Strong Appetite For Innovation In The Philippines

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Emerging countries like the Philippines is a thriving, vibrant innovation ecosystem.

The largest global innovation platform for industry accelerators, Plug and Play, has partnered with Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore government agency championing enterprise development, in running the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) program. The GIA is a joint initiative between Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Economic Development Board which aims to connect Singapore companies to overseas business, tech communities, and potential opportunities. The partnership will leverage Plug and Play’s international thrust in tech and innovation to support Singapore companies in soft-landing into key demand markets such as the Philippines.

What poses the urgency for an industry and an economy as a whole to seek innovation ranges from the need to meet a rapidly changing market, to adjust to a global pandemic, or to be more plugged in to serve the needs of global markets. Whatever it may be, we are all inevitably on the road to a future driven by technology and innovation. What that road looks like for emerging countries like the Philippines, is a thriving, vibrant innovation ecosystem.

As a nascent ecosystem, developing technology trends revolve around adaptations or localised interpretations of success stories emerging from neighboring countries, such as Go-Jek being Indonesia’s answer to Uber and Grab. With that, the anticipation of what would eventually put the Philippines on the world map for innovation and technology is quite exciting. As catalysts of change, startups based in the Philippines play a critical role in developing this narrative, and initiatives like the Global Innovation Alliance are now paving the path for global startups to enter the Philippines and partner industries and companies in their growth and transformation.

Where To Look

As businesses in the Philippines look to emerging technologies to kickstart their innovation journey, solve age-old challenges and address emerging needs, startups could find growing demand and potential opportunities in sectors like agriculture, construction, business process outsourcing, overseas workers, meteorology and sustainability.

Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to the Philippines’ economy. With 10 million farmers in the country, agricultural production for the first quarter of 2021 was valued at US$9.5 billion, despite COVID-19. This signifies massive untapped opportunities for the likes of agritech, food-tech or even e-commerce startups. Simply on agritech, with farming in the Philippines still dependent on traditional methods and increasing farmers age, future food production raises concern and we are seeing the industry burgeoning with solutions that range from big data analytics, to crowdfunding and direct-to-consumer platforms in hopes of addressing the challenge.

Similarly, other opportunities lie in areas where innovation is imminent. For example, one of the largest nationwide initiatives is building infrastructure for the future. US$160 billion of the country’s budget is allocated towards improving the country’s connectivity, transportation, international relations, and overall quality of life. This opens doors for technology tools on workforce management, site monitoring, hazard management, production tools, and even robotic technology.

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is one of the most prominent sectors in the Philippines’ economy, and the country accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the global BPO market. This huge pool of service providers with their army of staff constantly working on tedious tasks similarly present significant opportunities to deploy technology and streamline their processes. These solutions vary widely, including in the large-scale recruitment, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, HR management tech, or even technology upskilling, marketing and ad-tech space.

Aside from sectors that present significant potential due to their sheer size, the Philippines faces pressing problems that could find solutions in the implementation of technologies. One of these problems is its exposure to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions. To mitigate the harm caused to communities through early preparation and fast response, there is significant capacity for new technological solutions in the areas of disaster management, forecasting, meteorology and IoT.

Another mounting challenge faced by the country is in its generation of plastic waste. In 2020, the Philippines was the third largest contributor of plastic globally, which then results in pollution and other downstream waste and environmental management challenges. The increasing spotlight on sustainability thus brings about opportunities for improvement through the adoption of solutions in the likes of circular economy, smart recycling and sustainability.

Taking Off

The state of the country’s startup landscape suggests that potential unicorns coming out of the Philippines would arise from the consumer fintech or ecommerce sectors, in part due to the vast unbanked and underbanked population, coupled with a consumer-driven economy. Evident pain points in this space have not only helped startups like First Circle or Grow Sari raise US$26 million – US$30 million rounds, or companies like GCash to be valued at nearly US$1 billion, but also the likes of PayMongo, Tonik and Xendit, to be taking flight locally as solutions to age-old problems.

With the wide range of industries ripe of transformation, it is safe to say that the Philippines market is open with room to share. Plug and Play has partnered Enterprise Singapore to run the GIA Acceleration Program in Manila, which startups based in Singapore participated in. The GIA is a network of Singapore and overseas partners in major innovation hubs and key demand markets, with a focus on technology and innovation. Through curated programs with overseas partners, it helps startups and entrepreneurs open new doors and access global opportunities.

The GIA program started off with the inaugural Fintech Tech Showcase in March this year, where 12 fintech startups pitched their solutions to more than a hundred financial institutions in the Philippines. Since then, more than 60 introductions have been made for participants to enter the market and embark on partnerships.

On The Road To A Tech-Driven Philippines

Through this partnership between Plug and Play and Enterprise Singapore, startups are now entering and making inroads to once uncharted shores such as the Philippines through the GIA Acceleration Program.

The first run was completed in June. Drawing on Plug and Play’s extensive networks, corporate innovation and program expertise, the inaugural GIA Manila Acceleration Program saw 11 participating startups developed a deep understanding of the market and were able to plug in to useful networks to execute their plans in the market almost immediately. Cumulatively, Plug and Play facilitated more than 300 introductions for program participants, of which several progressed into tangible leads and partnerships. In an instance, one of the participants was able to engage in a proof of concept with one of Plug and Play’s corporate partners, testing and integrating their technology solutions into the corporate’s business units for a 2-month period.

These successful outcomes were made possible by the sharp curation and matching engineered by Plug & Play. Understanding that the driving force for meaningful conversations and partnerships was readiness and relevancy, Plug and Play ensured that its matches fulfilled these factors. In this way, startups were matched to mentors who shared similar backgrounds, and introduced to corporates ready to seek innovation partnerships and solutions in their domains. With this approach, the Acceleration Program saw successful partnerships established rapidly. For example, Perry Ferrer, the Chairman of EMS Group personally mentored, and followed on with a partnership between both companies. Another participant in the Acceleration Program, Edufied is currently in talks with a leading real estate developer in the Philippines for investment and proof of concept opportunities.

With a nascent ecosystem, a strong appetite for innovation and a market now seeking uplifting changes, among both consumers and corporates, the Philippines has displayed its potential to be bountiful in the changing SEA and global landscape. As Singapore companies continue to show interest in the Philippines and opportunities emerge across multiple untapped sectors in the market, Enterprise Singapore together with Plug and Play, will be launching the second run of GIA Manila Acceleration Program in October. Aiming to replicate the successful partnerships engineered in the first run, the Acceleration Program will provide the opportunity for Singapore-based startups to develop insights, form networks and soft land in the Philippines.


Photo by Leon on Unsplash






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