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Philippines' roadmap aims for 500 startups by 2020

The government of the Philippines is eager to emulate its success in BPO in the IT startup sector

The Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (Dost) has launched a roadmap for digital startups in a bid to turn the country into a global startup hub.

The roadmap will serve as a framework for developing the country’s startup ecosystem and to engage members of the public and private sector, said Monchito Ibrahim, deputy executive director of the Dost information and communications technology office (ICTO).

Developed by the Philippine startup community, the roadmap is a project under the SeedPH initiative of the Dost-ICTO, which aims to cultivate the Philippine startup ecosystem by conducting advocacy campaigns, capability development programmes and research initiatives.

The plan proposes short and long-term recommendations on ways to improve the Philippine digital startup ecosystem. These include improving the internet infrastructure, cutting down time to incorporate, close or dissolve a company and tax incentives for startups operating at a loss in the initial years.

“The roadmap unifies many of the various efforts and activities in the Philippines, which is currently operating in individual silos,” said Jojo Flores, co-founder of Plug and Play Tech Center.

“The roadmap is the first attempt to put everything under one umbrella that binds all the players in the ecosystem, including the startups, government, corporations, academia, investors, mentors, incubators/accelerators and grass-roots groups nationwide,” said Flores.

The Philippines’ startup ecosystem is still in its infancy, with a nationwide interest emerging and startup events and competitions happening throughout the country. This has resulted in around 20 accelerators, incubators and venture capitalists in the Philippines, with at least 100 technology startups in operation.

In spite of the dynamism of the local startup scene, much still needs to be done. To date, no local startup has surpassed $50m in valuation. Among the country’s leading startups that have become big companies are Sulit.com.ph (now OLX.ph), Chikka, Airborne Access, Netbooster, Xurpas, iRemit and Morphlabs.

In terms of the academia, digital entrepreneurship courses have yet to be introduced in colleges and universities, but several top universities have taken steps forward by housing student startups.

By 2020, the roadmap’s target is to achieve at least 500 Philippine startups with a cumulative valuation of $2bn, with the creation of 8,500 high-skilled jobs, 1,250 startup founders, 15,166,684 users acquired and 719, 737 paying customers.

The Philippines is currently a world leader in business process outsourcing (BPO) and the startup industry has the potential to be a larger industry than BPO.

“Recognising this could potentially be another BPO industry brings much attention to building a scalable and sustainable startup ecosystem in the country. Government should invest in a more robust internet infrastructure and have it professionally managed to help the startup industry. Private companies cannot and will not do this,” said Flores.

“Expect the Philippine startup ecosystem to eventually be on par [with those in Singapore and Malaysia]. We project a very strong collaboration with Asean countries with a common objective of making Asean a global startup hub,” said Ibrahim.

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