Incubator helps young entrepreneurs learn ropes of running own companies

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Sunday, February 16, 2014


YOUNG technology entrepreneurs, all former winners and finalists of the Sweep (Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program) Innovation and Excellence Awards, hope to follow in the footsteps of globally known startups as they embrace the challenge of starting their own company, bringing their product to the market and earning money from it.

Now on its 10th year, the Sweep Awards, organized by Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), serves as a platform for students from partner-schools to develop innovative wireless devices and mobile applications.

Four teams from the Sweep Awards of previous years have taken that extra step of bringing their innovative school projects into the next level—as commercially viable products and services. These start-ups received additional grants from Smart and are being supported through IdeaSpace Foundation, Inc. (IdeaSpace), the country’s largest privately-funded incubator and accelerator.

Closing loop

“We’re excited for these young start-up founders. Through Sweep, we just started with helping enable game-changing innovations in schools and now they have stepped up in making their products and services available to the marketplace. This is closing the loop that connects education, innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Rolando G. Peña, senior vice president and head for technology at Smart.

Frances Marie C. Kagahastian and Jarivy Ian M. Reynaldo, the youngest of these technopreneurs, took the plunge right after graduation. At their early 20s, they now sit as CEO and COO, respectively, of Rex Zenzic, Inc.

“After last year’s win, doors of opportunities opened up for us—from job offers to TV and radio interviews. As fresh graduates, we chose to take the road less travelled and set up our own start-up company. It’s both exciting and scary…uncertainties are magnified by our inexperience. But the best thing about being a start-up is the chance to do things and learn from mentors,” says Kagahastian.

Kagahastian and Reynaldo along with teammate Jeffrey Martin developed a device that when installed at home, enables the user to control and monitor appliances and electric fixtures, and at the same time, monitor the electrical consumption via a mobile app. The device won them the grand prize in last year’s Sweep Awards. Apart from working on further development of the device for its commercial launch this year, they are also working on filing the device patent.

Learning things

Philip Adrian T. Atilano, CEO of TimeFree Innovations, says the best thing about being a startup is learning things that one will not likely learn as an employee.

“We wear multiple hats in our company. Whatever the company needs us to be, we become that. We are the developers, accountants, product and business development people, marketing persons, even maintenance. In a way, being in a start-up is teaching us the ins and outs of running a company and this is a truly amazing experience. We get to learn a lot of new things each day,” says Atilano. He and his teammates, Sharief Kayer T. Alsree, Ken Marvin N. Wee and Joselle A. Macrohon, developed TimeFree, which became one of the finalists during the 6th Sweep Awards.

Deployment

TimeFree is a virtual queuing solution that helps businesses enhance customer experience and increase customer engagements. TimeFree has since been piloted at the Smart Store in Robinsons Magnolia last November and is set to go regional. So far, the biggest challenge for the start-up is raising capital to support its expansion in Southeast Asia. TimeFree will deploy its virtual queuing solution in Hong Kong by the end of April this year.

“Sweep gave us a new perspective of how things are in the real world while we were still students. It showed us real-world problems and the opportunity to help solve these. It also opened our eyes to a new track that we can pursue—entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Daniel Lagazo of BlueQode Innovations, Inc., which developed Pasagoods, the grand prize winer of the 5th SWEEP Awards.

BlueQode developed a platform that integrates payment gateways such as PayPal, credit card, bank deposits and social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. This platform makes payment and registration a one-step process. The same team launched the award-winning Pasagoods, which is a donation portal that uses the platform.

It released last year another product, iRace.ph for runners and race organizers.

For three ladies from Mapua Institute of Technology, their company, Gen8, intends to help make lives easier for persons with disabilities particularly the visually-impaired.

“Sweep helped us realize early on what we want to achieve with our lives. Before graduating college, everything is so vague with our goals set at creating our thesis and designing our projects. Through Sweep, our college project became more than just a requirement for passing the course, it was further developed for a real purpose,” says Janiena Roxanne Dirain, CEO of Gen8. The team bagged the grand prize at the 8th Sweep Awards for the Braille Cell Phone and the Wearable Obstacle Detection Device called Aquila.

“I will also encourage them to take the start-up route. However, they need to understand that running a start-up is very challenging. One has to be ready physically, mentally and emotionally. Ups and downs are daily occurrences and one must be emotionally ready to deal with these. It can also be very demanding and one must be ready to make sacrifices,” said Atilano. (PR)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 17, 2014.

Business

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