her good looks did attract some media buzz, she proved that her entrepreneurial skills are at par, especially given that she was credited for rolling out and heading GrabCar, Grab’s premium rent-a-car service.

By February 2017, she moved on to QBO Innovation Hub, Philippines, as Head of Operations. A product of a partnership between IdeaSpace, J.P. Morgan, DOST, and DTI, QBO is the country’s first public-private initiative for startups.

Emma Imperial, Imperial Homes Corporation

When Emma started her real-estate business, her core aim was to provide quality yet affordable homes to Filipinos in every part of the country. The pioneer of urban and rural sustainable development, Emma borrowed unused land from her husband and capital from her mother to start Imperial Homes Corporation in 1983.

In 2013, she was invited by IFC/World Bank to talk about how her transformational business model helped alleviate poverty and fight climate change. With an aim to build over 10,000 solar-powered homes, IHC aims to put the Philippines on the world map as the “solar capital of Asia”.

Valenice Balace, Honesty Apps

As the founder and CEO of Honesty Apps, Valenice Balace has been at the front of the app revolution in the Philippines startup ecosystem. Apart from the marquee dating app Peekawoo, Honesty Apps also includes a new conference app called Summit, an education app called Academy, and Twine, another community app. In 2006, Valenice featured in Forbes’ 30-Under-30 Asia list.

Socorro Ramos, National Bookstore

Coming from humble beginnings, Socorro started her career as a salesgirl at a Goodwill Bookstore managed by her brother. As her skills in sales flourished she was soon put in charge of the store. It was in 1942 that Socorro and her husband Jose Ramos set up National Book Store.

With hard work and dedication, the husband-wife duo expanded the store to different parts of the country, and now the iconic National Bookstore establishment employs more than 3,000 workers with over 226 branches. The landmark bookstore recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

April Cuenca, FlipTrip

April Cuenca started her entrepreneurial journey with FlipTrip in 2014, with an aim to give travellers – both foreign and local – with more options than typical sightseeing hotspots. An avid traveller, April was also an aspiring footballer before injuries sidelined her career. But not one to give up, she started working as a tour guide and travelled to more than 51 provinces before setting up FlipTrip.

FlipTrip was also among the 10 winning tech startups of the IdeaSpace 2014 Competition. In 2016, Fliptrip pivoted their model to launch Tripkada, a mobile platform where travellers can join trips organised by fellow travellers.

Aisa Mijeno, SALt

With philanthropy and social causes close to her heart, Aisa’s SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting) lamp aims to provide an alternative lighting source for rural Filipinos, who mostly depend on kerosene lamps and candles.

The concept of the LED lamp, powered by the galvanic reaction of an anode with saline water, was formed while Aisa was travelling through the rural Philippines. She found that tribes were heavily reliant on kerosene lamps to do evening chores and were unaware of the ill-effects of the toxic fumes.

The company, headed by Aisa and her brother Raphael, was the talk of the town at the Global Grand Challenge Awards held in California, USA in 2016.

With a flourishing ecosystem of the likes of the Philippines, a small list such as this would never suffice to name all the established and thriving Filipina entrepreneurs. Do comment and let us know about other leading female entrepreneurs who we can add to the list.


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