The search for a unicorn is on

THE Philippines may have its own “tech unicorns” or technology businesses valued at $1 billion in the future. But experts says more work and collaboration is needed to achieve this dream.

During the fifth staging of Geeks On A Beach (GOAB), an annual startup gathering held in Puerto Princesa in Palawan yesterday, Silicon Valley-based Filipino technology investor Jojo Flores of Plug and Play Technology Center said the Philippines may have its unicorn stories in the same way the incubator he co-founded in the US has grown the likes of Dropbox and Lending Club.

The right partners

“Having unicorns is a good feeling because we experienced it (in Plug and Play) ourselves. But it’s very important to know that if this is the path you take, you choose correct partners, whether they are incubators, or venture capitalists, or mentors,” he told some 400 participants composed of startups, investors, and government officials in a panel discussion.

“They have to be correct in a sense that they really help you in your journey to become a successful company,” he added.

Global mindset

To date, no Philippine tech startup has managed to meet the goal of being a billion-dollar company.

Globally, the US and China lead in numbers, having produced the most number of unicorns like Facebook, Uber, Airbnb as well as Xiaomi and Alibaba. Meanwhile, Malaysia in Southeast Asia has produced two unicorns in Grab and the Lazada Group.

“Thinking global” is also one advice Flores has for startups.

Philippine startups involved in financial technology (fintech) as well as in agriculture and aquaculture have big potential for growth, he added.

However, another US-based investor, Aldo Carrascoso, believes that it is not about becoming a unicorn that matters most. Instead, he underscored the necessity of “creating value” first.

Cockroaches and rhinos

“It’s not about achieving the highest valuation, but creating the most value. If you create value, the valuation will follow,” Carrascoso said, who is the founder and chief executive officer of GlycoProX Biosciences, a firm based in California that combines next generation glycomics (carbohydrates), instrumentation and deep machine learning to augment cancer diagnosis and therapeutics.

First, he said Philippine startups need to know how to be fundable. Instead of aiming to be a unicorn, he advised local startups to become a “cockroach” instead, one that characterizes strong survival skills, or a rhino, “big and realistic.”

“Fix a problem that affects a billion people. That’s what you aim for, rather than trying to be a billion-dollar company,” added US-based chief technology officer Yobie Benjamin.

Success in conglomerates

Among traditional businesses, the Philippines has produced a number of unicorns in the likes of big conglomerates. However, experts say the local startup scene needs to produce more success stories to entice more startups and investors to invest in the Philippines.

Organized by, GOAB is an annual gathering of members of the startup community and international technology investors. For two days in Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa Hotel in Puerto Princesa, participants will hear valuable insights from big names in the startup technology community, and get a chance to network and pitch ideas to investors.
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