When we discuss any topics around the Southeast Asian tech and startup ecosystem, the main players are always Singapore and Indonesia. Emerging markets like The Philippines are often relegated to “honourable mentions” in these discussions.

However, they want this to change. One such champion of the ecosystem is 917Ventures. They are is home to the Philippines’ only double unicorn, the fintech super-app GCash, which has over 75 million users, as well as a slew of other startups and portfolio companies in fields such as health tech, climate tech, Edutech, and B2B SaaS.

They recently announced a partnership and pilot programme in the Philippines for Gogoro Smartscooters and battery-swapping systems as part of its ongoing mission to create and promote climate tech and sustainability solutions in the country.

917Ventures is the largest venture builder in the Philippines and the venture-building arm of telecommunications behemoth Globe Group, has been able to create and accelerate more than a dozen seed ventures over the last two years.

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To find out more, we had a chance to speak to Vince Yamat, Managing Director of 917Ventures. He was kind enough to share more about the local ecosystem and what the future has in store for the market.

What are you looking for in a potential portfolio company in The Philippines? What factors are necessary for you to invest in them? What attracted you to GCash?

917Ventures is a venture builder, distinct from incubators and venture capital firms. While venture capital firms invest in promising companies without day-to-day involvement, venture builders act as partners, actively managing and scaling businesses.

Supported by the Globe Group and the Ayala Group, leading conglomerates in the Philippines, we establish startups and provide the necessary machinery, resources, and expertise for their success and growth. As a corporate venture builder, 917Ventures goes beyond investment to actively create, build, and nurture high-potential companies, ensuring they maximize their impact and achieve success.

That was how GCash was built. We/Globe built GCash, and it was initially developed as an SMS-based money transfer service to cater to the large population of unbanked Filipinos who heavily rely on cash. Seeing the potential and strong adoption, GCash expanded its offerings to include a wide range of financial services to meet the diverse needs of the population. As consumer demands changed, the mobile wallet evolved to provide a comprehensive suite of products and services, enabling people to save, invest, and secure their financial well-being and eventually becoming the largest mobile wallet in the country.

That being said, at 917Ventures, we strongly believe that a successful startup is built upon a strong purpose. We are dedicated to building ventures that address pressing issues and enhance the lives of Filipinos through digital solutions. When creating ventures, we always ask ourselves four key questions: Firstly, what is the problem and how significantly does it affect our daily lives? Secondly, is the solution scalable and is there a market demand for it? Thirdly, will it contribute to digital inclusion? Lastly, do we have the capability to execute it effectively? By considering these aspects, we ensure that our ventures have a meaningful impact and are positioned for success.

This is also why our ventures cut across multiple industries and focus on eight main areas that could impact on the lives of FIlipinos the most namely: FinTech (GCash), Climate Tech (Gogoro), Media & Entertainment (Kroma), B2B SaaS (RUSH), Digital Health (KonsultaMD, HealthNow, and Aide), AdTech & Data (AdSpark, Inquiro, m360, DeepSea) , Education (KodeGo, EdVenture).

There are not that many Filipino startups that go regional successfully. How do you prepare your portfolio for new market expansion?

917Ventures is currently a Filipino venture builder with a strong focus on developing solutions for the local market. However, we are not limited to the Philippines alone. We believe that many of our portfolio companies’ solutions have the potential to benefit users across the region. We believe that the solutions we have can easily be adapted to fit the needs and nuances of countries in the region.

Our approach begins with assessing opportunities, ensuring market fit, and determining our ability to participate or collaborate with other regional players when necessary.

For instance, our flagship double unicorn, GCash, now serves as a payment method in countries like Korea, Japan, and Singapore through our partnership with Alipay. Moreover, we have received approval to pilot GCash with non-Philippine SIM cards in Australia, Italy, and Japan, enabling services such as money transfers and mobile top-ups.

Similarly, we recognize that solutions from the region can uplift the lives of Filipinos. Southeast Asia offers a unique advantage due to shared instances, problems, and situations, despite cultural differences. For example, climate change and sustainability pose significant challenges throughout the region. Our partnership with Gogoro, a Taiwanese company, demonstrates our collaboration with regional players who share our mission. Together, we address the need for sustainable transportation options and work towards a greener future for Metro Manila and the entire country.

By understanding the problems and challenges across the region, we can introduce successful solutions from the Philippines and expand their reach. As the largest venture builder in the Philippines, 917Ventures is well-positioned to bring these solutions to the country and facilitate their implementation.

Which industries look the most promising locally?

At the moment, we are focused on supporting MSMEs, which make up 99.5% percent of all businesses in the country and are currently the backbone of the Philippine economy through services and business solutions such as RUSH, m360, and DeepSea. The pandemic has highlighted the need for businesses to digitize and establish their online presence and 917Ventures wants to help address this challenge by providing them with the right solutions that will help achieve that.

Education is also another sector we’re prioritizing, as we hope to add value and improve lives through our EdTech EdVenture and KodeGo. EdVenture has over 1,100 tutors providing high-quality, affordable, and personalized online tutorials to students from Preschool to Grade 10. Additionally, KodeGo has played a significant role in upskilling thousands of individuals with IT and web development skills, while also promoting STEM careers among the youth.

Lastly, we are also looking at promoting sustainability through climate technology. In fact, just a few weeks ago we announced our partnership with Taiwan’s Gogoro to bring their Smartscooters® and Battery-Swapping technology into the country.

What are the major challenges facing local startups as they expand into tier 2 & 3 cities in the country? How do they overcome those issues?

The Philippines is a diverse country with several regions and numerous dialects spoken throughout its islands, making it a complex country where a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work. Understanding local customs and preferences can be important for local startups looking to expand into these different regions.

To overcome this, many opt to partner with local governments or what we call LGUs Local governments have been actively collaborating with startups to continue the growth of the ecosystem and to further digitalization, financial inclusion, and generally uplift the lives of Filipinos. For one of our portfolio companies KonsultaMD, we partnered with the local government of Kidapawan City in Mindanao to make our services available and improve access to medical services for government employees and residents.

The local government has launched a lot of initiatives to support the startup ecosystem, which provides incentives and benefits to qualified startups. Therefore, several efforts are being made to bridge and manage this challenge so that our startups find success across the country.

What’s next for 917Ventures?

917Ventures is driven by continuous ideation and innovation. Our proactive approach allows us to stay at the forefront of identifying the next major startup opportunities.

As mentioned earlier, we are expanding our focus on climate technology and introducing solutions that contribute to a greener future for Metro Manila and the entire country. A recent collaboration with Taiwan’s Gogoro exemplifies this commitment. Recognizing the ubiquity of two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles in the Philippines, we believe Gogoro’s battery-swapping technology holds great promise. Initially utilized for logistics and last-mile delivery services, we envision it becoming a viable transportation option for all Filipinos.

Just as we have championed financial inclusion through GCash and promoted comprehensive healthcare services with KonsultaMD, we are pioneering the use of battery-swapping technology in the Philippines. Our partnership with Gogoro exemplifies our collaborative approach with regional players, allowing us to continuously ideate solutions that uplift lives and address everyday challenges.