21 Jul 5 New Green Businesses Using Sustainability to Transform the Philippines
Thanks to a young, tech-savvy and English-speaking workforce, a government favoring sustainable development and growing interest from venture capitalists around the world, the Philippines is fast becoming a global hotspot for green innovation. New green businesses are popping up left and right, and their owners are receiving the funding they need to turn ideas into game-changing realities.
Not particularly well-known for launching startup companies and fostering green innovation, the Philippines reached a point where this is possible rather suddenly. It has been an astounding transformation. Because of it, the country has been showing up in some of the world’s biggest publications (New York Times) and has given birth to startups that are truly exploding – some of which you will read about below. But how did this happen to the Philippines aside from generally successful development?
How the Startups Started Up
In 2012, two startup incubators (companies entirely focused on discovering and supporting exciting new businesses) were founded in the Philippines – IdeaSpace and Kickstart Ventures.
They’re owned by two Filipino telecommunications companies. This seems a bit strange until one considers that the Philippines is the “texting capital of the world.” Every day in the PH, 35 million cellphone users send more SMS messages (350 – 400 million) than the US and Europe combined! This activity has attracted attention from Silicon Valley investors, but the phone companies owning IdeaSpace and Kickstart Ventures were slightly ahead of the game.
In 2013, IdeaSpace held a national contest to find and fund the most promising Filipino startups.
“The first year we were so scared, we thought there’d be 50 applicants,” worried IdeaSpace president and co-founder Earl Valencia. Apparently he had no need to fret – there were 600 entrants the first year, and 1,200 in the recently held 2015 contest.
“We’ve been amazed by the pent-up demand,” Valencia said.
The “demand” (startup ideas and green innovation) is there alright, and the ideas are different – often more progressive and realistic – than those coming out of areas like California’s Silicon Valley.
Perhaps because of the country’s struggles in social and economic development, the Philippines’ bright young minds are focused not only on innovative business, but innovative business that creates sustainable growth. This trend, combined with the swelling support for startups in the Philippines, has resulted in a wave of exciting new businesses that are changing the Philippines from the inside out.
5 Game-Changing Filipino Startups
A winner of the 2013 funding contest by IdeaSpace, SALt Corp is a company creating ultra-sustainable lamps. Powered by nothing more than salt water or seawater, the SALt lamp was originally conceived as an alternative light source for small Filipino communities with no reliable access to electricity (16 million Filipino families were off-grid in 2013). The SALt lamp can run for eight hours on just one cup of salty water, it can charge smartphones (or any USB device) with a charging port at its base, and thanks to its applicability to consumers everywhere, it’s receiving funding from investors across the world.
The idea came from engineer and Greenpeace Philippines member Aisa Mijeno. Now co-founder and CEO of SALt Corp, Mijeno is keeping sustainable development and advocacy at the core of her business even as it develops.
“There are quite a handful of future technologies down SALt’s pipeline,” Mijeno reflected, “But in the meantime, we have to focus on getting our first product out to market and delivering lamp units to island communities we are supporting.”
Still in development, the current tested lamp lasts for 6 months of use 8 hours per-day (or one year of use as an alternate light source), at which point the anode must be replaced. What the future will hold for SALt is to be discovered, but the positive changes SALt is making now are matched by continuing excitement and funding from investors.
Paul Rivera left his dream job at Google to start Kalibrr and hasn’t looked back since. Originally boosted by Kickstart Ventures, Kalibrr recently became the first Filipino company to participate in Y Combinator (a prestigious startup incubator in California) and raised $1.6 million in a second round of funding.
Essentially a job search and recruiting engine, Kalibrr is helping Filipinos access jobs in their quickly-changing marketplace by better connecting employers to applicants. It’s a green business on the developmental side, supporting sustainable economic growth.
With Kalibrr, job seekers create a profile, upload resumes and can even pass online qualifications to improve their CVs. Employers also register (there are at least 3,000 on the list so far), and pay to have the best applicants suggested for their openings.
“We’re excited about developing communities for jobseekers,” said Assoc. Product Marketing Manager Roxy Lim. “From advice on what to wear during interviews, to restaurants in the local area, to describing the culture of each company they find on Kalibrr.”
Bent on becoming an even better resource for Filipino jobseekers, Kalibrr is now building a team of career counselors to assist jobseekers. “Every jobseeker will have an assigned personal mentor,” noted Lim.
Kalibrr is still rising fast, hoping for one million registered users and 20,000 companies by the end of this year. The company is also looking to expand into overseas markets.
Along with other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines faces a major issue in deforestation. Palwood is taking a stand against this unfortunate problem with its green innovation: a type of lumber requiring no deforestation at all.
Palwood is a kind of “wood” made mostly from fallen coconut fronds – which have traditionally been a nuisance and considered nothing more than agricultural waste. The wood is said to be harder than actual coco lumber, and can be used to make furniture and even houses.
The development is good news to coconut farmers too, who can sell the coconut fronds they usually throw away to Palwood, who then grinds them into a mixture, hardens the mixture with a binding agent and shapes it into any desired lumber specification.
Palwood is not yet able to mass produce due to a lack of necessary machinery, but if investors take interest, Palwood could become a very profitable and sustainable business.
Where Kalibrr provides jobs, Lenddo provides loans.
Millions of Filipinos have no credit history and for this reason can’t get access to loans. UK native Richard Eldridge noticed this problem while working in the Philippines in 2011.
“My workers would keep coming to me asking for loans to pay for education, or home repairs, or medical bills,” Eldridge recalled. “I realized that micro-lending here was all done personally – the banks wouldn’t lend.”
They wouldn’t lend, but they do now. Lenddo has helped 6 of the Philippines’ top 10 banks make over 80,000 credit decisions. Using social media footprints, Lenddo creates credit scores for Filipinos that previously had none. The company then works with banks to give its users access to the loans they might need to, say, start green businesses.
Just like Kalibrr, Lenddo is expanding, having recently moved into Colombia and Mexico.
Furniture, home decorations, architectural and interior designs, fashion accessories and product packaging made from the Earth’s biodegradable scrap materials? That’s Naturescast.
The team at Naturescast takes materials like dead bark, shrubs, twigs, leaves and other farming or forest waste, binds them with a water-based agent and creates beautiful hand-crafted items.
The idea won Best Eco Design 2012 in Manila’s F.A.M.E. International Fair, and has been creating environmentally-friendly merchandise for many years. The manufacturing process is non-toxic, the product is 100 percent biodegradable, and the company has operations based in both Las Vegas and the Philippines.
Judging by the success of these Filipino startups and the steadily rising number of applicants for startup competitions like the one IdeaSpace now holds every year, the future of the Philippines looks very bright and green indeed.
Just last year, the notable Silicon Valley startup-seeking project Geeks On A Plane chose the Philippines as one of its destinations. Geeks on a Plane (GOAP) is a program that, about once a year, gathers around 30 big-shot venture capitalists from California and takes them on a tour of cities and countries they think might be the next epicenters of social, technological and green innovation. Exactly who funded what as a result of this trip has not been publicized, but the fact that GOAP chose Manila in 2014 is a strong indicator of the entire country’s developmental potential.
The Philippines will face challenges in continuing positive growth, but if the country can continue to beat back long-time challenges like corruption, unreliable energy and natural disaster preparedness, it has nowhere to go but up.
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