A space for innovation in emerging Southeast Asia

A busy thoroughfare in Manila, Philippines. A local nonprofit in the country is looking for innovations that will address emerging market issues like transportation woes, education and health care access and food security. Photo by: Robin Hickman / ADB / CC BY-NC

The holiday rush is slowly fading in the Philippine capital of Manila — but the traffic situation stays the same.

In the Philippines and many Asian megacities, such as in Jakarta, Indonesia, the sound of cars honking and the chock-full of people waiting for public transportation are an everyday scenario. While governments have tried to employ different tactics — for instance, reducing the number of cars on the road by imposing a number and color coding scheme during rush hour in Manila — there clearly remains a lot to be done to solve this persisting problem.

IdeaSpace, a local nonprofit focused on helping young entrepreneurs develop and accelerate their ideas, is once again looking for groundbreaking innovations in the field of science and technology that have the potential to ease emerging market issues in Southeast Asia. Ideas should include business model and product innovation, and can be anywhere from addressing education and health care access, transportation woes, food insecurity to water purification for those without access to clean drinking water, Earl Valencia, the group’s president and co-founder, told Devex.

The first run of the competition primarily targeted entrepreneurs based in the Philippines. Now, it is also encouraging applicants from other countries, particularly those from Southeast Asia, to participate. This is after the organization realized that “some entrepreneurs from other parts of emerging Southeast Asia might benefit from a program like IdeaSpace and build their company together with others,” said the Manila Devex 40 under 40 awardee. Apart from the Philippines, the organization has so far received applications from Singapore, Indonesia and several South Asian countries.

Interested parties need to meet five criteria: market, need, synergy, team and technology.

Valencia explained:”We first focus on the need — is there a particular need that you are solving? Then is there a market and business to sustain the idea? Next is the team, is it a complete team to build the business and a unique and novel technology? The last minor criteria is synergy, can the donor and partner companies of IdeaSpace help the idea?”

As in the previous round, the organization will select 10 winners who will each receive half a million pesos (roughly $11,000) in seed capital and another half million worth of program package that would include training, office space, housing (for those residing outside Metro Manila), corporate and intellectual property legal support, fees for patent application and corporate mentoring from various partner Filipino conglomerates. The latter helps startups to attract other global investors and donors, as was the case with some of last year’s winners. Several big donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Philippine institutions such as Department of Science and Technology and the Intellectual Property Office, have expressed interest over the innovations, according to Valencia.

The competition however is just a step for many innovators, and Valencia is adamant that entrepreneurs see this not only for their personal success but also in helping their own economies grow.

“There is increasing interest of the developers and entrepreneurs in participating in the growth of the region,” he said. “What I think is missing is [the connection between] the individual aspirations [and] the goals of the country. If entrepreneurs feel they can be both be personally successful but at the same time are helping grow the economy and employing more people, that is how you scale it up. I would encourage organizations to go to the grass roots but at the same time, connecting this to the overarching goals of development and growth. Everyone wants to be part of a bigger goal.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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