Vance Ching of Launchgarage
The Safe Space for Tech Startups
By Xavier Selman
The startup culture heralded by the techies of Silicon Valley has been growing exponentially over the last several years, to the point where now just hearing the word “startup” evokes images of tech, creativity, and lots of money. But defining “startup” exactly is somewhat of a tough endeavor. Adora Cheung of U.S. startup, Homejoy, puts it best: “Start up is a state of mind. It’s when people join your company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making immediate impact.”
Meet Philippine-based Launchgarage. Launchgarage offers Philippine startups the space, resources, and contacts they’ll need to best outfit them for the crowded world of the startup industry. With the tagline, “An Innovation Hub In Manila”, Launchgarage provides Philippine startups with everything a startup would naturally need to break out, as well as connecting those interested in startups with one another. We spoke with Launchgarage’s Community Hacker, Vance Ching, for the low-down on everything and Launchgarage aims to achieve.
What is Launchgarage?
In Silicon Valley over three hundred startups work together in a giant office space where ideas are fostered, business relations are made, and entire companies take off, with success stories including PayPal, Dropbox, SoundHound. All of this from what is known as Plug and Play—and this is what Launchgarage offers, for the Philippine market. Jojo Flores, COO of Launchgarage, also co-founded Plug and Play, so the experience and aptitude is obviously there: all we need now is the market. Another big name behind Launchgarage is Jay Fajardo, CEO and founder of Launchgarage, who has been in the Philippine and Southeast Asian tech scene since it first began.
“Right now in the Philippines there isn’t any hub for tech startups to get into,” Vance says. Launchgarage intends to change that: by offering their services to various tech startups, they become not only the middleman between startups and opportunity but the lodestone of the Philippine tech startup scene, which is actively growing year after year. “Our services are for the tech startup industry, definitely.”
Startups, Businesses, and Entrepreneurship in the Philippines
The idea of startups in the Philippines is still relatively young. “Students think that working in a startup will give them the experience and flexibility they’ll need for growth,” Vance says, but that doesn’t mean most students are convinced. The allure of working for corporations is still predominant in our culture, as the weaknesses of our economy have led to a hesitant middle class that struggles to maintain itself. But with one of the youngest working forces in Asia, the potential in the Philippines is off the charts, and Vance hopes that Launchgarage can be on top to capitalize on it.
“There is much human capital here to be tapped into.” Unfortunately, it’s the leadership that we lack, because one of the largest problems for Philippine startups is finding co-founders. What’s the issue? “Equity,” Vance claims. “A lot of people here don’t value equity yet, and it’s more of income first.” Though it can be difficult to put much blame on a risk-aversive people who are only recently climbing the global economic charts, Vance hopes that the younger generation can help kickstart the Philippine startup industry to a globally competitive position, and services like Launchgarage are here to help.
But how do we inspire entrepreneurship? “Passion,” Vance says, claiming that the number one difference between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs is the end-goal: both want to make money, but entrepreneurs take it a step further. “Entrepreneurs want to create because of their passions, something that supplies a long-term benefit to the people.”
Funding, Innovation, and Problems in Manila
“Most startups here try to go for international funding rather than looking for local funding.” Finding local investors is nearly impossible in the Philippines, which is why most startups look abroad, in Singapore, the US, and countries in Europe. And banks here don’t help either: “Banks don’t have the programs, support, or knowledge of providing money to startups, considering that startups are high-risk.” The problem rests in the lack of proven Philippine startup success stories. Once Philippine startups begin proving that our market exists, banks and local investors will begin to open their wallets. “It’s really a matter of time.” And this is starting to come to fruition: banks are starting to take interest in the rise of startups, but it’s still not one of their main interests.
So how can we diversify the innovativeness of our startups? “We want startups coming from Mindanao and Visayas.” Agriculture is one area severely in need of innovation. It’s about targeting the needs of the people, and if startups can figure out something that can help our agriculture, not only would they hit with the Philippine market but markets in other developing countries as well, such as India and Cambodia. “Startups are a bit Manila-centric, making it similar to startup ideas coming from abroad. If you’re coming from the provinces, the problems are very different, and it’s still about providing the necessary means of living.”
But the problems of creating a business in Manila remain the same: our traffic and our government. With hours wasted per day stuck in traffic and weeks if not months worth of government paperwork to be filed every time a business needs legal documentation, there is much that the current administration can still work on before we can consider our country a startup-friendly place. The density of Manila is a problem that is felt in more places than one: this density creates a lack of exposure of ideas around Manila, thus forcing a need for people to gravitate towards the Metro and nowhere else.
“We want to provide more opportunities, growing the current established ecosystem that supports tech startups.” It’s a bold and noble ambition, and one that we believe is genuine. You may be wondering how Launchgarage makes money: aside from their affordable rental office space, they take a small percentage from their partnered startups, in exchange for their list of international contacts, potential investors, and interested third parties. In just four months of operations, already over twenty startups established in the Launchgarage community, with more and more investors—local and international—every month flying in and listening to the pitches of Launchgarage’s startups.
It’s a long road, definitely, before we see the Philippine tech startup scene anywhere near the level of that in the US or even Singapore, but the path to success is molded by those with the passion and ideals of Launchgarage. Here’s to a bright future.