Editor's Pick

A stronger startup landscape for a better normal

By Adrian Paul B. Conoza, Special Features Writer

The past months have been tough for many businesses as they should adapt to the accelerated disruptions that have taken place. Startups, nevertheless, have shown that they can emerge better and stronger as the new normal eases in.

This is much true of the 12 startups that comprise the eighth cohort of IdeaSpace’s Acceleration Program this year. Last Dec. 11, these startups from various sectors shared their innovations to the public through the program’s virtual Demo Day.

Butch Meily, president of IdeaSpace Foundation, shared that the foundation along with its Acceleration Program creates a community that allows the county’s startup ecosystem to flourish, especially amid the current pandemic.

“Startups are the pillar of the emerging digital economy. With their advanced technology and innovative spirit, they teach us new ways of purchasing, learning, consuming, entertainment, and living,” Mr. Meily said during Demo Day. “They act as a bridge between organizations and industries and the digital economy. This [cohort] is no exception.”

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Sharing some inspiration to Cohort 8, as this year’s batch is called, Automart.ph Founder Poch Seballos told the owners that as heads of their startups they are called to lead the charge in making a better normal.

“Let’s reimagine how much better the world could look post-COVID and let’s take a short pause and recognize that we are at the forefront to making that happen,” Mr. Seballos said.

This year’s startups, whose founders underwent the rigorous Acceleration Program virtually, offer timely solutions on food security, medicine, education, and jobhunting, among others.

Rethinking food security

Beyond being a health crisis, the pandemic has stressed other issues such as food security. Two startups from Cohort 8 have emerged with solutions that provide local produce in fresh ways.

Farmvocacy, through its inclusive business model, allows Filipino smallholder rice farmers to earn fairly and consumers to purchase rice more conveniently.

As its CEO Vincent Mendoza shared, Farmvocacy’s business model involves smallholder farmers from whom the startup will buy at a higher price compared to prevailing rates. Customers, meanwhile, can subscribe to a farmer-grower sponsorship program where one can make a P1000 cash donation in exchange for a six-month rice subscription “Imagine, your cash donation of 167 pesos per month can actually increase farmers’ income by 400%. This is just an equivalent of one frappuccino,” Mr. Mendoza explained.

Urban Greens, meanwhile, take bring sustainable farming and produce to urban citizens using innovative hydroponic vertical farming systems. “We have the vision of turning underutilized and unmonetized spaces in this concrete jungle [of] the Metro into these lush, green spaces that produce the freshest vegetables Manila has seen,” Ralph Becker, CEO of Urban Greens, explained.

Starting from turning an empty apartment space in Makati into a farm that grows herbs for restaurants, he continued, Urban Green shifted to a consumer-centric market in the past few months as it set up another indoor farm in Bonifacio Global City. The startup plans to scale up its farming lot to meet an observed growing demand for their produce.

Enhancing the new essentials

There are also startups among the cohort that closely meet pressing needs due to the pandemic.

MedHyve, for instance, addresses the analog and often fraud-threatened process in medical procurement. Through its digital platform, MedHyve makes searching, buying, and receiving medical supplies easier while ensuring verified suppliers and a transparent process.

Its chief technology officer, Gabriel Lopez, shared that MedHyve has more than 27,000 products and has transacted with 209 hospitals and clinics. “They really love us because we’ve turned a manual and inefficient process into one that is simple, safe, and easy to extend,” Mr. Lopez shared.

Seeing the heightened need for nonprofits to receive donations efficiently and safely, Giving Hero offers technology solutions that simplify and secure transactions between donors and benefactors. “We believe that non-profits should be recipients of affordable and effective solutions that are readily available today,” Junver Arcayna, CEO of Giving Hero, shared.

The startup innovated Givelink, a platform for receiving donations wherein donors can transfer their donations while nonprofits can receive them safely, removing the need for sending deposit slips. Upon donation through Giving Hero, Givelink also gives real-time notifications received on both ends, plus an organized report for nonprofits.

Leveraging the teaching and learning experiences, Cerebro LMS offers digital teaching resources that are designed to reduce the increased burden teachers carry nowadays as education went most online.

