The Philippines is on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s leading innovators in the tech industry, particularly in the areas of solutions in the areas of disaster preparedness, healthcare, and social services.
But several key barriers still need to be broken if local inventors are to cash in on new ideas that can benefit not just the millions of Filipinos, but the over one billion people still living in poverty in emerging countries around the world.
Speaking at a quarterly forum hosted by the Information Technology Journalists Association of the Philippines (ITJAP), also known as Cyberpress, Ideaspace Foundation co-founder and president Earl Valencia said the Philippines is on track to becoming a knowledge-driven economy.
“The country is on the cusp of being a leading innovator in the world,” Valencia said at the forum, which was co-sponsored by Ideaspace affiliate Smart Communications.
Speaking at the same forum were representatives from four of the 10 start-ups that Ideaspace admitted into its incubator program earlier this year.
Each of the companies, all owned by Filipinos, have been working on solutions that address problems faced by billions of people still living in third-world conditions, Valencia stressed.
“These entrepreneurs live these problems every day. In Silicon Valley, people create solutions designed for emerging markets based on abstract ideas. They only think they know our problems,” he said.
The four start-ups are scheduled to unveil the product of six months of work under Ideaspace, with the hopes of getting more funding either from Ideaspace or other venture capitalists, on November 16.
The start-ups at the forum were:
• Pinoy Travel: A new online bus reservation service that aims to modernize the decades-old process of booking bus tickets in the Philippines.
• Gen 8: A company that developed a “braille” phone that would allow people with visual impairments to send text messages unassisted.
• Tech4Health: A company that wants to help people living with diabetes and hypertension to better manage their health conditions.
• Arthrologic: A firm that has successfully designed new knee implants that are meant for Asians. These implants are also cheaper to manufacture, making knee implants more affordable.
Speaking at the same forum, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) assistant secretary Raymond Liboro said the Aquino administration has worked hard over the last three years to create an environment that is conducive to innovation.
“The administration’s support for innovation has been right there from the start,” Liboro said. He said the government has put in place several programs and policies that aim to help inventors and researchers thrive in the country.
Among the new programs put in place by the DOST under the present administration is the Patent Assistance project that seeks to help inventors protect their ideas with the help of local intellectual property laws.
Unfortunately, Liboro said Filipinos produce just an estimated 200 patents for new technologies every year. Southeast Asian neighbors like Indonesia and Malaysia produce 2,200 and 2,800 respectively on average every year.
Latest data from the Intellectual Property Office showed that 186 applications for patents were approved in 2011, down from 216 approvals in 2008.
Liboro said the number of patents a country produces annually has become one of the yardsticks used by the international start-up community in determining a market’s potential as a center for innovation.
These patents, he said, would also help ensure that inventors are protected from unscrupulous entrepreneurs want to cash in on other peoples’ ideas.
Liboro also highlighted the DOST’s Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or Project Noah, which has helped the government and the private sector improve its response to the dozens of storms that hit the country every year.
Project Noah, the umbrella term for all disaster preparedness-related projects under the DOST, was named IT Product of the Year by Cyberpress in 2012. It is best known for its website and mobile phone application that allow people to track storms in the country.
But, Liboro said other programs under Noah include the creation of more detailed hazard maps with a scale of 1: 5,000 (from the 1: 50,000-scale maps available today) that would give local governments a better understanding of the challenges they face during typhoons.
Liboro said Project Noah illustrates the ability of Filipino engineers and scientists to help millions of Filipinos by coming up with solutions to age-old problems.
“It’s easy to innovate in the Philippines because we have a lot of problems to solve,” Liboro said.
Other DOST projects that aim to help innovators include:
• The Invention Guarantee Fund (IGF): this serves as a form of collateral that entrepreneurs can present to banks to be able to get loans.
• Republic Act 10055, or the Technology Transfer Act that allows scientists to commercialize products borne out of government-funded research.
• DOST Technology Business Incubator program, which offers low-rent offices and other perks for qualified technology start-ups.