Q&A: Ces Rondario on how social entrepreneurs would be better off focusing on the solution

Ces Rondario, co-founder of Impact Hub Manila. Photo by: Mai Ylagan / Devex

Innovation competitions are not just money-making ventures. They can also be a source of valuable experience and exposure — a point workshops such as Impact Hub Manila’s are keen to drive home.

Ces Rondario was one of the facilitators and jury during a recent innovation workshop — Solve-a-thon — that took place in the Philippines’ emerging business hub in Taguig City. As co-founder of Impact Hub Manila, a co-working and networking space for entrepreneurs, Rondario has met and mentored many social entrepreneurs, helping them develop their business models, refine their pitch decks when entering competitions and more. She even sits as member of the board at some of the enterprises.

In her dealings with social entrepreneurs, Rondario finds there’s not a lack of ideas, but a lack of knowledge on how to execute them and make them sustainable.

“Ideas are cheap unless you can execute them,” she told Devex.

“I keep saying, ‘don't start a business, find a solution.’ That's what an entrepreneur does. An entrepreneur is someone who creates solutions.”

— Ces Rondario, co-founder of Impact Hub Manila

Most entrepreneurs join innovation challenges to win grants to get to the next stage of developing their products or solutions, but relying on grant financing isn’t sustainable. Entrepreneurs should identify other opportunities — apart from the money — in these competitions, said Rondario.

If they play their cards right, the resources will likely follow, she suggested.

Here’s an excerpt from our interview, edited for length and clarity.

What advice do you usually offer social entrepreneurs?

There's always money. It's easy to find money. The question for entrepreneurs is, are you ready? Are you fundable? Are you investable? And before we talk about looking for money, let's talk about scaling you. Let's talk about bringing you to a point where you are actually investable. A lot of times, startups are not fundable, either because they don't know their finances, or because they haven't validated their model.

And that's a very tedious process because you literally have to handhold them. And we created this network because entrepreneurs have to help each other. We cannot do everything for them. What we will be here for is to foster an environment that will help them find their way.

I'd like to believe that Impact Hub is an access point for mentors, for ideas, for future business partners, for funds. We try to be that conduit for the entrepreneurs. But beyond the money, you have to have a solution that's going to create a ripple in people’s lives. That's why I keep saying, “don't start a business, find a solution.” That's what an entrepreneur does. An entrepreneur is someone who creates solutions. You don't have to be a business person to do that. So stop figuring and focusing and fixating on a business. Great if you can make a business out of it, but be somebody who always wants to create solutions for the problems you see because we have so many problems. I think the monetization happens easily when you know what you're trying to solve. And a lot of times, entrepreneurs don't really know what to do. And they think, “oh I can't make money.” Well because you don't know what you're doing. What are you trying to solve?

But money is very important for startups, especially if they want to scale.

Grants are great. Competitions are great. But the best way that you can help these people is to help them to become better entrepreneurs and to sell better. We always tell them that competitions are great, but you need to sell. Sustainability is key, especially for social entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, you need to figure out the best solution you can offer, put the stats and research what's going to make you relevant to the market.

Money is great, but exposure is what they need. It's getting their name out there, meeting a lot of people who will validate their solutions even more, people who will tell them, “no, you suck, try again.” And there will be a lot of people.  

So the thing that we try to encourage them is talk to people. We're giving the platform. For this Solve-a-thon challenge, the Massachussetts Insitute of Technology is here, Atlassian is here, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is here. They're not just money cows but friends, people who will tell the entrepreneurs not to do certain things. It's almost as though they’re wheeling entrepreneurs in a direction where they're going to monetize every single opportunity that they see, whether it's instant cash, it's a connection, it's a database, it's a referral to something. It's a new way of learning, seeing opportunities whenever they're presented it. I tell them, “you come here, you meet people, you start telling them your story and that will lead you to where you should be.”

But for me, I believe that they need to sell. If they can't sell then they shouldn't be entrepreneurs. And it's a different thing — selling your idea from having people buy from you. You can have the best product but will people buy from you?

I always say that people who feel that they can't find money are the people who are not focusing on making money. They're focusing on finding money. That's a problem. Because if you know what you’re selling, why is it hard?

What’s the right mindset then for entrepreneurs, especially those who are just starting?

“If they can't sell then they shouldn't be entrepreneurs.”

The point is if you are an entrepreneur, you're here to create a change. And so that's what we're trying to direct them. Stop fixating on what you like to see; fixate on what's going on and try to solve that, because there are so many problems.

I think maybe some entrepreneurs just don't know what's going on in the world, so maybe it's taking them into the barangays [villages], maybe it's taking them to the boondocks, maybe it's taking them to talks like this for them to understand there are serious problems in the world and they can make them go away.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.

About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    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.