Small businesses urged to go digital, join e-commerce revolution

By Edd K. Usman

Now is the time for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the country to go digital and participate in e-commerce to take advantage of technological innovations.

Union Bank EVP and head of the center for strategic partnerships Genaro V. Lapez discussing Ureka Forum and its objective of ushering in MSMEs to the digital age

Union Bank EVP and head of the center for strategic partnerships Genaro V. Lapez discussing Ureka Forum and its objective of ushering in MSMEs to the digital age

The Ureka Forum, described as “the country’s biggest mass conversion program for SMEs,” sent out this message after noting that only one percent of these small businesses has online presence through a website of their own.

Ureka Forum, backed by the Union Bank of the Philippines and its consortium of partners, made the clarion call in preparation for its biggest forum yet on February 25 at the SM Megamall in Pasig City.

Figures in 2014 released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and cited by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) showed the Philippines has 946,988 business establishments, with 99.6 percent (942,925) of them MSMEs. Only 0.4 percent (4,063) are large enterprises.

Of the MSMEs, micro enterprises number 851,756 (90.3 percent); small enterprises, 87,283 (9.3 percent); and medium enterprises, 3,886 (0.4 percent). Only one percent of them is on e-commerce, however, missing the opportunity to be reach a wider audience and market.

The Ureka Forum, which started in 2015, wants to help digitally empower these MSMEs.

In an interview, Union Bank EVP and head of the center for strategic partnerships Genaro V. Lapez cited a report made by Google in 2015 about the Philippines, which noted that only one percent of the local MSMEs has a website.

This is in spite of the country’s increasing number of mobile phones penetration and Filipinos being one of the most voracious users of the Internet.

“We see there is a disconnect and we felt that based on experience of developed and other developing countries, it is very important that you have a solid and sustainable middle class and the majority of the middle class is really the SMEs,” said Lapez.

“Digital is moving strong in the Philippines and yet the SMEs are left behind,” he added. Lapez said they then realized that “that is where we contribute because we need a vibrant business community because that is what banks need anyway.”

Thus, Ureka Forum was born with Union Bank as lead convener and with consortium partners such as PLDT SME Nation, Air21, Shopinas, DragonPay, AMTI, GeiserMaclang Marketing and Communications, PanahonTV, and Esquire Financing, Inc.

All MSMEs registered with DTI are eligible to join Ureka Forum (with a fee of P500 for a website creation). Ureka is also working along with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Lapez emphasized that the Philippines possesses all the ingredients to become an ideal e-commerce marketplace with 60 million smartphone users and strong base of Internet users.

He said local MSMEs has a potential market of 400 million in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) aside from 110 million of their countrymen.

He said Ureka Forum has over 300 eCadets sent out in the field and has attracted over 700 MSMEs already to its fold.

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