Tech startups showcase solutions to Philippine problems

Eden Estopace - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s probably the best of times to be a tech startup. 

A recent report from CB Insights shows that Asia’s venture-backed funding reached an all-time high in the third quarter of 2015, with startups raising $13.5 billion across 373 deals.

Even in the Philippines, tech entrepreneurs are not wanting in support or funding, with around 20 accelerators, incubators and venture capitalists present.

One local tech incubator alone, the IdeaSpace Foundation (IdeaSpace), has invested in 38 local startups since its establishment in 2012. Seven of these hardware and software startups have received follow-on funding from IdeaSpace and other investors.

The Philippine Startup Roadmap launched in August is eyeing to increase the number of hardware and startups in the country from 100 this year to 500 by 2020. This early, the goal looks achievable.

IdeaSpace recently introduced the work of 10 early-stage technology startups it is currently supporting as part of its P500-million five-year commitment to grow the local startup ecosystem.

Earl Martin Valencia, president and co-founder of IdeaSpace, said there is a need to sustain the momentum that has fueled local startups to become a nurturing environment for innovative ideas. 

But more than the promise of a business that could someday generate jobs or penetrate the local and international market, many startups have one thing in common: they offer solutions to some of the country’s biggest challenges.

Show me your love (of country and learning)

Husband-and-wife team Nico and Terry Tucson developed an app that promotes early literacy and Filipino culture. With two young kids of their own, the Tucsons said they were never satisfied with apps available in the App Store. Their wish was for more apps to be made available that Filipino children could relate to and learn from.

The company’s first completed app, Halina’t Bumasa (Parts of the Body), is designed to foster early literacy. The app is translated in English, Tagalog, Ilongo and Cebuano and plans are under way to introduce it in more languages.

“It’s not about competitive advantage or academic advantage. We developed the app so children could learn to express themselves and relate to their community better,” she said. 


“Every year, 24 million Filipino elementary and high school students go to school,” said Elaine de Velez, founder and CEO of FrontLearners. “In 2015, the World Economic Forum reported that the Philippines ranked 82nd in Global Competitiveness of Primary Education, just above Bangladesh and Myanmar. We are very far behind our Asian neighbors.”

“For the past eight years,” she added, ”the target score in the National Achievement test has not been achieved. The average score for fourth year high school students in 2015 was only 54 percent. This is not acceptable. Why is this happening? And what can we do about this?”

FrontLearners’ solution is ready-to-use and cost-effected blended learning for schools.

Velez says blended learning has been around for some time, but most are difficult to implement and not sustainable. “Imagine a class of 40 students with one teacher,” she says. 

The app, BlendEd, integrates e-learning technologies in the classroom to implement mastery learning better. 

“We are making it easy for students and teachers through the BlendEd Box. It contains 3,000 e-learning lessons and more than 10,000 assessment questions and we are developing even more,” she said.

Better agriculture  

French Lorilla, co-founder of CloudFarmInnovations Inc., says his teammates come from a family of farmers and one of the biggest problems farmers face in their farms is crop heat stress, or when crops get too much exposure to heat that results in low quantity and quality of production.

“The Philippines has 4.8 million farms, and crop heat stress affects 1.7 million farms, causing a loss of P10.1 billion,” he shares, adding that in his hometown in Davao alone, they lose P2 billion in income due to crop heat stress. “We want to help the farmers so we developed a solution called a heat stress analyzer.”

It works three ways: it monitors the environmental condition of the crop by measuring heat levels, the amount of sunlight, relative humidity and soil moisture; it analyzes the data and warns the farmer if the crops are being affected by too much stress and even provides recommendations based on the analytics; it automatically controls crop heat stress when it is pre-installed with the irrigation system.

Pursuing the E-Trike dream

If you want to solve air pollution, or at least minimize it, you don’t need to look any further than your own neighbourhood. The tricycle is one of the biggest contributors to pollution.

JustGo, a startup that aims to transform public utility tricycles into hybrids through an innovative conversion technology, says that there are 900,000 tricycles and motorcycles in the country today. Twenty percent of these are in Manila and comprise 45 percent of harmful compounds in the air.

“In 2012, the government launched the e-trike dream, which aimed to phase out 100,000 tricycles with electric tricycles or e-trike by 2016. The aim is to reduce carbon dioxide in the air and dependency on oil. The reality is that there are less than 500 e-trikes today,” JustGo says.

The JustGo solution: tricycle hybrid or the tri-brid. Their conversion kit can turn ordinary tricycles into electric hybrids. With a single charge, the e-trike could travel 30 to 50 kilometers at a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour.

Target launch of the vehicle is in the second quarter of 2016.

Tap water to energy

It is a fact: Filipinos spend 10 to 14 per cent of our income on energy cost. We cannot stop the growing demand for energy and there is a wide clamor for developing renewable energy sources.

Stream Energy wants to build energy-efficient buildings by producing hydro-electricity from their own tap water system to save on energy costs.

Rafael de La Cruz, co-founder of Stream Energy, says the concept of producing hydroelectricity has been around for decades. “What we plan to do is place our turbines in the elevated tanks of buildings so that any time a person consumes water in the facility, the turbine spins and produce energy.”

Large buildings, he says, can consume as much as 90 million liters of water or more per month. If they can produce their own hydroelectricity, they can supplement their energy needs. 

Safer air and sea travel

As an archipelego, we have 7,100 islands and our main means of transportation from going one island to another is air and sea travel. We have 429 fishing ports, 821 commercial ports. We have only two being monitored now.

Arcelio Fetizanan Jr., chief executive officer of Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise (FAME), says that this is the reason why we have big maritime disasters.

On the other hand, he says we have 85 airports but only 10 has radar capability. “There are many solutions available right now, but they are very expensive,” Fetizanan says.  

FAME’s solution is an aviation and maritime transponder and gateway for small maritime vessels. “Pilots and captains can use it as secondary radars. They can now have monitoring capability if they have our product,” he said.

  In the four months that the company has been working on this product, Fetizanan says they have already developed six prototypes.


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