MSMEs are key to creating unicorn startups

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) may be the key to birthing the next Philippine unicorns, according to a technology accelerator for early-stage startups.

A unicorn is a startup with a valuation of over $ 1 billion.

“Ninety-eight percent of the Philippine economy is MSMEs. If you can find a way to digitize them and help them export their products on a global scale, you’re going to be a winner,” said Rene “Butch” S. Meily, president of IdeaSpace Foundation, at a BusinessWorld Insights event held on May 6.

Stakeholders from the private and public sectors are laying the foundation for both unicorns and camels to thrive. (A camel is a startup that can survive a crisis without a sky-high valuation.)

“Whether we’re talking about camels or unicorns, we really need to focus in terms of building the foundation, ensuring that we have a robust startup and innovation ecosystem,” said Rafaelita “Fita” M. Aldaba, undersecretary for Competitiveness and Innovation of the Department of Trade and Industry.

“There’s a strong momentum among the different stakeholders.”

Policy reforms that have been enacted to create an enabling environment for startups include Republic Act (RA) No. 11337 or the Innovative Startup Act, which encourages the operation of innovative new enterprises; and RA No. 11232 or the Revised Corporation Code of the Philippines, which allows a single person to form a corporation without the need for shareholders.

Eight regional inclusive innovation centers — including SHINE in Cagayan Valley and iStrike Davao — have been set up to connect and integrate the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout the country.

Southeast Asia is home to 35 startups, 15 of which are in Singapore. According to a report on ASEAN startups by Credit Suisse, 19 startups in the region saw an increase in valuation to above $1 billion in 2021 alone.

Mynt, Globe’s fintech arm that manages the e-wallet GCash, is the Philippines’ sole unicorn.

The 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the Philippines 64th out of 140 countries.

“Our country is part of a global village and has to measure itself against international rankings,” said Anna Irmina “Minette” B. Navarrete, the co-founder and president of Kickstart Ventures, Inc. (KVI), a Globe subsidiary and corporate venture capital firm.

KVI has funds focused on digital adoption, telecommunications, and technologies that support the future of data, work, home, and life.

“We need to cultivate ambition on a massive scale,” Ms. Navarrete said. “We need to have a mindset and a perspective that looks to grow, and that looks for consistent delivery of excellence of service and products to a high standard, [and] over a long period of time.” — Patricia B. Mirasol

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