Philippine News

Startup Catalyst

by Johanna Poblete


“Starting up is innately youth-centric. If you look at other startup hubs like Silicon Valley, these are all centered around top universities,” reasons Luis Sia, co-founder and president of Upstart (founded in January 2015). “Sometimes, only students really have the drive, flexibility, creativity, and know-how to make these ideas happen.”


Positioning itself as the first point of contact for students and the startup community at large, UPstart organizes technical workshops (e.g. “Coding For Meatheads”) and meetups with professionals and industry leaders who share their expertise and discuss relevant topics such as UX/UI (user experience and user interface), growth hacking, or brand-building—all for free. These activities culminate in a major event, Jumpstart, where teams of students compete to pitch their ideas, create a working model, and launch their new startups.


UPstart also arranges for their members to get valuable experience via internships. As of December 2015, UPstart had 40 members from UP, and, having established a satellite branch in nearby Ateneo de Manila University earlier in October, 20 members from the Ateneo. These students are pursuing various degrees, including engineering, business, and design. In the last semester, at least 24 had already interned for seven startups.


Backed by the Department of Science and Technology-funded incubator Enterprise in UP Diliman, they’re also supported by the John Gokongwei School of Management Business Accelerator (SOMBA) in Ateneo. The two balance each other out: one being tech-centric while the other puts students through the paces of the business development cycle.


Members have established four startups so far: Prints.ph offers a means for enterprising individuals to set up a clothing line or business with minimal capital; Plato.ph provides an online platform connecting chefs and home cooks to customers; UP Bike Share eases transportation in UP while testing wireless bike-tracking technology; whereas InHouse.ph provides student artists an avenue to sell their art. UPstart is considering five applicants that would add more startups to their portfolio, including Atmo, which is developing a wearable device that detects air pollution.


UPstart also partners with incubators and accelerators that aren’t based in their home universities. Previously, they tied up with Impact Hub Manila; in 2016, they’re partnering with Machine Ventures. Together, UPstart and Machine Ventures plan on building a physical space inside UP for their startups, and organizing a “startup fair” this coming semester, alongside another Jumpstart weekend.


Support, for now, isn’t monetary, but for the most part, knowledge-sharing and opening of doors. UPstart’s role, from the start, has been to nurture a startup community on the university front. “There clearly were resources there, but it needed an extra push that stemmed from the side of the students themselves,” says Sia. “Starting up is going down a lonely path and it’s important to have others there to remind you that you aren’t crazy. The startup community is growing rapidly in the Philippines and we want to be the hub for students to be immersed in it.”


Images courtesy of Luis Sia.

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