IN SOME ways, her story resembles that of Colonel Harland Sanders, the American who founded the global fastfood chain KFC.

Like Sanders, Jerry Gloria of Mabolo, Cebu City ventured into entrepreneurship late in life. Sanders was of retirement age when he went into business, eventually opening the first KFC franchise in 1952.

It was in 2010 when Gloria, then 54, decided to open her own business using P25,000 from the Department of Labor and Employment’s “Kapamilya, Negosyo Na” program as her seed capital. A sign displayed outside her husband’s auto supply shop on M.J. Cuenco Ave. in Cebu City announced her venture: Mabolo Bam-i House.

The auto shop also served as the pick-up station for orders of bam-i, a dish that mixes yellow wheat and white rice noodles, often served during special occasions among Filipino families.

Sanders’ first location was a roadside one, too. He began serving fried chicken in a gas station diner in Kentucky in the United States.

Gloria, now 60, recalls how her customers became regulars, ordering bam-i for birthdays and fiestas, or even when there was no special occasion but they hankered for a good merienda at the office. Her offerings have also expanded to include lumpia shanghai, fresh lumpia, empanada, chopsuey, and chicken lollipop.

Gloria wants to open her own restaurant soon, ideally inside a mall, but says she has no idea how to start.

This prompted her to join the Department of Trade and Industry’s “Mentor ME (Micro Enterprise)” program, where she qualified for the first batch of the Cebu leg.

12 weeks of lessons

The program, launched last Friday in the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino, aims to help micro entrepreneurs scale up their businesses through the mentorship of established local business owners like Virgilio “Nonoy” Espeleta, Melanie Ng, and Bunny Pages.

Espeleta said the first batch of the entrepreneurs will undergo mentoring sessions over the next 12 weeks by 30 business owners whose help Go Negosyo has tapped.

Gloria will be one of the 23 micro entrepreneurs who will receive this free mentorship.

It’s a big step forward for a food entrepreneur who, at first, didn’t even have a passion for cooking—except for bam-i. She said she didn’t want to go into the food business at first because she was worried she’d get fat.

Gloria used to sell fashion accessories to her friends, but before that she was an assistant to an executive in an Aboitiz-owned company in Cebu for decades.

Asked about her decision in 2010 to go into business, Gloria said she didn’t think it was too late. She has enrolled herself in food preparation and food safety classes to improve her products.

DTI 7 Director Asteria Caberte said that with the Mentor ME program, the agency hopes to encourage more entrepreneurs in the country.

“Majority of Cebuanos, being already entrepreneurial, need a little encouragement…Changing the mindset of those who feel secure in the confines of employment is definitely challenging for government, especially in the Philippines where the employment culture holds strong. Although this is not bad, entrepreneurship still offers bigger and better opportunities for all,” the DTI official said in her speech.

Participants also listened to President Rodrigo Duterte via a video conference, from the simultaneous kick-off event for the Mentor ME program in Davao City.

“I will discuss with the (Trade) Secretary (Ramon Lopez) how much I can set aside para sa inyo (for all of you)...If I get a soft loan or grant, meron kayo niyan (you will have it),” he said.

“Just listen to what they (the mentors) teach you. Pag-aralan niyo yan, and (with) a little bit of sacrifice, kasi karamihan niyan nakakain sa personal (Study and be ready for a bit of sacrifice),” Duterte said, possibly referring to a common practice where entrepreneurs raise capital on their own, instead of turning to financial institutions.

MSMEs in the country comprise 99 percent of all businesses.

Of the total number of MSMEs, DTI records show 90.3 percent are micro enterprises, 9.3 percent are small enterprises, and 0.4 percent are medium enterprises.