Startups with growth potential despite COVID-19 win big
If your startup can pivot toward sustainability, and, at the same time, respond to issues surrounding COVID-19, then the business has a good chance of surviving this pandemic.
That’s the assessment of Butch Meily, president of QBO Innovation Hub, the public-private partnership created by IdeaSpace, JP Morgan, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Trade and Industry that serves as a platform for the Philippine startup community to collaborate, develop talents and grow. QBO recently awarded P1 million to 10 such businesses with growth potential as their prize for winning the recently concluded “RESQUE: Startups vs. COVID-19” nationwide competition.
According to Meily, the winners, which were selected from a group of 20 finalists, were chosen based on two criteria: their ability to offer a unique solution to issues brought about by COVID-19; or their ability to pivot toward a different business model that proves to be sustainable amid the pandemic.
The competition is a collaboration between QBO and global organization Youth Business International (YBI), which is supported by Google.org.
“The contest is really part of YBI’s rapid response and recovery program,” Meily explains. “Aside from those with COVID-19 initiatives, [we also chose] startups who were able to change their business model to fit the times we live in. As we know, the digital future is here with us—and it has come much faster than expected.”
The 10 winners, who will split the P1-million cash prize (P100,000 each), are:
Agro-DigitalPH, a startup that aggregates groups of farmers and aims to monetize their produce while providing consumers certain benefits, including better prices over prevailing market prices;
Eskwelabs, an online learning platform that upskills learners and teams for success in a data-driven future, with the COVID-19 situation in mind, by offering self-paced concept reviews and a web-based learning platform;
Filipina Homebased Moms, a platform specifically designed to support parents, particularly mothers, in their search for freelance jobs that best suit their lifestyle, using tools for e-commerce, job matching, e-learning and market research, among others;
Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise Inc., a company that helped develop Ruwah 2.0 Oxygen concentrator, a kind of respirator for patients that they can use while waiting for a ventilator to become available; as well as a mobile app for remote monitoring of patients and organized specimen collection booths with the DOST;
NextPay, an all-in-one payment platform especially built for small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs, which gives business owners the capability to manage their finances online through features like salary disbursements, supplier payments, digital invoices, payment link integrations, and accurate tracking and tools that can be connected to payrolls;
Rumarocket, a workforce management platform that uses artificial intelligence to look at an organization’s depression and anxiety scores. They also aim to start a mental health initiative for everybody by providing free assessment and results to individuals.
SeeYouDoc, an integrated telemedicine platform that allows patients to find a doctor and book medical appointments whenever and wherever they are. Doctors, on the other hand can provide medical certificates or an e-prescription, which are also included in a patient’s electronic health record;
SukiPlus, a platform that connects microentrepreneurs to mainstream financial institutions by making lending to the likes of, say, “sari-sari” stores more efficient and less risky. It also provides online tools and financing to their customers, as well as monitors payments and loans;
Twala, a digital tool designed to allow people to sign contracts and documents online with a legally binding electronic signature via “smart contracts”; and
Zagana, an online marketplace for fresh vegetables and fruits sourced directly from local farmers in the Philippines.
AccessiWheels, a startup that connects people with mobility problems and those from the vulnerable sector to well-trained drivers and accessible vehicles to ensure convenient and safe travels, was given the social impact award and a grant of P50,000. The social impact award recognizes startups that promote a socially inclusive solution amid the pandemic.
All 20 finalists will also take part in a holistic two-month support program, which includes learning and feedback sessions, business clinics and consultation sessions with seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts.
And as these tech startups have done, others that are still on the fence about finally establishing their business because of the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic would do well to work with QBO, Meily says.
“QBO is a good place to start because we have free mentoring sessions. I just talked to a startup, and he was able to get funding for his startup from someone he met at a QBO event,” Meily adds. “We have a continuing support program for incubators around the country. We have all kinds of [online] events, and we notice that our events have even more attendees, because they don’t need to travel, or even need get all dressed up. And it’s not just for here [in the Philippines]—it has also gone global.”
Meily also advises those with brilliant startup ideas in mind to continue reaching for their business goals—keeping in mind pandemic-related solutions.
“If you look around, there’s an old world that’s dying—and I hate seeing some of it go—but we don’t know how long this is going to last. It could be a lot longer [than we expect]. It could be like this for a couple more years,” he says. “I think they need to take it into consideration that they always need a digital solution. A physical space may not always be necessary anymore; you may not need to do everything face-to-face. We’ve all learned that in one form or another, some jobs can be done from home; we don’t need to be in the office five, six days a week. [This pandemic] has really opened up a lot of new avenues for startups.”