Its CEO, Jonald Justine Itugot, shared that Cerebro bundles a single set of instructional materials, auto-graded assessments, and interactive and gamified learning activities in one platform. “[We] enable educators to…make teaching in the new normal an enjoyable passion and not just a stressful job that could give them thoughts of leaving their careers,” Mr. Itugot added.

Reconfiguring the workplace

Also included in Cohort 8 are startups that are redefining job hunting and recruitment.

Tailored to Philippine outsourcing companies, Worky.ph is a recruitment intelligence portal powered by recommendation engines that enable faster, more personalized talent matching in the local job market. “Sifting through… job platforms can take a lot of time. But with Worky, when we present to you the best possible jobs immediately, you don’t have to do the hunt. We gave it to you,” Jake Go, CEO of Worky.ph, explained.

As the country’s first company culture platform, Workbean is built to help companies attract culturally-aligned digital talent by providing them with the tools to identify, communicate, and promote their culture. Kass Monzon, CEO of Workbean, shared that their platform helps companies use culture as a hiring advantage by identifying culture profiles of companies, communicating them through Workbean’s pages, and targeting them to potential applicants.

“To attract the next generation of digital workers, compensation comes secondary to growth opportunities, work-life integration, and mission-driven work. This is exactly what Workbean wants to amplify for the next generation of digital workers,” Ms. Monzon said.

Designing meaningful experiences

Three startups from the cohort have reimagined the experience of receiving gifts, going outdoors, and watching cartoons among kids.

TADAH solves an apparent problem of material gifts ending up to waste by providing online, indoor, and outdoor experiences as more valuable gifts. “To help alleviate and stop more life and environmental waste, Tadah was built to reach people’s lives and create a better alternative to material gifts,” Yana Nekhoroshkova, COO of TADAH, shared. Some of the experiences the platform offers as gifts include motocross training sessions, online magic show, and surfing lessons.

TakeFive Outdoors, meanwhile, offers customers a new kind of refuge from mundane routines by engaging them to take outdoor adventures. “TakeFive Outdoors is here to encourage everyone to wander off the beaten path safely by joining trips organized by outdoor experts,” Mark Jaeson Mamorbor, CEO of TakeFive Outdoors, said.

While the pandemic hindered outdoor activities, the startup adapted by setting up TakeFive Locals, a market place for locally-made outdoor products, and TakeFive Virtuals, an online course provider on outdoor topics.

Innovating edutainment for kids, Mash&Co. develops content that tackles social issues as well as empowers kids’ emotional intelligence and soft skills. “At Mash & Co., we want to transform the screen time into a moment that matters for family and for kids by proving high-quality content tackling social issues in a very playful manner,” Katrin Ann Orbeta, COO of Mash&Co., said.

Mash&Co.’s interactive content is accessible via its app, and the startup is working on cartoons such as The Wacky Gadgets, centered on creativity and imagination, and Super Sofia, tackling diversity and disability awareness.

Evolving ecosystems

The last two startups to present during Demo Day offers solutions that freshen up existing processes.

Another startup that innovates in the agriculture field, Agro-DigitalPH offers virtual aggregation & end-to-end value chain solutions that are intended to raise the income of farmers.

By providing cooperatives and farmer groups with knowledge, tools, and networks necessary to leverage social organization and establish standards, Agro-Digital PH hopes to enable a “fairer ecosystem where farmer’s works are scaled up to the benefit of more communities”.

“We seek an inclusive value chain where producers, consumers, and even intermediaries have their place in the sun,” Henry James Sison, its founder, said.

Elevating circular living in the country, Humble helps declutter homes and offices by collecting items that are no longer in use, which are then either reused, recycled, or upcycled.

Customers can book Humble for a pick up of their unused items, then Humble decides whether they go to recycling partners, or to B2B and charity partners for reuse. These items can also go to designers who can upcycle these items into new form, like a pahinga bench made up of rolled-up clothing and reclaimed wood, or a home dress, tote bag, and hoodie out of secondhand fabric.

“By decluttering with Humble, you clean up a little bit of your space, your mind, and the planet at the touch of a button without even leaving your room,” Josef Werker, chief executive officer of Humble, said.

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