Founder Spotlight: Mel Nava of 1Export, Linking MSMEs to the World

By Ysa Lauta

MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises) compose about 90% of the businesses here in the Philippines.  These MSMEs also create roughly 60% of employment opportunities locally. However, only 20% of them have access to export opportunities.

The potential impact to the economy if these MSMEs begin exporting is immense: their sales and overall business could improve along with employment, and Filipino and Southeast Asian brands will be known globally. This is what 1Export hopes to achieve by providing end-to-end services that help MSMEs go global.

Local to Global

The export industry in the Philippines has yet to incorporate technology and innovation in a meaningful way. Cumbersome, old-fashioned processes and documentary requirements make the average Filipino businessman afraid of exporting their goods. There is also a preconceived notion that smaller businesses can’t succeed.

1Export uses technology to make documentation and processes easier, debunking the misconception that smaller businesses have small chances in exporting. They do this by providing an end-to-end solution that supports suppliers in the Philippines and buyers abroad: matching, documentation, labeling, order processing and payment for suppliers based in the Philippines as well as similar solutions for buyers abroad.

Expansion and Growth

From their first shipment in Qatar, 1Export is now shipping to countries across the globe. Their team has also grown from just two employees in 2018 to a cross-functional team of 16. However, the startup has encountered their fair share of challenges along the way.

1Export was unprofitable their first year of operations, allocating resources to build their knowledge base. “A lot of time was spent just understanding and studying compliance to international markets and key areas across industries,” shares Marco Ladios, Chief Innovations Officer of 1Export. “Building and sustaining relationships with different local and international stakeholders is also a challenge.” But with 1Export’s recent growth, it can be said that they are successful in overcoming these challenges.

One breakthrough came from Ideaspace, which gave 1Export the push and validation that they needed to expand their company. Another took place when 1Export won Gojek Xcelerate presents Simona Accelerator APAC Women Founders in Indonesia.


1Export founder Mel Nava at the Gojek Xcelerate presents Simona Accelerator APAC Women Founders.

Femme Fatale

Mel Nava, founder of 1Export, worked at a FMCG company before becoming a full time MBA student. In business school, she conceptualized 1Export for a business competition. After graduating, she turned it into a side project while working at a consulting firm, going fulltime in 2017.

“It’s not an easy job to be a full-time entrepreneur. Especially at a startup.” Mel answers when asked about her experience. “The export industry is predominantly male and as a female entrepreneur you must step up your game to prove yourself. Entrepreneurs, especially women, often encounter situations where you have to choose and sacrifice something… in those situations, you must decide where you will be happier and where your values and passion are aligned.”

Purpose drives her. As a founder, she sees her role as not only ensuring 1Export is expanding but also that the whole ecosystem of the MSMEs in the Philippines is thriving through access to more markets. As we end our conversation, she notes, “We need more women founders and entrepreneurs to thrive... Seeing other women succeed encourages more women to start their own ventures. If not, it sends the wrong message to the women in the future. We don’t need that — we need to have equality someday.”

Click here for more information on 1Export.