Filipino Silicon Valley veterans give back
Christina Laskowski was just one of the many bright minds in the Silicon Valley ecosystem of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that helped turn Northern California into the world’s center of technology innovation.
But like most in California, Laskowski, née Rodriguez, was not born in the United States. Like millions of others, she moved with her family to chase the American Dream, which brought her into the same environment that helped shape companies like Apple, Google and Facebook.
In 2007, Laskowski together with fellow Filipino-born, Ivy league-educated Americans—all members of the Cory-era Philippine Science and Technology Advisory Council-Silicon Valley chapter (STAC-SV)—decided that their talents should be brought to where they were needed the most: the Philippines.
“We wanted to reverse the brain drain in the Philippines,” said Laskowski, STAC-SV’s president.
After five years of work, STAC-SV is seeing the fruits of its labor. The group recently organized ON3, the Philippines’ first technology “pitch” competition.
Patterned after similar pitch events in the United States, China and Singapore, ON3 gives entrepreneurs the chance to make short, three-minute presentations about their innovations in front of a room of potential venture capitalists and angel investors.
Entrepreneurs that are able to pique the interests of other participants don’t get gold medals or trophies at the end of the show. They are given contracts and large sums of money to get their products ready for the mainstream market.
How it all began
In the late 1980s, then Assistant Secretary of Foreign Affairs Federico “Poch” Macaranas had the idea of harnessing the intellectual capital that resided in science and technology focused professionals of Filipino descent through a global network.
It was decided that the global network would be comprised of local hubs known as Science & Technology Advisory Councils.
These councils would provide practical advice on activities in the academic and research arena in the Philippines and provide input to the Philippine government regarding the viability to convert the ideas into meaningful global science and technology related industries.
Members of the Silicon Valley STAC include Jojo Flores, head of ON3 program; Katrina Montinola, the group’s chief engineer, talent officer and serial entrepreneur; Estella Luluquisen, 16-year Silicon Valley veteran and the group’s analytical operations specialist; and startup M&A specialist Denny Roja.
Perfect time for startups
In 2007, STAC-SV saw how the Philippines—through the cooperation between the government and the private sector—was able to develop the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
“They built an industry from zero to $10 billion in under a decade,” she said. “The Philippines was not ready for us before that. So we were helping a lot of American companies become successful.”
STAC-SV’s establishment of ON3 comes at a perfect time for Filipino entrepreneurs, Laskowski said, noting that several big corporations are starting to realize the potential in investing in startups.
The ON3 competition kicked off last April 10 in Cebu for its Visayas regional leg. Last April 16, the Philippine College of Science and Technology in Nalsian, Calasiao, Pangasinan was host for the Northern Luzon leg. The Southern Luzon and Metro Manila, leg, meanwhile, was held on April 19 at Meridien International College at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.
Finalists from the three regional legs participate in the finals to be held in July here in Metro Manila.
Aside from the potential investors in attendance, finals participants will also be judged by STAC-SV members. The best teams will win three-month Silicon Valley Immersion packages sponsored by Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, California.
Laskowski said the goal of STAC-SV was to help build an ecosystem made up of the academe, the government, and the private sector that encourages young, brilliant minds to pursue their ideas.
“We want to spur the growth of industries that can become global,” she said. “Our hope and our dream is to create opportunities in the Philippines so that generations after us can have an economy that is not sustained by just remittances.”
The biggest hurdle that has to be overcome is the perception from potential investors—big corporations or just plain Filipinos with plenty of money to spare—about startups.
“There are a lot of rich people in the Philippines, but startups are not on their radars,” Laskowski said. “The best thing we can do to solve that is to show them success stories. People are conservative here in the Philippines. But once they start seeing other people succeeding in this field, they will follow.”
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