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Filipino startups link up with Silicon Valley

Some successful startups that have “morphed” into a global company claim to have started in a garage or basement or college dorm. Silicon Valley in California has become the launch pad for many of this (young) aspiring entrepreneurs.

Many startups in the Philippines have also made it big while some were bought by bigger corporations. If these entrepreneurs have already captured the Philippine market, there should be another level to look forward to.

Kickstart Ventures Inc. is trying to bridge Filipino startups to Silicon Valley by partnering with Plug and Play Tech Center, a global accelerator that specializes in growing tech startups.

Its main office is located in Sunnyvale, California. At present, Plug and Play supports over 300 tech startups and has 180 investors.

“The big picture objective is we want to build a two-way bridge between Manila and Silicon Valley,” says Minette Navarette, president of Kickstart, a wholly owned subsidiary of Globe Telecom.

Kickstart will have a pavilion within the premises of Plug and Play Center in Silicon Valley where carefully selected Filipino startups “can understand how the ecosystem there works. They will be able to learn a very different environment, and know a different network of investors, potential collaborators, and customers.”

Amidi Saeed, chief executive officer and founder of Plug and Play Tech Center says: “That is the initial objective. But my personal objective is to have more presence in the Philippines. I want to invest in Filipino startups and help them grow global.”

Plug and Play currently has presence in countries including Canada, Egypt, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain and Russia.

“The world looks to Silicon Valley for innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital success stories,” explains Navarette, “and even as we build a unique Philippine startup ecosystem, there is (still) much to learn from those who are genuinely driving innovation in the valley.”

She further explains that a lot of businesses are “location-specific.” While there are a number of startups in the Philippines that have grown tremendously over the years, “they want to grow outside” but either don’t have the means or don’t know how to. That’s the role the partnership wants to play.

Amidi says that Plug and Play’s incubation program offers startups a working space or financial support. “About 95 percent of what we offer is investment, acceleration and network,” he says.

Some of the successful companies Plug and Play have invested in include Dropbox, PayPal and Zoosk. It started in 2006 and has already helped startups raise over $1 billion in venture funding and have created a cumulative value of $2 billion.

Kickstars, Garageheads Kickstart is currently “incubating” 10 startups from the 100 that sent in their proposals over a year ago. The initial set that will be sent to Sunnyvale may come from them or from the next batch from Kickstart’s Mission 02.

“We opened applications for ‘Launchgarage: Mission 02,’ our program in partnership with Proudcloud,” says Navarette. “We should be announcing the second batch of Garageheads next month so more investments are expected soon.”

Kickstart provides funding, mentorship, and training to selected techpreneurs. It was launched in March 2012. Of the 10 startups, six are stand-alone Kickstart investments (the teams called “Kickstars”) and four are in the Launchgarage accelerator program for earlier-stage projects (the teams are called “Garageheads”).

Navarette says that the big challenge is the support because it’s hard to find the level of talent who can quit their job and launch a startup. “That’s part of the reason we give the cash,” she explains. “The fund is supposed to be enough to pay themselves a modest salary and focus on the business 100 percent.”

The common element of the projects proposed to Kickstart use digital technology “mainly because that is the area of focus for Kickstart, as it is the field that we feel we can contribute significantly to. That says, the application of digital technology varies-from entertainment to education, lifestyle to social enterprise, emerging market to global focus.”

Kickstart looks for passionate people who show the drive to succeed but as a business, Navarette says: “We look for a clear logic: a sharp definition of the problem and why it matters to the target market; a reasonable hypothesis about a solution to the problem; recognition of what is known, what is unknown, what is unknowable. We look for an executable plan: there has to be a method to validating the hypothesis and critical assumptions; of testing both product and business model and operations. Critically, we seek a team that can work well together, that can deal productively with risk and setbacks; and individuals that have grit, creativity, integrity and an ability to collaborate.” Startup is not a new thing in the Philippines. Familiar companies like Chikka, Level Up!, Netbooster, and more are all successful startups, according to Navarette.

Navarette shares her optimism in Filipino startups. “There is a lot of talent and passion; and we are attracting attention from necessary elements of the ecosystem-corporate, investors, and educators, both domestic and overseas. With capital and appropriate funding structures, as well as business support, some important components are now more available than they were in the past.”

By Marlet D. Salazar

(Philippine Daily Inquirer)