“Startups are not suitable for women” and other myths about the Philippine startup culture debunked

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    The Philippine startup industry, while robust and rapidly developing, is still relatively new. There are many questions and concerns, and quite a few myths about the industry—misconceptions about money and funding, to who exactly should be leading a company (spoiler: women can and should build their own startups).

    In line with QBO’s mission to educate and empower the local startup community as well as his own role in welcoming and nurturing newcomers into the ecosystem, head of community and ecosystem Dave Del Rosario dissects startup myths and limiting beliefs that keep people from fully participating in the Philippine startup industry:

    1. Startups are not for women.

    There is an ongoing discourse on gender roles in the workplace and challenging the perception that women are more suited to support rather than lead, particularly in the tech and startup space, which is traditionally seen as a ‘masculine’ space. “We see it in public discourse, that women can’t be leaders because they’re weak or too emotional,” noted Del Rosario. “But gender does not have any bearing on the ability to lead. Leadership means taking responsibility, finding potential, developing potential, and bringing people together to achieve the best possible outcome.”

    From the likes of startup veteran Crystal Gonzales of PICK.A.ROO, to a disruptor in the exporting business Mel Nava of 1Export, to relatively new founders like Noreen Bautista of Panublix, and many more—there is more than enough evidence that women founders can be successful and thrive in a male-dominated industry, thus debunking this startup myth. 

    There have also been calls to get more women interested in the ecosystem, as well as an increase in initiatives to further support them. Fortunately for Filipina founders, there is a program for that. QBO aims to support more women in tech through the Startup Pinay program, which aims to foster a community of female-led tech startups and provide them with opportunities to thrive. 

    Startup Pinay provides women in tech with resources such as events where they can connect with peers, mentors, and potential investors and partners; startup development programs to help them access personalized mentoring, funding, partnerships; ecosystem mapping reports to help them find resources in their area; and market outreach and expansion programs. 

    2. Startups are expensive to set up.

    It’s true that you need to spend money to make money—startups are not exempt from this—but more than the capital that you start out with, it is how you manage what you have that plays a vital role in getting your business off the ground.

    When starting out, Del Rosario advises that you seek external funding from those in your trusted circle: your family, your friends, people who see the potential of your crazy idea and believe in your business plan. 

    In addition, there has been an increase in efforts to keep up with the rapid development of the local startup industry. These initiatives include incubator and accelerator events, as well as programs like ecosystem mapping, the Department of Science and Technology’s Startup Grant Fund program, and the Department of Trade and Industry and National Development Corporation’s Startup Venture Fund, which aim to help Filipino founders find and access key resources such as mentoring, startup development programs, and funding. IdeaSpace and QBO also invest in startups and have previously invested in startups such as 1Export, Airship, and Workbean, among others. 

    “It’s not solely about raising funds for your startup, but also about doing more with less and working carefully in order for you and your business to develop at a more sustainable rate,” said Del Rosario.

    3. Startup founders need a strong tech and business background.

    Having a background in technology and business can be a great advantage, but it’s not at all a requirement. In fact, not all startup founders come from tech or business backgrounds. “Some successful women founders started out with work experiences or backgrounds outside of ‘traditional’ tech backgrounds,” shared Del Rosario. “If you look at our growing ecosystem, founders and teams are increasingly coming from different backgrounds and experiences. What they do have is a good sense of business, a deep well of knowledge in a specific area, and the ability to execute, seek out advice or support, and iterate quickly.”

    4. Startups need to be the first to succeed.

    “Disruptive” is a common—maybe even overused—term that is thrown around when talking about startups. But being disruptive doesn’t mean you need to be the first in the market. What is important is that you offer a solution that addresses the pain of your target customer, your willingness to listen and pivot as necessary, and your ability to bring people together and execute quickly. 

    With the growth in modern technology and the digital space, it is rare to find companies that created their businesses out of brand new ideas. It’s not just about what you’re doing differently, it’s also about how you’re doing it better.

    5. Startups are not profitable.

    While startups may seem destined for overnight success, this is not the case. Del Rosario shares that as with most things, startup growth and profitability take time. 

    “Startups may find their first few years with no revenue or at a loss, but this does not equate to failure,” he explained. “Slow growth is normal as you are still in the process of introducing your product while the market is still accustomed to your offers. Once you adjust your business model to the consumer’s demands and needs and find the right product-market fit, your startup may have huge potential for exponential growth.”

    6. Startups cannot compete with bigger traditional businesses. 

    Many are hesitant to enter a market where big corporations are playing because they are afraid to compete with them. But with the nature of startups, it is less about competition and more about collaboration. 

    “The beauty of startups is that they are able to offer a unique, innovative, and sometimes, niche solution that bigger businesses aren’t able to provide,” said Del Rosario. A notable example of this is how large corporations have been turning to startups and their solutions to help the former’s internal processes—from challenges in HR to tax filing—run more seamlessly. “One is not better than the other, but if you have tech inclinations, building a startup can be an impactful and exciting way to start an entrepreneurial venture. Kumu’s collaborations with ABS-CBN and TV5 and Cropital’s collaboration with SMART show that when there is common ground, startups can pave a third way and collaborate with larger businesses.” 

    7. The startup ecosystem is still an old boys’ club.

    When Startup Pinay was launched in 2018, the quit rate for female founders was 41% compared to their male counterparts, which was 17%. There was also a sizable gender gap, as men outnumbered women in the ecosystem. 

    This is no longer the case. In Gobi-Core’s 2021 Philippine Startup Ecosystem Report, they noted that the gender gap has now shrunk to a 1:2 ratio, a marked change compared to the 1:5 ratio observed in the ecosystem a few years ago.

    The country is also starting to see investors focus on gender lens investing. The Manila Angel Investors Network (MAIN) made the proactive decision to integrate the gender lens investing approach into their ways of working. Spurred by their partnership with Investing in Women, MAIN set two goals—to foster gender diversity by increasing the number of women angel investors and amplifying their voices and to support gender-diverse startups through capital allocation, training, and mentorship. Since then, their investments in women have increased, up to 18.2% for women members and 29% for women-led startups.

    While there is much to be done in terms of driving for the empowerment of an inclusive startup ecosystem, it is through conscious and intentional efforts of larger institutions and individual actors that make the local startup ecosystem less of an old boys’ club and more of a diverse community.

    Taking your first steps into the startup scene can be daunting. However, there is a steadily growing interest, participation, and investment in the industry, which has also led to an increase in startup support initiatives and programs. 

    QBO Innovation Hub has been at the forefront in developing programs to help educate and empower those interested in the local startup industry. From educational sessions such as their BASIQS courses to their knowledge sharing activities in the form of their monthly QLITANs, from mentoring and consultation sessions to larger-scale incubation programs and funding, from specialized guidance for women leaders in the form of their Startup Pinay project—QBO is here to provide you with the right tools and ingredients to step into the spotlight and make your mark in the Philippine startup community.

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