[Executive Edge] Helping grads, professionals to launch ventures

Filipino entrepreneur Lionel Belen felt that formal schooling in the Philippines was training students to be employees, not entrepreneurs.

“This was a gap that needed to be filled,” he said.

To address this gap, he decided to launch an incubator to fund aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs and their business ideas.

But Belen realized that the cause for the lack of Filipino startups was more than just capital.

Filipino graduates and working professionals did not know how to launch a startup or where to find the resources to help them to.

He thus created Brainsparks, envisioned as a “startup and innovation hub.” It would be founded by First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities (FAITH), in partnership with First Asia Venture Capital Incorporated (First Asia), where Belen served as a manager.  

HELP. Lionel Belen says providing  resources to entrepreneurs could better help them avoid the 90% to 95% failure rate of startups.

HELP. Lionel Belen says providing resources to entrepreneurs could better help them avoid the 90% to 95% failure rate of startups.

Best practices

To develop Brainsparks, he went to North America and tried to learn best practices from premier institutions, such as Startup Institute, Mass Challenge, and Draper University.

The curriculum at these institutions piqued his curiosity. At Draper University, for example, the programs were really oriented toward entrepreneurship.

“Some of the stuff they offered were really interesting such as lie detection and survival training – stuff that built character or street smarts,” Belen said.

Belen’s biggest takeaway was the fact that a true tech ecosystem consisted of many moving and interdependent parts.

“One thing we noticed abroad that we wanted to work on and develop here, was how all these components of the ecosystem – coworking spaces, developmental organizations, and incubators – were closely tied and working together to support entrepreneurs and founders,” Belen said.

He added that providing these resources to entrepreneurs could better help them avoid the 90% to 95% failure rate of startups.

“The real solution we could provide would be understanding the individual problems and needs of an entrepreneur or startup – a place to work, peer and mentor support, professional development, a talented team, and funding – and help them find these,” he said.

SPACE. For Brainsparks, a major part of this solution is BITSPACE, their coworking space, a place for entrepreneurs and other professionals to meet, connect, work, and create.

SPACE. For Brainsparks, a major part of this solution is BITSPACE, their coworking space, a place for entrepreneurs and other professionals to meet, connect, work, and create.

Coworking

For Brainsparks, a major part of this solution is BITSPACE, their coworking space, a place for entrepreneurs and other professionals to meet, connect, work, and create. It is set as a venue for community events and programs that can help the coworkers at BITSPACE.

BITSPACE has two locations: Makati City and Batangas. The latter location is by design.

“For us, this represents our conscious effort to try to decentralize and spread outside of Manila the goal of fostering development and innovation,” he said. 

At either BITSPACE location, the Brainsparks team is committed to developing unique programs for its coworking members and the community. During Manila Startup Week, for example, they organized “Looking For,” an event designed to help people find co-founders, mentors, employees or jobs.

From the more than 100 signups, the Brainsparks team gleaned some interesting findings about the Manila startup scene.

Belen said that 29% of participants were looking for mentors; 28% for cofounders; 12% for a job in a startup; 6% to hire employees; and 25% for inspiration or ideas.

“We’re really excited to use this data to help the community more effectively,” Belen said.

STARTUP. The interesting dichotomy is that as Brainsparks helps startups, it is also a sense a startup itself, trying to figure out best practices for the particular communities it serves.

STARTUP. The interesting dichotomy is that as Brainsparks helps startups, it is also a sense a startup itself, trying to figure out best practices for the particular communities it serves.

Helping entrepreneurs

As an incubator, Belen said that Brainsparks is primarily interested in social enterprises or tech firms involved in software, hardware, computing, or mobile.

While he acknowledged that they cannot invest or incubate in all the startups that reach out to them, Belen said that the beauty of being a hub is that they can help entrepreneurs in other ways.

“We’re able to extend our reach from just investing in a few startups, to being part of the success of many more. We’re able to give people the push when they need it, or a connection that could make the difference.” 

The interesting dichotomy is that as Brainsparks helps startups, it is also in a sense a startup itself, trying to figure out best practices for the particular communities it serves. Belen admitted that it is sometimes a struggle to communicate all these efforts to the public. Ultimately, he hopes the product he puts out can speak for itself.

“We just want to make sure we’re building or doing something startups want,” he said. “When thinking of it this way, everything we’re doing focuses on one thing – and that is to give founders and entrepreneurs the best chance at making their idea or vision into reality,” Belen said. – Rappler.com