Six years ago, kids Katrina Rausa-Chan, now IdeaSpace executive director, Natasha Bautista; and myself, an out of place boomer — met in a back office in Meralco with nothing but a legal-size yellow pad paper, ballpoint pens and a vision for a free space where startups could meet and share ideas.
Today, that vision has come true. If you find yourself near the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) building on Jupiter Street in Makati, you can drop by the first floor and walk into a piece of Silicon Valley magically transported to the Philippines. It’s called QBO Innovation Hub, and in it, startups can hold office, schedule meetings or avail themselves of the internet, all for free. There are monthly gatherings called QLITANS (Everything starts with a Q — very millennial, or so I’m told) where people can network with like-minded folk and listen to talks and panel discussions.
The multiplier effect of a successful startup on the economy is enormous; it creates wealth for its founders and employees, and for the country.
Four groups made this public-private sector partnership work: DTI, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), JP Morgan, and IdeaSpace Foundation, the accelerator for the MVP group of companies. DOST and JP Morgan provided a grant. DTI donated the space and the monthly upkeep. MVP Group chair Manny Pangilinan and IdeaSpace supplied the staff and an initial budget.
You can google QBO and find an entire community of startups — or QMUNITY as we like to call it (there’s that Q again) — that will open its arms to any entrepreneur with a dream. The focus is on tech-enabled startups, because they can scale quickly to grow. The multiplier effect of a successful startup on the economy is enormous; it creates wealth for its founders and employees, and for the country.
My hope is that, someday, there will be 500 QBOs around the country, all providing free facilities for would-be startup builders to nurture their ideas and make them happen. Already, there have been success stories.
If we can provide free community spaces for entrepreneurs and creators, perhaps in partnership with local governments or schools, we will reap the benefits many times over.
Ron Baetiong started meeting at QBO when he was establishing his startup ChatbotPH, the country’s first chatbot development agency, which he later sold to Sterling Industries. Ron earned enough money to buy his mother a house. He is currently the founder and CEO of Podcast Network Asia, which supports promising podcasts and helps monetize them.
Roland Ros also met with his team at QBO when they were creating Kumu, a lifestyle app that now has nine million viewers around the world. Today, Kumu is projected to be worth some half a billion dollars.
The DOST has already funded more than a dozen college-based incubators around the country. QBO received a significant grant to level them up to world-class standards. Each incubator acts as a magnet to draw entrepreneurs and assist them through mentoring and meeting potential investors, both of which are vital to helping them gain traction.
Startups and stock options are a clear and potent path to genuine economic advancement and empowerment.
There are several ways by which investors can make money on startups. Some are sold to strategic partners, like what happened with ChatbotPH. My favorite strategy is to take the best companies public, allowing the founders to give stock options to their employees and enabling their angel investors to cash out. To that end, QBO currently has a partnership with the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) to groom startups for public offerings. We can even set up what is known as an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), a basket where selected startups can be placed. The ETF would be traded on the PSE and would track the earnings of this basket of startups. Such a vehicle would allow local and foreign investors to place bets on the emerging Philippine startup scene, a hitherto untapped resource for the PSE.
If we can provide free community spaces for entrepreneurs and creators, perhaps in partnership with local governments or schools, we will reap the benefits many times over. Our children will not have to go abroad or join a big company in order to succeed. They can start their own company and, in a relatively short time, generate wealth that would have been unbelievable just two decades ago. Startups and stock options are a clear and potent path to genuine economic advancement and empowerment.
We are now at the beginning of a brand-new administration, and the possibilities for inclusive growth and real change are limitless. QBO has shown us what is possible. We merely have to support QBO and similar programs and recreate them in every region of the country to give our youth a chance at becoming their own boss and making a mark on the world.
We have the talent; witness the large number of successful entrepreneurs among Filipinos who have gone overseas. We have a blueprint for success in QBO. And we have the motivation to make it happen — to enable our people to live happier and more fulfilling lives.