Kickstarting the PH economy

Ezra Ferraz
Kickstarting the PH economy
US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker embarked on her "listening tour," signaling greater US-PH economic partnership

MANILA, Philippines – An incubator helping Philippine startup businesses was visited by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Wednesday, June 4 as part of her global tour.

Pritzker visited Kickstart Ventures, which incubates many notable Filipino companies, including Kalibrr, Peekawoo, Ava, Zap, True Property, and Gift Launcher.

Kickstart President Minette Navarrete said the meeting with Pritzker was not for her to talk, but to listen. “She is known for doing listening tours. For her to come to listen means there is an opportunity for startup founders to have a voice and to share a perspective that is perhaps different from governments, big corporations, and enterprises,” Navarrete said.

And who exactly was Secretary Pritzker listening to? In attendance were a dozen of the Philippines’ top entrepreneurs—the round-table was by invite only—including Kickstart’s own Paul Rivera (Kalibrr), Valenice Balace (Peekawoo), and Oliver Segovia (Ava). From Ideaspace Foundation, president Earl Martin Valencia came along with Chino Atilano (TimeFree Innovations) and Au Mendoza (Pinoy Travel). Stephen Jagger (PayrollHero), Ron Hose (, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz (Rags2Riches), and Mark Ruiz (Hapinoy) also attended.

Navarrete said it is good for governments and corporations to hear about disruptive innovation and be able to participate and support such. “… The fact that [Pritzker’s] here and she’s listening means that the Philippine startup community [have] the opportunity to share their perspective, seek support, and maybe learn. When you think of other countries, there has to be best practice,” she said.

The Kickstart president also echoed how often people complain about no infrastructure, slow expensive Internet, no government support, and bureaucracy. “But the hard thing is to do something about it. Better to point out the gaps and opportunities to partner. The Philippines is in such a good spot today but we have to work hard to do something about it,” Navarrete stressed.

In the written recap of the event, Navarrete recounted the dialogue between Pritzker and the entrepreneurs. She wrote, “But did we make any progress today? I would posit that yes, we did. Today’s roundtable was significant not for any quick fixes it offered (there were none), but for the opportunities for collaboration (there were many) and the signals it sent.”

The invitees also shared their personal story. “Segovia’s road from the Ateneo to Harvard to P&G and back to Manila to start AVA; Fernandez-Ruiz’s passion for setting up livelihood opportunities that led to Rags2Riches; Rivera’s journey from LA to Manila to Silicon Valley and back to co-found Kalibrr; Ruiz’s empathy forsari-sari store nanays that have helped him grow Hapinoy; Balace’s insights about the so-90s Internet dating scene that got her to build the Millennials’ alternative, Peekawoo; Mendoza’s travels across the Philippines that inspired her to leave corporate life and start Pinoy Travel,” Navarrete summarized.

Navarrete continued, “Each story meant one founder contributing a part of the burgeoning Philippine startup ecosystem: creating jobs, solving problems, pushing innovative business models, and helping build a more robust economy. Each story—and the attention it received from the Secretary—meant a perspective shared and a voice heard. While policies will not change overnight, these insights have the opportunity to help shape the policy environment that Philippine startups operate in.”

The attendees also shared Navarrete’s optimism. Atilano noted the significance of the event, saying, “It shows the commitment of the US to promote entrepreneurship especially in developing countries and their willingness to take a look at investable companies in the Philippines. Secretary Pritzker said that new businesses are key contributors to a growing economy and I think that her visit will give the US more insights regarding the pros and cons of bringing in investments to the country.”

Atilano also stressed Pritzker’s point on the importance of addressing the gap in connecting US investors to local partners. “I think that this is a step forward toward bringing more capital infusion to the Philippines and really democratizing access to capital,” Atilano said.

Rivera said Penny’s experience being an entrepreneur herself makes her empathetic to their challenges and understands what it takes to build a great company. “That’s the type of person you want running the commerce department.”

Significantly, the visit is really a part of the emergence of the Philippines into the global economic story of growth. “She could have chosen many other countries but she chose the Philippines and it’s because our international profile has really risen in the last 24 months,” Rivera said.

Segovia appreciated the Secretary’s efforts and hoped that the Philippine government could follow her model by starting similar initiatives. He said, “The roundtable was a great opportunity to discuss the strongest drivers that can bring local entrepreneurship forward.” He added that it was refreshing to see the US Commerce Secretary engage not just big businesses, but also small but high-growth startups. “If the US can have this kind goodwill-building activities with startup founders, it’s probably not too much to ask the Philippine government for the same.”

Navarrete said the event signals a greater partnership between the US and the Philippines. “What [Pritzker] signals is that entrepreneurs has a space in overall national development, in overall commercial terms between the US and the Philippines,” she said.

“If we all keep going the way we’re going, we think we can do something to make a difference and help in nation-building by creating jobs. We are excited, we are hopeful that it will be productive. We understand that it will take a long time but we hope that at least we share perspectives,” Navarrete concluded. –

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