On a weekend when most professionals are resting their tired minds, Jan Ralph was busy in explaining the advantages of WattSmart to exhibit visitors and curious onlookers who happen to pass by the activity area of the Bonifacio High Street in Taguig. He was elucidating how a modem-like gadget could save electricity cost for businesses and households with numerous devices.
Their product, as most of the other exhibitors’ also, is somewhat revolutionary so it takes him quite a while in describing its benefits. The same predicament are experienced by the other 20-plus exhibitors, but they still gladly entertain all who happen to stop by their booths.
Jan Ralph, the co-founder of WattSmart, revealed that they’re currently in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in aiding local businesses, especially the manufacturing industry, in minimizing energy wastage. They have a target of 150 installations over one year. That’s almost one installation every two days. It’s quite a tall order for a small startup who now gets most of their funding by bootstrapping and from their revenue.
When asked on how they could grow their business, his answer could not have been more obvious: “more funding”. The Mechanical Engineering graduate from UP-Diliman said that “the infusion of more funds would give us the resources to improve the product and fast-track the production process so that we could cater to more customers”.
Last year, the Philippines launched a roadmap for startups (see document here: http://www.techtalks.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Philippine-Roadmap-for-Digital-Startups-FinalDraft_launch.pdf), with the goal of creating 500 startups with total funding of US$200 million and a valuation of US$2 billion by 2020.
However, as most observer noted, “nothing happened”.
It is expected as there seems to be no one taking the cudgels for the roadmap and the target is just a number that no one seems to mind if it’s on course of hitting or not. A related article* succinctly describes the predicament: Stakeholders – from the private and public sectors – were supposed to develop a coherent strategic plan on how to achieve these goals and execute that plan. The operative word is “supposed”. The stakeholders are not required to achieve the goals.
With the investment support system in the country that is almost non-existent, it is up to Jan Ralph and the other startup founders to find their own funding. And despite their busy schedule of keeping their company afloat with limited funding, they accepted the invitation to showcase their product in this startup festival, one of the very few organized by both public and private entities.
“We’ll never know. We might be talking to someone here who could help us in providing us more funding or connecting us to someone who could. We recognize the fact that there’s not much angel investors and venture capitalists in the country even compared to our neighboring southeast Asian nations. But we’ll take our chances in these festivals. Besides, the exhibit is free of charge for us. This is a big help so that our product could become more known to those outside our circles.”
The band started to play in the background to add a vibrant atmosphere to a humid day and photographers taking snaps of each booth’s activities. But the exhibitors were unperturbed. They just have one goal — excite the next potential customer.
And there’s no denying the excitement in Jan Ralph’s face as a couple of passers-by approach the WattSmart booth. He’s about to explain how to make energy smarter.