Maoi Arroyo: Science for development in the Philippines

Maria Antonia Odelia Arroyo, founder and CEO of Hybridigm Consulting. Photo by: Devex

Here’s advice from Maria Antonia Odelia Arroyo to scientists who want to fully realize the potential of their work for global development: partner with private firms or start a social enterprise.

Arroyo is the founder and CEO of Hybridigm Consulting, a firm that helps innovators commercialize their technologies. She is one the most influential development leaders aged 40 and under in Manila.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives and journalists.

We spoke with Arroyo about her advocacy and how researchers can make a significant difference in the fight against poverty and disease.

How do you convince investors that funding biotechnology entrepreneurs is a worthwhile investment?

Biotechnology revolves around using the characteristics of living things to make products or processes better, faster, or cheaper. It gives us new diagnostics for infectious diseases; biofertilizer that provides better yield and better drought resistance; biofuels and new industrial processes for manufacturing.

For a public sector investment, the long-term contributions to international development are obvious. Once research and development is complete, we bring in private investors who are primarily concerned with how much they can grow the business and how risky it would be to do so. While biotech has longer timelines than software development, no application has ever saved or built lives. It’s rare to be able to do well and do good at the same time.

Why did you choose to foster biotechnology as an industry in the Philippines?

The Philippines is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. For instance, there are about 500 known species of coral on Earth — 488 can be found only in the Philippines. All this diversity means we have a lot of solutions to local problems such as schistosomiasis and global problems like cancer.

Even if we’re not an economic powerhouse, we owe it first to our citizens to commercialize innovations that treat their diseases. Moreover, we owe it to the world to make the best use of this biodiversity.

The capital hurdle is passed with good science, good “go-to-market” strategy, and savvy investors. Collaborating with other labs, venture funds, and existing firms within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is going to be vital.

Do you think science and technology play enough of a role in development? How can scientists make their work more relevant to the country’s development needs?

I think scientists and engineers play a key role in development. However, to fully realize the potential of their technologies, they have to partner with the strategic mindset and rigorous implementation of business. Partnering with an existing firm or starting a social enterprise is the best way to get their life’s work out there quickly and effectively so they can make a significant difference.

Our researchers have to be problem-collectors and solution-curators. They have to look at where the real pain points are in the field. Innovations like a refrigerated backpack to deliver vaccines to far-flung areas, an accurate biosensor to detect harmful chemicals in vegetables or fish might not be as fascinating as the high-level academic research that they’re used to, but it will become an important weapon in our fight against poverty and disease.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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