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Five Filipino Tech Startups to Watch

Trefor Moss
April 12, 2015 1:36 a.m. ET 

The next big technology startup may come from the Philippines, with entrepreneurs there seeking to address the everyday challenges of people in developing countries. Here are five Filipino startups to watch: 

Awesome Lab/RetailStork
A startup incubator with a difference, Awesome Lab hires aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs and gives them a creative environment in which to work on tech projects. It now employs 15 people, having opened in 2014.
“We wanted to create a safety net where failure is an option,” said Matthew Cua, the 26-year-old president of Awesome Lab. Silicon Valley encourages failure as part of the learning curve, “but in the Philippines failure is something you avoid like hell,” Mr. Cua said. 

The Awesome Lab team works on commissions, and recently built an intuitive drinks dispenser for Coca-Cola which releases a can of soda whenever a customer smiles. But the ultimate objective is for the entrepreneurs to develop their own startups within the secure environment the lab provides, and then when they’re ready spin them out of Awesome Lab, which retains shares in the new venture. RetailStork, which builds smart shelves for retailers providing data about shopping habits, is about to become the first startup to leave the Awesome Lab nest, said Mr. Cua. “Awesome Lab will be one of those places people came from,” he said. “By then we’ll have built a brand, and we’ll have a legacy.”


“What OK Cupid does for dating, we want to do for jobs,” said Paul Rivera, founder & CEO of Kalibrr, a startup which aims to reinvent the business of job-seeking online. The 32-year-old ex- Google employee began developing Kalibrr as a “talent marketplace” where job seekers can pass online qualifications to improve their CVs, and then connect with companies that pay Kalibrr to put forward the best candidates to compete for its vacancies. Kalibrr has so far enrolled 3,000 companies and 60,000 applicants, but is now adding 1,000 applicants a day as it ramps up, said Mr. Rivera, who dreams of disrupting a Southeast Asian online jobs market currently dominated by Jobstreet Corp, owned by Seek Ltd. of Australia. Kalibrr recently raised $1.6 million in a second rounding of funding, Mr. Rivera said, and plans to expand into Indonesia in Q3.

Credit is unattainable for millions of Filipinos: the country’s banks have plenty of money, but they won’t lend to people with no credit history. Lenddo aims to remedy this by bridging the gap between banks and would-be borrowers. Originally from the U.K., co-founder & CEO Richard Eldridge first hit on the idea of starting Lenddo while running an outsourcing company in Manila. 

“My workers would keep coming to me asking for loans to pay for education, or home repairs, or medical bills,” he recalled. “I realized that micro-lending here was all done personally – the banks wouldn’t lend.”
After initially conceiving Lenddo as a micro-lender in 2011, Mr. Eldridge soon refocused the company’s efforts on building algorithms that use social-media footprints to build credit scores for people with no financial track record. The company has now helped six of the Philippines’ top 10 banks make over 80,000 credit decisions, Mr. Eldridge said, and has expanded into Colombia and Mexico.

A career in big pharma with the likes of Pfizer, Roche and Johnson & Johnson taught mClinica founder & CEO Farouk Meralli how little drug companies know about their customers in developing countries.
“I always saw a problem with ‘last mile data’,” said the 29-year-old Canadian, “and my idea was to create a company to solve that.”
The Philippines was the natural home for this project, he said, and since setting up in 2013 Mr. Meralli has built a network of around 1,500 local drugstores – half of the total nationwide – and enrolled them in mClinica Connect, a loyalty scheme through which customers give their mobile phone number to their nearest pharmacy in exchange for discounted medicines and medical information.
The stores themselves benefit from increased customer loyalty, Mr. Meralli said, while the big pharmaceutical companies – who are mClinica’s paying clients – get higher sales and rich market data.
“We see it as a massive public health intervention, but through the private sector,” said Mr. Meralli, who is now gearing up for rollouts in Indonesia and Vietnam.

SALt Corp.
Anyone who took high-school chemistry knows that metal electrodes placed in salt water form a circuit capable of generating tiny amounts of electrical current, but Aisa Mijeno found a way to boost the power substantially by redesigning – and then patenting – the circuit’s metal components. 

The result was the SALt Lamp, which runs for eight hours powered only by one cup of salt water or seawater. It also has a USB socket for charging phones, a reassuring addition in the disaster-prone Philippines. She is now partnering with NGOs to help distribute the lamp on a large scale across the developing world, and plans to market a high-end version to outdoor product companies. The first 5,000 models will be ready for field-testing by June, Ms. Mijeno said, and a production line is being set up in her home region of Batangas, south of Manila.

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