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IN FOCUS: Filipino Women at the Highest Suite of the Startup Scene

By Alyanna Silvestre
Published March 11, 2022

It’s National Women’s Month! As women take center stage, we ought to celebrate the month-long nationwide observance in one of the best ways to do so: by giving the spotlight to Filipinas sitting comfortably and deservingly on their respective C-suite seats. This time, however, we’ll be naming some female leaders who established their presence in the startup scene before the industry really took off and women who took advantage of the scene’s momentum years later, all despite being in a country that’s not really known for its tech development.

Stephanie Sy, CEO and Co-founder of Thinking Machines

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Having that unmotivated feeling towards her job in Silicon Valley and the craving to move closer to family has been the recipe that stirred a data science company startup into reality for Stephanie Sy, now the founder, CEO and lead data scientist of Thinking Machines, one of the most respected data science agencies in the Philippines.

Using AI and cloud data, Thinking Machines aids companies and leaders to “pull structured insights out of unstructured big data” in order to make more informed decisions. In simpler terms, the company educates brands and leaders about the use of machine learning and data storytelling to interpret and understand important and complicated information or data. 

Aside from working with brands in the corporate sector, Thinking Machines also contributes to the civic sector, academic institutions, and government. It also harnesses and analyzes data for the betterment of society, still with the use of AI and machine learning.

Sy was among the 300 young innovators honored on the 2018 Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 List and is an Asia Society Young Leader.

Katrina Chan, Director and Co-founder of QBO Innovation Hub

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When we talk about the startup industry in the Philippines, it’s practically impossible to not stumble upon QBO Innovation Hub, the first public-private partnership platform for Filipino startups, and Katrina Chan, the very individual who built and fought for an ecosystem for startups to thrive in.

After obtaining her B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering with a double major in Business Administration at Carnegie Mellon University and being exposed to innovation and tech startups in the vibrant Silicon Valley, she found her way back to the Philippines with the drive to make an impact on the local tech startup community, which she found was almost non-existent. With this and the Filipino value bayanihan spirit, she did the work to redefine the local startup scene, create more opportunities, and write even more success stories. She led the establishment of QBO – an initiative that now oversees incubation and mentorship programs, growth strategies, and networking events – in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), private players JP Morgan and tech accelerator IdeaSpace in 2016 to kickstart the Philippines’ tech startup ecosystem. According to QBO’s website, its community grew with over 500 programs, over 10,000 members, and 400 startups from various stages and industries, all under Chan’s leadership.

With her grit and angst, which she believes aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs should sport more, she has been the recipient of several accolades, including the United Nations Asia Pacific Women Empowerment Principles’ regional award for Youth Leadership and the first Mansmith Innovation Awards, which recognized her as Enterprise Innovator for Business Model Innovation. 

Katrina Razon, CEO and Founder of KSR Ventures

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Despite the big shadow her billionaire father, Enrique Razon, casts, Katrina found a way to step out of that and into her own spotlight as a venture capitalist focused on impact investing and music.

The young Razon has worn many different hats in the entertainment industry as she took on the role of a disc jockey as DJ Katsu, as well as a live event and festival producer. In that same industry, she chanced upon the wonders of impact investing, learned its ins and outs, and ended up establishing KSR Ventures, a net positive-driven investment firm that caters to social enterprises across education, medical devices, enterprise-based AI, and blockchain sectors that have sustainability, environmentalism, and conservation in mind.

She is also the producer of Wonderfruit Festival, one of the few sustainable music festivals in the world, and a managing partner and creative director at her own events company, CC: Concepts. Outside work, you can find her teaching yoga, spinning music still, staying true to her advocacy and commitment to protect the environment, or going on adventures around the world.

Mel Nava, CEO and Co-founder of 1Export Trades and Services

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It all started out as a simple desire to help local micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and the hunger to be free before turning 30. It, however, turned into something phenomenal, with a woman succeeding in a male-dominated industry as the founder and CEO of Philippine-based logistics startup 1Export, known as a one-stop platform for cross-border trade and fulfillment services.

Melissa Nava has always had a flair in business and a knack for establishing relationships, and this translated well with the progress of 1Export through the years. With 1Export, Nava intended to help MSMEs overcome export barriers, break into the international trade world, and open opportunities for Filipinos wherever they are by bringing trade and export processes to the digital space to make the bureaucratic process more tolerable and simple. It’s meant to help entrepreneurs of all types grow their businesses and tap different countries, and it’s something that Nava’s company has been accomplishing even with the presence of the pandemic. Today, the company exports products ranging from food to agriculture to beauty and much more from all over the Philippines in 28 overseas countries.

Alodia Gosiengfiao Chief Creative Officer and Co-founder of Tier One Entertainment 

Photo Credit: Tier-One-Entertainment

She may be known as an international cosplay icon, but she’s definitely more than one as she’s also a “role model of a generation of gamers who dares to be different.”

With her passion and knowledge of the content distribution and gaming world, and the booming gaming industry driven by thousands of gaming content creators and pro-gamers, it’s unsurprising to see opportunities arise in this sector, which Alodia Gosiengfiao did not take for granted. In 2017, she co-founded Tier One Entertainment, the Philippines’ first gaming and esports agency, along with esports veteran Tryke Gutierrez. The goal? To take the esports arena in the Philippines to the next level with winning formulas that will help hone their talents to become gaming superstars and, ultimately, make a gamer’s dream a reality. 

Hiyasmin Neri-Soyao, CEO and Co-founder of Shoppertainment Live Inc.

From being an actress and host to producing and managing her own programs, Hiyasmin Neri-Soyao craved and wanted more, so she did not settle and instead explored her potential. Today, one can say that she has finally found her calling in the world of e-commerce as she now sits as the CEO and the face of a full-production live streaming company she co-founded called Shoppertainment Live. 

After testing the waters of entrepreneurship in her younger years and taking an interest in China’s livestream shopping craze, she took inspiration from the ‘shoppertainment’ trend to sell goods during live streams and, together with several business partners, co-founded Shoppertainment Live just before the accelerated digital transformation took the world by storm. The startup enables brands and multinational companies to stay on top of their digital marketing game and bring their products closer to their target market through informative and engaging live stream shopping. Today, the company, which started in a makeshift studio, has seven diverse and fully functional “Livestyle” ones that can cater to various categories to capture the ever-growing live commerce market.

Think that’s impressive? Here are some more worth mentioning!

  • Aiko Reyes, COO and co-founder of Peddlr

  • Ariane Lim, Co-CEO and co-founder of AcadArena

  • Beryl Chavez Li, Co-founder of Yield Guild Games

  • Agnes Gervacio, CEO of MDI Novare

  • Kim Lato, Owner, CEO, and Founder of Kimstore

  • Crystal Gonzalez, CEO and Co-founder of PICK.A.ROO

And that’s the last we’ve got, although that was still a lot and there are still plenty more out there that we haven’t had the chance to mention. May that fact, though, serve as a reminder that even if entering the tech scene means a lot of challenges and extra work to exert effort in for women, they have the smarts, the wit, and so much more that makes them a force to be reckoned with.