Making startups matter to the community

By Stephen Pedroza

The spark that sets off the boom of startup companies throughout the world is the desire to solve a problem, from a simple queue in payment stations to promoting disaster risk reduction and management.

In this digital age, one major challenge for those who want to build a startup company is how to make use of technology to create a product or service that will make people’s lives much more convenient.

What may start out as a school project could now lead to a marketable and profit making enterprise.

With the goal of bringing the latest trends in mobile technology closer to the youth, Smart Communications, through their Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program (Sweep) Roadshow, made a stopover at Xavier University on Friday, August 5.

Sweep seeks “to improve the level of technology and engineering education in the Philippines, particularly in the field of electronics and communications engineering.”

Besides Xavier, students and engineering faculty members of Mindanao University of Science and Technology, Capitol University, and Cagayan de Oro College – Phinma Education Network also participated in the student innovation roadshow program held at the XU Little Theater.


SCHOOL COMMUNITIES. Students and engineering faculty members of XU, MUST, CU, and COC-Phinma attend the Smart Sweep student innovation roadshow program at the XU Little Theater on August 5. Photo by Vincent Tom Udasco/Smart Communications.

Social relevance

Smart brought startup founders to CDO to discuss on identifying problems in the community, forming a startup team, pitching your ideas to investors, building a fitting business model, and ensuring excellent user experience.

Mark Colentava, founder of the startup company Balanga Makerspace, shares his five-point formula on building a successful company: (1) What problem do you want to solve? (2) Develop empathy. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. (3) What is the right solution to your problem? (4) Who are your right customers? (5) Find the right purpose for your product or service.


BUILDING A STARTUP. Balanga Makerspace founder Mark Colentava shares his formula in building a successful startup company. Photo by Vincent Tom Udasco/Smart Communications.

For Colentava, these five steps could make your startup company “more relevant to your target community.”

Chino Atilano, founder of TimeFREE, another startup supported by Smart, relates his group’s challenges in putting the technical and business sides of their company in place, including overcoming their problems and valuing their milestones.


MENTOR. TimeFREE founder Chino Atilano (in black shirt) talks to a group of students during the startup pitching session. Photo by Vincent Tom Udasco/Smart Communications.

“Don’t be afraid to commit mistakes, but don’t commit the same mistakes twice,” he tells the crowd of over 250 students and teachers.

Atilano considers building a startup as a “dynamic process,” where one must not stop learning about technology, innovations, and market trends.

The overarching theme of the discussions was to encourage students to embark on technology entrepreneurship or “technopreneurship” to catalyze social change.

To put to test what they have learned from the speakers, the participants were asked to form teams and come up with innovative technology (software or hardware) and business proposals.

The Sweep Awards

Through the annual Sweep Awards, Smart also hopes to provide students with tools and opportunities to apply what they have learned in school into something that can benefit their respective communities.

“Basically, it’s about getting the participants to using ideas that could impact the society, finding solutions to the different issues that we have,” says Smart Communications education program head Stephanie Orlino.

“The focus is really using technology. In all of our education programs, the end is really not just technology but technology that enables them to solve problems in education, in disaster preparedness … or really just noble ideas,” she adds.

Since its inception in July 2004, the award-giving body has been promoting social innovation and excellence in wireless applications development among its partner schools.

After the environmental scanning and ideation stage, students would then identify pain points, design, and create a working technology-based solution, and finally, test the market for potential profit.

Now on its thirteenth installment, this industry-academe linkage program has a network of 52 colleges and universities across the country.

The online registration for this year’s Smart Sweep Awards opened on August 1 and it will end on September 30.

The entries will be shortlisted (10 finalists) in October while the boot camp will transpire in December. The top three winners, which will be announced in February 2017, will receive cash prizes worth Php 300,000, Php 200,000, and Php 100,000, respectively. Merit prizes worth Php50,000 will be given to the rest of the finalists.

“Their schools will also get half of the prize in a form of grant. Other partners will also give in-kind prizes like training and equipment to the school. We also expose the winners to different workshops and they will be mentored by successful startup groups and established businessmen,” says Orlino.

Power of the Internet

Smart Sweep included CDO as one of its priority areas this year.

“XU has been our partner in this program, through its College of Engineering, ECE department, and Engineering Resource Center. We have been going around Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. We really want to get the school communities around CDO and Misamis Oriental to get involved in innovation,” shares Otilano.

To build a startup, Otilano has an advice: “Expose yourself to innovations and startup seminars and events like Sweep. These are actually helpful; they can open your mind to a lot of opportunities.”

She adds that with Internet, your startup business can easily “cross borders.”

“You can be global immediately. There is the support startup community and it is growing here in the Philippines. Take advantage of the power of the Internet,” she continues.

However, competition is an inevitable part of the game. With the scores of startups being created daily, technopreneurs must find ways to make their products matter to the consumers if they were to keep up with this rapid growth of type of business sprawling over the digital realm. ∎

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