Cerulean waters and white sand beaches are most people’s first impressions of the island of Cebu. But while Cebu City might not have as many start-ups as Manila, the current innovation capital of the Philippines, it also hosts a nascent start-up scene – and young companies here are thriving.
‘[When I arrived six years ago], there were only a few start-up founders, mentors and communities, and little support from schools and the government,’ says Orly T Darnayla, the founder of innovation community Entrepreneur Beach Club Ph. Since then, Cebu has gone through dramatic changes, and he’s confident about the city’s future as a major regional start-up hub.
One notable success story is Symph, a mobile and web development studio. ‘I think Cebu has a great diversity of talent and that is something entrepreneurs need,’ says Symph founder Dave Overton. ‘The outsourcing boom has laid the foundation and now it’s a great time to build start-ups on top of that.’ Others also cite the city’s geographical location at the centre of the nation as one of the reasons for the pluricultural spirit of the scene, giving it an advantage in adapting to different markets.
Those looking for networking opportunities will find events run by organisations and an array of co-working spaces. ‘Among the most startup-friendly are ASpace and The Company Cebu,’ says Carlo Yaptinchay of start-up incubator QBO.
A sense of optimism is looming around the city. In 2018, QBO teamed up with the Department of Trade and Industry Philippines to survey Cebu’s entrepreneurs. The results praise the city’s many start-up evangelists and the growing number of investors, while highlighting companies that are making a mark on the national and global scene. It also notes that the creation of local incubators, better outreach to female entrepreneurs and more support from the city’s business sector could galvanise growth in the next few years. There’s work to be done – but the talent, passion and ambition are all there.
Sheryl Satorre-Estella and Kareen Satorre
Sisters Sheryl Satorre-Estella and Kareen Satorre are the founders of innovation consulting start-up Bosina Studios. They are passionate evangelists in the scene, playing a key role in helping Cebu’s start-ups find their feet.
Sheryl teaches technopreneurship at the University of Cebu, where she is the co-ordinator for the Beehive programme. Funded by the European Commission, it aims to turn selected universities in seven countries into entrepreneurial ecosystems. She also serves as a mentor for bootcamps and competitions, such as the Philippine Startup Challenge and Cebu Launchpad.
Meanwhile, Kareen started her career as a volunteer at events like Startup Weekend Cebu, before becoming senior marketing manager and community manager for tech summits TechTalks.ph and Geeks On A Beach.
‘Cebu may not have produced as many start-ups as other developing cities, but we’re getting there,’ says Kareen. ‘With strong support from the government and private sectors, it’s all up to the companies how they can leverage these resources.’
The 2019 ranking of the Philippines’ start-up ecosystem among 100 countries, up 16 slots since 2017, according to StartupBlink.
The approximate number of start-ups based in the Philippines as of 2018, most of which were founded after 2012.
The percentage of Philippines-based start-ups that have plans to enter new markets in the next five years, according to a 2017 PwC survey.
Helping Cebuans navigate natural disasters
In 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda rampaged across the Philippines, and it was in the midst of this natural disaster that a then one-year-old Tudlo Innovation Solutions, a mobile and web development start-up, was put to the test. Founders Yvonne and Vince Loremia created the Tudlo disaster and emergency response app to help share information about the storm and aid emergency teams in co-ordinating their efforts, by providing them with location data, disaster maps and warnings, as well as step-by-step instructions to guide users to safety.
The app went on to win an award at the ITU Telecom World 2013, and Tudlo soon followed with a second disaster app, Batingaw, in collaboration with the Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Tudlo is now one of Cebu’s most notable start-up success stories, with the potential to make a global impact.
Ones to Watch
This app aims to enhance brand engagement and awareness by offering users rewards if they participate in various promo campaigns.
Founded in 2012, this ride-hailing app services Cebu, Metro Manila, Davao and Iloilo, and it has nationwide ambitions.
This mobile engagement platform allows organisations to create and distribute voice calls, SMS and WeChat messages to promote their latest products, services and more.
Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong to Cebu 14 times a week