PNoy addressing the delegates at APEC SME Summit

by Prilla Ong Vaño

Last week, the Philippines hosted over 7,000 international delegates from around the world for the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting. It was the culmination of a year-long series of policy discussions and ministerial meetings among APEC’s 21 member economies. APEC is the largest regional economic group that account for about three billion people, 50 percent of global trade and 60 percent of total GDP. With its theme, Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World, the focus areas include enhancing regional economic integration; fostering micro, small and medium enterprise participation in regional and global markets; investing in human capital development; and building sustainable and resilient communities. The APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting was held last November 18-19 with the heads of states converging in Manila and forming the region’s strategic vision and directives for future collaboration. Alongside the world leaders’ meetings, the APEC CEO Summit was also organised by the private sector as an open dialogue with the region’s business and industry leaders. Likewise, the APEC Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Summit held last November 17 gathered entrepreneurs and focused on the challenges and opportunities for growth of the sector.

Under the theme, Innovation and Big Ideas: Pushing Boundaries, the APEC SME Summit showcased successful entrepreneurs who are changing the game across various sectors. From industry innovators like AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandes and Uber’s Senior Advisor David Plouffe to tech start-up founders like Jonathan Swanson of Thumbtack and fellow Filipino-Americans Dexter Ligot-Gordon of Kalibrr and Angelo Umali of Simple Wearables, the speakers shared their inspiring stories of starting and leading their businesses through innovation. Kalibrr is a Philippine-based online recruiting platform whereas Simple Wearables is a Hong Kong-based company for wearable technology with an emphasis on life-assisting and life-saving devices for the elderly. Other Filipino-American technopreneurs also took center stage including Dado Banatao of Tallwood Venture Capital and Sheila Marcelo of Care.com. Banatao is also the Chairman of Philippine Development Foundation which provides scholarship opportunities for Filipino youth looking forward to careers in science and technology. “Knowledge and expertise is more valuable than money. Especially in developing countries, when young people cannot explore the possibilities of the intellect, creativity and innovation, what can they contribute to growth?” he said. On the other hand, Marcelo’s company is a purpose-driven business which is connecting over 15 million families and caregivers through technology, highlighting that “the senior care crisis as an opportunity for the global marketplace for caregivers, which the Philippines is one of the top sources worldwide.” Their entrepreneurial stories all began with a specific problem that was worth solving. With an audience full of business-owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, the speakers urged them to keep innovating, collaborating and fostering the growing ecosystem of disruptive and impactful enterprises.

Among the delegates at the SME Summit were also some young balikbayan entrepreneurs. Inspired by the notable speakers and encouraged by fellow participants, Bryan McClelland was pleased to see that ensuring a supportive environment for SMEs and social enterprises was part of the agenda. Bryan founded his social and eco-friendly start-up, Bambike, which designs bicycles made of bamboo and provides heritage bike tours in Intramuros. On the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, he gave his thoughts on how “the bilateral agreements that were made seem to have been productive. What remains to be seen are the implementation steps and follow through necessary to ensure inclusive growth in a competitive global marketplace.” Sharing his sentiments was Swiss-Filipina Liza Andrea “LizAn” Kuster saying that, “Goals and discussions are important but even more so comes the implementation after these APEC meetings.” LizAn is the co-founder of Impact Hub Manila, which is part of a global community of impact entrepreneurs across 73 cities and also hosted APEC delegates in their coworking and event space. Mark Rivera, founder of Minka, has done business in the United States before, but is now based in the Philippines to manufacture bamboo toothbrushes and other environment-friendly products. He thinks that “APEC can help take away barriers to trade such that more Filipino-made products can be exported worldwide.” Bryan, Lizan and Mark have all taken the leap to return to the Philippines and start their own ventures despite the many challenges. Mark echoed the message of most speakers to continue fostering “support systems and provide access to funding for startups wanting to scale, create jobs and contribute to the economy.” Like many others, they are optimistic about the rising economic potential of the Philippines, including the possibilities of APEC as an enabler for international cooperation and shared prosperity.

Photos : Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship

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