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UPSCALE: Driving Innovation and Growth in the Philippine Startup Ecosystem

UPSCALE: Driving Innovation and Growth in the Philippine Startup Ecosystem

Nikko Guiam

Venture and Business Development Consultant
UPSCALE - University of the Philippines Diliman
Margaux Zurbano

UPSCALE is an innovation hub located at the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman, Quezon City which stands for UP System-wide Center for the Advancement of Research and Engagement in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The hub aims to promote social innovation and entrepreneurship among the academic community by providing a platform for collaboration between the academe, industry, and government. UPSCALE offers incubation, mentorship and co-working spaces. With that, please join us in learning more about UPSCALE with its Venture and Business Development Consultant, Nikko Guiam.


What inspired you to become a Venture and Business Development Consultant?


My spark for the tech space came from my experience working as an analyst for an international  financial information firm where I was assigned to cover mergers, acquisitions as well as venture funding deals in the Indian and Southeast Asian markets. While covering these markets, I noticed that some weekly deal amounts in India would be equal to the yearly deal amount in the Philippines. At that point it was pretty clear to me that the gap is huge and I wanted to learn more about the local environment and what we needed to get to that level of activity.

From there, I started making my way to firms in the local Philippine ecosystem and was lucky enough to get into Future Now Ventures in 2016 and be a part of the start-up ecosystem in its infancy. I also got a chance to be part of the founding team in InvestEd, an education oriented fintech start-up where I was exposed to running a startup first hand and where I gained  invaluable knowledge of running and learning its own unique challenges.

After which, I took an MBA in UP to gain more knowledge with the aim of contributing back to the ecosystem. After graduating, I reached out to UP Diliman’s own incubator to further and deepen my  impact on the community and I have been with UPSCALE ever since.


What is UPSCALE? What makes it different from different innovation hubs or programs in other schools?  


UPSCALE is the premier TBI (Technology Business Incubator) of UP Diliman. We incubate and accelerate technology-based ventures and engage with various networks of industries through collaborative academic research and design projects. 

I would say that UPSCALE’s edge is its access to the university’s intensive tech and research and development assets and facilities, as well as its unique industry academe collaborative programs.


How does UPSCALE support startup founders and entrepreneurs in the Philippines, and what are some of the resources and services you provide to them?


UPSCALE has two flagship programs. First is Enterprise, our incubation program that caters to tech based startups. Here, we provide them with learning sessions such as marketing programs and financial modeling etc. We also provide them with specialized mentorship, a co-working space, research and development grant writing, and administrative support among others. Second is IGNITE, an innovation management program which facilitates industry-academe collaboration and progression of university outputs to commercialization through capability and technology matching, design thinking and customer development.


Can you tell me about a successful startup that UPSCALE has helped to develop, and how did your team contribute to their growth and success?


One of the first incubatees of UPSCALE was Green Antz Builders, which was part of the program back in 2012. Green Antz Builders is a circular economy startup that utilizes plastic waste in creating sustainable building materials. To put it simply, they make eco-bricks out of plastic waste. UPSCALE was key in its early stages in validating its product and market fit.

Another successful incubatee is Cropital which was founded by Ruel Amparo . Cropital is a crowdfunding platform and social enterprise which provides farmers access to sustainable financing. UPSCALE was able to give him relevant support in the form of development, networking and administrative support as well as access to funding.


Can you tell me about any exciting projects or initiatives that UPSCALE has planned for the future, and how do you see the startup ecosystem in the Philippines evolving in the coming years?


From our previous batch which focused on agri-tech, food systems, and supply chain industries. We are gearing up for the next run of our incubation program in which we aim to cater to both pre-seed ventures and research and development tech teams, we are looking for it to be the largest batch we have handled to date. 

Currently, we are working out and finalizing the details and logistics and we plan to start our open call  on Q3 2023.

UPSCALE is also one of the 8 technology business incubators comprising SCALE NCR. This is a collective of TBIs that aim to uplift the incubator ecosystem through the strengthening leadership, branding, partnership and linkages, training and development, and organizational development of incubators in the NCR. This initiative is currently at the proposal stage, but is being fast tracked by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).


The ecosystem right now is undoubtedly in a good level of growth. Both the number of start-ups and support organizations (such as incubators, start-up associations and co-working spaces) are still on an upward trend. The post-pandemic boom is apparent and funding has grown substantially. However, the ecosystem here is not as sizable as Indonesia’s, nor is it as strong as Singapore’s or Malaysia’s yet - so there is definitely space for growth and improvement. 


What can you say about the newer generation of startup founders? Can you give me examples?


The newer generation of founders are not afraid to put themselves out there. They are also very confident in their products and capabilities. I would say they are learning to be more aggressive and are sure about what they say and do. 

An example of this would be Gillian Santos of Anihan Technologies (AniTech). AniTech enables supply chains to monitor the health of their inventories and in effect enable an effective Just-In-Case strategy. She is very sure of her product and takes every opportunity there is to grow AniTech but remains grounded in their present capabilities. Another would be Victor Villafuerte, he is the co-founder of Kippap Education. He is very sure of his strengths and dedicated himself to grow his startup full time upon graduating from university which is such a rarity among founders. Kippap is an educational content and platform provider that delivers through user-relevant methodologies aimed for board and entrance exams.


Nikko Guiam is a Venture and Business Development Consultant at UPSCALE. He has a degree in Economics and Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of The Philippines - Diliman. As the Venture and Business Development Consultant of UPSCALE, Nikko is committed to supporting and developing early-stage startups and innovative businesses in the Philippines. He is responsible for providing monitoring, consultation and guidance to startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing and scaling their businesses. 

UPSCALE is one of the first university-based incubators in the Philippines. The organization  has provided country-wide impact through training and fostering a culture of innovation and creativity with start-ups and university-based incubators. They trained university incubators during DOST’s HEIRIT and HIHEIRIT programs. UPSCALE remains committed to supporting and developing new technologies and products, and continuing to contribute to the growth and development of the technopreneurial ecosystem in the Philippines.

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