When we think of titans of the startup sphere, we think Jobs, Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg—men who founded some of the largest tech companies in the world. The situation is not different in the Philippines, where some of the most successful startups were also founded by men.
While this may have led to the perception that startup culture is just about bro culture, technology, new programs, opportunities, and funding sources have expanded the field to include women, LGBTQ+ founders, and founders from underserved communities.
The Philippine startup ecosystem has had a wealth of women paving the way for young girls and women to be part of it.
Ecosystem leaders such as Diane Eustaquio and Katrina Chan of IdeaSpace and QBO Innovation Hub, Minette Navarette of Kickstart Ventures, Audrey Pe of Women in Tech, and Gina Romero of Connected Women have made it a priority to ensure that women founders have the space to experiment, grow and succeed.
To date, there are over 500 startups in the Philippines and counting, with the majority being in Metro Manila and a growing number in Visayas and Mindanao.
A survey conducted by PwC Philippines, together with the Department of Trade and Industry, QBO and IdeaSpace with 90 founders, found that 52 percent of startups do not necessarily feel threatened despite the pandemic. Due to the lockdown, startups in the logistics, education technology, enterprise services, financial technology, and health-care sectors have been more in demand than ever.
While the COVID-19 crisis has affected businesses throughout the different sectors, 96 percent of startups said that they continued working through the crisis despite significant disruptions, according to Startup Genome. These circumstances create a unique opportunity for women to be part of the action. How can we build on this growing legacy and help more girls and women as they enter the startup ecosystem?
We checked in with three emerging women founders.
Support women in their leadership roles
The first way that women can be empowered to contribute to the ecosystem is not only by supporting them when they are in positions of leadership, but also by ensuring that they feel confident and capable enough to be there. Oftentimes, women are second-guessed by their colleagues even when they should have the final say.
When asked about the struggles she faced as a woman in the startup world, Airship CEO Rachelle Uy stated that being “a young-looking woman when attending seminars in other countries” proved to be a challenge.
“I feel like I need to prove something, and I feel like I have a small voice,” she shared.
Despite being an accomplished entrepreneur, she still faced the insecurity that many women have in environments where they are automatically perceived as different or undeserving. Therefore, there is a collective need for the community to assert that women belong in the positions they’re in.
Build meaningful connections
One of the innate characteristics of women is the ability to build relationships, and this is the second way that they can be empowered to contribute to the ecosystem. The startup world thrives on collaboration, and women are uniquely equipped to make it happen.
Stefanie Uy, cofounder of Brooky Technologies said,
“Being a woman has helped me establish initial rapport with clients since us women have a way of making our clients feel comfortable around us.”
She points out that what can be perceived as a weakness to some can ultimately end up being an invaluable strength. Begin with purpose in mind.
Finally, women can be empowered to create a real, lasting impact on their communities through the startup ecosystem.
Raheemah Hafsah Pangarungan, one of the founders of BioPhil, said that the idea was formed by senior high school students who experienced the Marawi siege firsthand. She said they were motivated by “the vision to create a better tomorrow for our people.”
She explained, “During the battle, we were desperately hoping we would survive the day in the evacuation center to witness tomorrow. Looking into the eyes of the mothers, the fathers, and the children in our home, we cannot help but choose to spark the flames within them.”
Women are viewed as the pillars of the family, and the passion in these young founders proves that this goes beyond the home setting. Women are capable of being catalysts for necessary systemic change.
Pangarungan added, “It is not about the age anymore. It is about the value in what we do that is attached to our purpose.” Their startup story proves that age and gender are no longer barriers that hold people back from success.
Ranked 16th in the world and first in Asia in closing the gender gap according to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2020 by the World Economic Forum, the Philippines is doing comparatively well relative to its neighbors. Despite that, the work is not over.
The startup ecosystem is a young, vibrant community where women can actively work to close the gap by opening the doors to others. Enablers need to keep the doors open for women to be part of the rise of the startup ecosystem in the country. INQQBO Innovation Hub, in partnership with Investing in Women, has launched Startup Pinay to provide an avenue for women founders to connect with other women in the startup ecosystem.