Anti-Marcos activist who became Silicon Valley success to speak at GOAB

By Edd K. Usman

An activist jailed by the Marcos dictatorship who later became a Silicon Valley entrepreneur will be the keynote speaker in this year’s Geeks on a Beach (GOAB) to be held in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

Yobie Benjamin was imprisoned by the dictatorship and later became an entrepreneur at Silicon Valley

Yobie Benjamin was imprisoned by the dictatorship and later became an entrepreneur at Silicon Valley

Yobie Benjamin, who helped raise $40 million for Avegant even before it produced its first intelligent wearable headset, will deliver his speech — and hopefully provide inspiration — for participants in this year’s GOAB, said Tina Amper, founder of TechTalks.ph, which is behind GOAB.

Besides talking about Avegant — which also built Skully, a smart motorcycle helmet that allows users to receive and make phone calls — Benjamin is also expected to share his experiences in helping save the environment, Amper said.

Benjamin’s interests include environmental preservation, which explains why he invested in a startup seeking to protect wildlife in Kenya and mangrove forests in Brazil.

Amper, who founded TechTalks.ph, added that the Filipino-American tech whiz also raised $18.5 million for Token, a company that provides software to banks that enables them to issue a new type of payment designed specifically for use in the digital era.

Benjamin is currently the chief technology officer (CTO) of clickSWITCH, CTO emeritus of Token.io, and co-founder of Avegant. He is also a 2015 Technology Pioneer of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

For GOAB 5, public and the private sectors have partnered to try to find technology fixes for the ills affecting the environment, making Palawan an appropriate venue because of its many globally recognized environmental wonders such as the underground river, the Tubbataha Reef, and world-class beaches.

“We hope the presence of Benjamin will inspire local startups and MSMEs,” said Amper, who herself was previously based in the United States but returned home to help grow the country’s “emerging” startup community. “We are looking forward to having this global technology leader interact with industry leaders and the startup community to drive action for the betterment of the Philippines and the world.”

GOAB still aims “for measurable impact of startups by facilitating potential projects and business deals, not only for individual companies but also for the Philippine startup ecosystem,” she added.

As in years past, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is a GOAB co-organizer, providing support ever since the agency started out as the defunct ICT Office then under the the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). In 2016, the ICT Office morphed as the core of the DICT based on Republic Act 10844.

“In behalf of DICT, we are very very happy (to continue supporting GOAB). It is all about showing the best of the Philippines, providing the venue, giving opportunities, luring foreign people, providing funds,” DICT Undersecretary Monchito “Mon” Ibrahim said.

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