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What will give birth to a Filipino unicorn? 

July 11, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

The existence of unicorns—mythical creatures depicted in medieval folklore as horse‑like animals with a single horn on their forehead—remains a big question until now. But in business, these whimsical creatures certainly exist. They are startups that have reached a valuation of $1 billion or more.

Famous young companies that have gained the title are Uber, Grab, Airbnb, Xiaomi, and Spotify, to name a few.

In the Philippines, however, a unicorn is yet to emerge.

Art Samantha Gonzales

For Manuel Ayala, managing editor and chief operating officer of investment banking company IRG, mentorship is the key for a Filipino startup to flourish in the global business scene.

“Mentorship is highly important. It is the secret weapon to success,” he said.

Mr. Ayala is also the co‑founder and chairman of Hatchd Digital, an accelerator for tech‑related startups in the country. Among the young companies that the group has supported are online pawnshop PawnHero and digital news website Rappler.

Hatchd Digital provides selected tech startups with six‑to‑nine month feedback sessions and an access to more than 3,000 mentors worldwide, on top of a financial assistance.

“Personally I don’t want to focus on the word unicorn or on a particular number. Our endeavor is to help companies accelerate and scale up from where they are,“ he said.

If you ask Jomari Mercado, national technology officer of Microsoft Philippines, local startups should know how to utilize technology effectively.

“They should find the real business reason behind investing in technology. It’s the same concern we have in a major organization,” he said. “Same thing with startups, if they just buy technology just for the sake of technology it’s not gonna get them anywhere. They should invest in right technology because there is a use for it in their business process.”

According to Mr. Mercado, a Filipino unicorn is “just around the corner.” It’s just a matter of “how well they can leverage on what it takes.”

“Microsoft is very firm in supporting startups, as well as in encouraging the proper use of technology and all the latest development in technology that will turn out to be beneficial to companies whether large, small, or startup, ” he said.

Like Mr. Mercado, Donald Lim—CEO of global media and digital marketing firm Dentsu Aegis Network Philippines—is also confident that a Filipino unicorn will exist.

“There is no way for the Philippines not to have a unicorn because we’re the most creative people in the world,” he said.

According to him, startups in the country have strong ideas, but selling their products to the market remains to be a big challenge.

Aside from the right funding, effective marketing strategy, and clear target audience, Mr. Lim said local startups needs “a bit of humility.”

“They have a good idea, but when people give them new ideas, they think their idea is already the best,” he explained. “I think they need to be more open. They need to get the help from the venture side, marketing side, and even the government.”

For Francis Simisim, CEO of technology products and services provider Social Light, Inc., the government has a huge role in developing a startup that could become a unicorn. He said the government should establsih a friendly environment for investors.

“It will come down to the government and their policies on pushing for more investors and having a more investor‑friendly environment,” he said.

“With the government’s support, we can expect the private sector to follow on supporting these disruptive startups. For unicorns to exists, the environment must be investor friendly.”